How to be an idle parent.

Snapshots of life at home.
April 22 2009 6:57 AM

The Idle Parent

Let animals do your work for you.

(Continued from Page 1)

Now on to bunnies. Our first rabbit was christened Rosie Blossom Brownpatch. ("Because she has a brown patch," Delilah said.) We loved her. She was a house bunny. She lived in the kitchen, and she was friendly and charming. It's true that she ate the curtains, but she was a clean bunny and provided a lot of fun and games. And Delilah especially adored her. But then it all went wrong. Ask Delilah what happened and she will say: "Mummy killed her." Mummy did indeed drive over Rosie's back leg when the rabbit was playing in the yard. The vet said it would cost a fortune to fix up, so we decided to go for the cheaper option, which was to have the bunny put down.

Well, that was very sad. We'd loved that bunny. We all cried, except for Arthur, who coldly suggested that we get another one. So we did buy a new rabbit, and this one was called Lizzie Molly Flower Fast Bunny. ("Because she is a very fast bunny," Delilah said.) She was sweet but just not in the same league as Rosie Blossom. So when she decided she wanted to live outdoors we let her go. Then began two glorious years. Our neighbor's white bunny, Felicity, was also living outside. The two rabbits became friends and lived somewhere in the barns. It was a wonderful sight to drive down our lane and see one white and one black-and-white bunny dashing in all directions in that zigzag path that rabbits take. Each evening both rabbits would come and mill about in the yard with all the other animals, so we would be treated to the delightful spectacle of the pony, the chickens, the rabbits and the cats all eating and playing together.

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Our farmer was amazed that the bunnies survived in the semiwild as long as they did. But after two years of this fantastic menagerie, both rabbits vanished within a couple of days of each other. Whether they were taken by the fox—which had just dispatched all the chickens—or by the buzzard I had seen circling around, or whether they had gone deeper into the wild with the big jack rabbit we'd spotted once or twice hanging around in the yard, we'll never know. I hope they are living somewhere nearby in a cozy warren. But inside or outside a rabbit is a very good pet: comical, pretty, cute, and a good size for little ones. "Of all animals rabbits are those that boys are most fond of," says Cobbett.

If an animal is both useful and beautiful, then it is a welcome addition to the idle parent's household, because it saves money and gives the children a diversion, and also a feel for the care of animals. The noble pig fulfills all these criteria. We bought two young pigs in early June last year and fed them twice a day on scraps, nettles, apples, and brought-in food. It was very enjoyable to scratch them and watch their doings. Then we had them killed at home (although we have since found out that this is—absurdly—illegal) and spent two weeks processing them. The children now know exactly where their pork and bacon comes from. Although I have to admit that this morning, over his bacon, Henry started asking me some awkward questions:

"Is this our pig?"

"Yes, Henry."

"Why did we kill them?"

"To eat them."

"I didn't want to kill them."

Oh, dear.

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