Peter Cottontail


(Synopsis:  Matt & Sarah learn about a Christian Easter from school, but G-Ma also teaches them how other religions celebrate Easter.   She teaches them the history of the Easter Egg Hunt, and where Peter Rabbit came from.  Most importantly, she reminds the reader of the importance of Vigilance, and how we can all elect to throw the "rotten eggs of Terrorism" out of our lives!)


G-Ma Lori

            “G-Ma, why is that woman bus driver talking to you.  We don’t know her,” questioned my three-year-old granddaughter, Sarah.  As we quickly parked ourselves in an available seat, I breathed a sigh of relief we were lucky enough  to find one available.  I readjusted the strap of my overstuffed backpack full of  G-Ma stuff—extra changes of clothing in case of potty accidents, juice, a small first aid kit, extra jackets if it got cold, umbrellas, books for the kids to read if they got bored, crayons and paper, safety pins and rubber bands, a Balance Bar for emergency feeding in case of hunger attacks and, some secret money in case a pick pocket struck—and, of course, thirty-four pound Sarah.  As usual, we were precariously perched on the edge of the seat near the crowded aisle.   With the pack and Sarah, we were crammed tightly in the small space, the woman next to us not giving an inch of her territory.
       “G-Ma,” queried my little lap-cat, “she’s talking to that mommy, too.  Does she know all the people on our bus?”
        Sarah was intrigued with the bus driver’s comments to all of the incoming and exiting passengers:  “Welcome.”  “Have a nice day.” “Enjoy your weekend.” “Good to see you.”  “Lovely child there.” “Be careful, watch your step.”  “Hold on, wait for the lady to get off, please.”  “Thanks for your patience.”
       I was amazed.  New York City bus drivers aren’t usually polite or friendly—and rarely offer greetings to disgruntled, harried passengers boarding the “cattle car” of  humanity.  Responses to the driver’s greetings ranged from “You talking to me?” to an unbelieving shake of the head to a few responses such as “Thanks, you too.” “Right.” “Ten-Four.” “Back at youse.” 
         A mother of a little girl similarly as impressed as I, stopped to thank the driver for making her and her little one smile and feel good about the day.  The driver gently patted the child’s curly hair and softly chuckled,  “It makes me feel great, too.”

     Sarah squeezed my hand as the mom and girl left the bus.  “She knows that mommy and girl, G-Ma.  She knows everybody.”
         The driver was an exception to the grunt rule—the one where the driver just grunts as the cattle shove and push their way inside.  This driver  knew how to enjoy the day and made it obvious to all with her upbeat quips and well-meaning messages. I figured she was an excellent example for Sarah to hold up as the “perfect bus driver.”

         “She may not know all their names, little one, but she knows they are people like her who like to feel good about themselves and others  but they get in such a hurry they forget to remember about being happy.  She reminds everybody she cares about them. She puts a smile on grumpy faces.  Our driver is a very special driver.”  I gave my little lamb an extra squeeze exchanging glances with the driver who, overhearing my adulations, glanced at us in the rear view mirror.  I dubbed her the Bus Driver Of Vigilance, there to bring out the best in the worst, and to draw smiles from grumps.

     “Here comes Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail.  Hippity Hoppity …. Easter’s on its way…….”  Sarah’s falsetto Voice wafted through the crowded bus competing with the cacophony of sirens, horns, trucks growling up the street, and the hissing of the pneumatic shocks that made the bus “kneel” to one side when it came to a stop to load passengers.  She swayed in my lap to her own music, oblivious of the jammed bodies around us.  When she got to the words we hadn’t learned yet, she hummed a few more bars, reminding me to get busy so we could learn the entire song before Easter.    

     “G-Ma, the driver is a friend of Jesus.”  Sarah’s comment came out of the blue, as that of most three-year olds.   The woman next to me stiffened.  “Ms. Matta said Jesus teaches us how to be nice to people and that’s why he died and came back so He could be our teacher. That’s really what Easter is about, G-Ma.  About Jesus. That’s what my teacher said.”
      The woman beside us glanced at Sarah suspiciously, as though she might be part of some evangelistic cult, then twisted her face away to look out the window.   The Montessori teachers and the Catholic nun who ran Sarah’s pre-school were strong in religious education, and I was proud of Sarah’s attentiveness to the complexities of the Easter Story.  I wasn’t very Christian about the woman who snubbed “my granddaughter’s” wisdom, and was hoping the bus might turn sharply and bounce her nose off the window.   But, after all, it was a free country and no two people on the same bus had to share the same viewpoints.  I suppose that’s why few people talked to each other on the bus or subway.  Vigilance, in some cases, means silence.

     I was relieved when we reached our stop.  I planned on talking to both Sarah and her five-year-old brother, Matt, about ‘their takes’ on Easter.   Sarah’s elucidation about Jesus being a teacher was a direct benefit of her seven months at same institution that her brother had attended for two years before he graduated to kindergarten. 
      “Have a great afternoon, pretty one,” smiled the bus driver as we tromped down the steps to the curb.  Sarah, glanced at me and, as I nodded to give her permission to speak to a ‘stranger who was a stranger no more.’  Sarah sucked in a deep breath and said in a loud, happy Voice: “No, YOU have a great afternoon, driver.” Then she flashed her big apple grin at the nicest and  most mindful bus driver I had ever met in the Big Apple.

          “Race you G-Ma,” Sarah screeched.  “Wait,” I demanded, uneasy about her darting away from me, “until we reach your block.  Then we’ll race.” 
          “I know, G-Ma, I know.”  She reassured me with a firm hand squeeze.

          “Here comes Peter Cottontail…………” she sang as she nimbly hopped past me on her block. I didn’t have to ‘let her beat me’ to the apartment because I wasn’t good at hopping.  She won that race hands down.
        .  “Matt, Matt we’re here. G-Ma and I are here to play ‘dinosaurs’ or ‘Little Bear’ with you.”  Sarah hippety-hopped into the apartment still humming.  The kids continually amused me with their range of play-- from ferocious prehistoric dinosaurs and monsters to gentle Little Bear and Winnie-the-Pooh.

      Matt’s mother had picked him up from his kindergarten class and we arranged to meet at home.  “Hang up your coat, Sarah.  I see Matt has already put his away.”  I usually had to remind my little bunny rabbit but Matt, a potential neat-freak like his mommy (and his G-Ma), was smiling at me, his blue eyes agleam, knowing his attention to even this small task would please me.

      “G-Ma, I have something to show you, from school, some art work I did in my art class.”  Matt dragged his heavy dinosaur backpack over to the couch as we all plopped down to relax.  “Look at this” he pulled out a drawing he had made of the crucifixion. 
         “These are the two bad men and Jesus is in the middle. My teacher said Jesus wasn’t sad about dying because it was God’s plan for Him to save people by dying for all the bad things they had done, and would ever do.”  Matt leapt off the couch. “This is how you play Jesus.” He lay down on the floor with his arms outspread, shut his eyes and said “I am Jesus on the cross.”  Then he jumped up and said, “I rose up and am alive.  G-Ma that’s how you play Jesus.”

     Before I could even think of an appropriate response, Sarah also got down on the floor and both of my little Easter lambs were ‘playing Jesus’. Their mother accustomed to their creativity didn’t bat an eye on her way out the door. “Adam played ‘Jesus’ last Easter, mom.  Now the two of them are at it,”  she said, smiling and winking as she left.

      I decided this would be a good time to talk about the upcoming season so I bribed Matt and Sarah back onto the couch with cookies and juice.  I had done my homework and looked up the history on the internet, and was eager to share it with the children. 
       I began.  “Easter is a time of springtime festivals, having parties and fun.  In Christian countries, those countries believing in Jesus, Easter is celebrated as a religious holiday and we remember how Jesus dies for us and rose again.”  Sarah hopped off the couch and repeated  ‘playing Jesus.’  “Like this, G-Ma, like this.”  She returned to the couch to cuddle.  I loved the innocence of their interpretation, and figured if Jesus was watching, He would too.
      “Go on, G-Ma, tell us…” urged Matt.

     “Way back in history, Easter was originally a pagan, that is, a non-Christian or nature festival.  Over 2000 years ago, Christian missionaries--people who spread the word of Jesus-- allowed the people to continue to celebrate pagan feasts.  The pagan nature festive of Eastre, spelled E-A-S-T-R-E occurred at the same time of year as our Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ.  Over time, the festival was changed into a Christian celebration as more pagans became Christians. The name Eastre was changed to our spelling of today which is - - -  Matt?”  I waited.   He sang out the letters right on cue.

     “E-A-S-T-E-R,” Matt proudly yelled out.   He’d been receiving perfect grades on his school spelling tests. “100% Matt, good work.” I complimented him per usual and continued. “In the year A.D.325,--that’s 325 years after Jesus died-- emperor Constantine, an emperor is similar to a king, at the Council of Nicaea issued the Easter Rule which made the celebration of Easter on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25.  (To tell them the Easter Rule stating that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox would be too complicated an explanation, I thought.  Even what I told them was a lot, but Matt and Sarah were good with dates—they knew when the dinosaurs became extinct—65 million years ago.)

       “Besides Jesus’ death and resurrection--his rising from the dead like the ‘game’ you two were playing--what else can you tell me about Easter?  Do all people celebrate Easter like we Christians? Or are there other ways?”  Matt’s and Sarah’s parents are ecumenical and realistic and at least Matt knew there were other belief systems that needed to be respected.

    Matt leaped at the chance to show off his knowledge. “G-Ma, you know the Jewish people have Passover at the same time as Easter.  Mommy told me she went to a special dinner called a ‘sadar’ when she lived in California.  You told Sarah and me what Easter means, but I don’t know what Passover means.”  Matt scooted over a bit to make more room for Sarah who was still not ready to quietly sit down listen.  She was hopping around, throwing glances my way.

      “Matt and Sarah, Passover is from a Hebrew word ‘Pesach’, meaning ‘passing over’ or ‘protection.’  It comes from the instructions given to Moses by God.  Over 3000 years ago the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians.   Moses, a simple Jewish shepherd, was instructed by God to go to the Pharaoh—he’s like a king--and demand the freedom of his people.  The Pharaoh wouldn’t pay any attention to Moses’ request to free the Jews.  So God unleashed a series of 10 terrible plagues, sicknesses, on the people of Egypt.”

      “But, G-Ma, what or who got passed over.  I want to know that,” Matt insisted.

       “I want to know, what the bugs were, my teacher told me about the bugs,” Sarah stopped hopping and curled up on my lap.  Her rich chocolate eyes danced in the light.

      I had done my preparation on the Internet and parroted ‘blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts (flies), blight (cattle disease), boils, hail, locust (like grasshoppers), darkness and the slaying or killing of the First Born’ are the plagues with which God punished the Pharaoh and his people.  To protect the Israelites from the death of their first-born, they were told to mark their houses with lamb’s blood so God could identify and “pass over” their homes.”

      I had the full attention of both children now. “G-Ma, what happened next?  Did the ‘Israels’ get free”?  Matt didn’t like stories in which people were hurt.  His face showed the pain within.
      “Well, kids, it wasn’t until after the last plague that the Pharaoh finally agreed to free the Israelites.  Even though they were free, Pharaoh’s army chased them through the desert towards the Red Sea.  It looked bad for them. They were trapped. The sea blocked their escape.  Then God worked a miracle and the waves of the Red Sea parted and the Jews were able to cross to the other side.  Passover celebrates this history.  The first two nights of the eight-day holiday are celebrated with meals called Seders--like the meal your mommy went to-- at which the stories of Passover are celebrated. So, you two little lambs can see there are different ways for people of different faiths or religions to celebrate Easter.”

  “I want to know about Peter Cottontail, G-Ma, and the Easter Bunny.” Sarah, her music buttons pushed on again, started to hum. “Are we having an Easter Egg hunt this year in our back garden?”   She blinked her eyes and gave me that look that melts any G-Ma’s heart.   

      “Your mommy is having all your relatives over again this year and you will undoubtedly have a special Easter Egg hunt.”
        “Where did Peter Rabbit come from, G-Ma?”  Matt prodded.

       I thought for a minute.  “Let’s start with the Easter bunny first, kids.   The Easter bunny seems to have its origins in Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings in the 1500’s – over 500 years ago.  It was introduced to Americans by the German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700’s.  They called it “Oschter Haws.” Children believed if they were good, the “Oschter Haws” would lay a nest of colored eggs.”

      “G-Ma, your mommy is German, right?” questioned Matt.  “Does she call the Easter Bunny an ‘Oshteraws?”

      “I never heard her call it that, but maybe she did when she was a little girl.”  I gave my informed little man an extra hug.  “The children would build their nest in a hidden place in the home, the barn or the garden.  Boys would use their hats and girls their bonnets to make the nests.  It was years later that Easter baskets were used.”

      “Oh! Here comes Peter Cottontail, Hoppin’ down the bunny trail, Hippity hoppity  Happy Easter Day.”  Sarah belted out her seasonal song much to her brother’s dismay. 
       “Sarahhhh, stop it.  You’re making me into an Iguanadon (Matt’s latest favorite monster), a mad one.” Matt made growling noises and threatening gestures towards his melodic sister.

       “G-Ma-a-a-a-a!” Sarah screeched.  “Make him stop. Matt!!”

        I changed the subject so I wouldn’t have to referee the spat.  “We’ll have to make our Easter cookies soon, and dye our Easter Eggs.  This year we get to make a special egg for your new brother or sister inside your mommy’s tummy.”
       “How come we exchange eggs, G-Ma.  I thought that we gave presents only at Christmas,” Matt asked, cocking his head.  But I was ready thanks to Google Search Engine.

      “O.K.   I’ll tell you what I know about Easter Eggs. The exchange of eggs in the springtime is a custom centuries old.  From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures.  Eggs were often wrapped in gold (leaf) or brightly colored by boiling them with the leaves of petals of certain flowers.  They didn’t have the coloring kits like the ones we have today. We’ll have to get out the Easter books your mommy put away after last Easter and enjoy reading them.  Matt, you will be able to help me read this year.”  Matt’s reading was constantly improving and he was even starting to enjoy it when I asked him to take a page or two or a word here and there.

      “G-Ma read me the Little Critter book about Easter, Matt,” Sarah boasted, always trying her one upmanship on her brother.. “We went to the book store yesterday.” Sarah was on the verge of ‘naa-naa-nee-naa-naa-ing’ Matt.

     Matt was equally armed with his form of retaliation.   “I remember that story.  Brook has it.  It’s the one where a brother and sister take some of the eggs they find at the Easter Egg hunt out of their baskets and hide them again for the littler critters.”  Matt paused, his eyes sparking with an idea. “ Sarah, we can do that for our little cousins when we have our East Egg hunt. Let’s do that, Sarah.”  Matt’s Voice rose in the excitement..  Just like his mother, he thrived on going the extra mile of thoughtfulness of others.  I wasn’t sure Sarah would go along with his charitable suggestion.

      “Yes, Matt, that is a good idea.”  I heard the unexpected words trill from Sarah’s mouth.  “But we can’t give them our special family eggs we’re coloring with G-Ma.  Is G-Pa going to help us this year, G-Ma?  He’s never helped before.  I want him to be there for the eggs.  We can make a special monster egg if he helps, can’t we?  It will be fun.”

      “Oh, Sarah, G-Pa will want to carve an egg out of wood.  That’s what he will want to make.  Right G-Ma?”  Matt, as usual was right on target.  G-Pa was in fact ‘in to’ wood carving.  “Maybe he can make our cousins eggs too,”  Matt asked.

         Matt’s vigilance in knowing what people liked and disliked was an important part of who he was.  He was already a caretaker, a mini follower of Jesus in his heartfelt interest in his fellow brothers and sisters.   He and his sister, Sarah, are the fortunate recipients of the love and respect from Parents of Vigilance and from Grandparents of Vigilance.  What a beautiful and loving world, I thought, if all parents threw away the rotten eggs of complacency and fear and intimidation.  Together, we could all throw away the erosive eggs of any and all Terrorism that stood in the way of families and all fully enjoy the beauty of new birth and resurrection.  If all parents did this, we as a country, as a world, would no longer permit ourselves or our children to be enslaved by fear and terror that stifled the growth of our children.  Our Vigilance would part the somnolent sea of  complacency and free us all. We would all, especially the amazing warm-hearted bus driver, truly celebrate the Easter Season if that happened.

      “Someone’s at the door, G-Ma!   Is it G-Pa?   It is!    G-Pa come in and help us plan our Easter egg coloring.”  Both Matt and Sarah ran to the door to open it for their grandpa, a Grandparent of Vigilance.

      “Rooooaaarrrr” boomed G-Pa.  And our little lambs ran to hide from him laughing all the way.   I started to hum “Here come Peter Cottontail…” and heard an answering melodic response from Sarah as G-Pa followed the sounds to find our dear bunnies—protected by Parents and Grandparents of Vigilance who hoped that Easter would be the rise of Vigilance and the death of Terrorism.



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