The Runaway Bunny is staple children’s book, one that was read to me as a kid, and one that I read recently to Potamus. Though he was mostly uninterested in it, which I believe due to the less-than-exciting pictures on each page (because how can books really compete with TV these days, anyway?)
But reading the book made me remember my childhood, and all of these conflicted emotions came flooding back. Of course it relates to being adopted, because what doesn’t these days? I recently mentioned this book in an online thread, that was about the story I Love You Forever (one I mentioned in my last blog post), where I see it as “creepy” that the mom climbs into her grown son’s room to watch him sleep. The online poster said that I was reading the story as an adult and projecting adult feelings onto it, rather than understanding the toddler’s need for a story to show something outlandish but driving home the point “I will always be your mom, no matter how big you get.”
I understood, in theory, and think that it works for many families and toddlers. But not for me. Because this story, of The Runaway Bunny, was actually frightening and made me sad as a kid. But I wasn’t able to articulate my feelings at the time. In case you don’t remember, here’s an excerpt from the story:
Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.
For you are my little bunny.”
“If you run after me,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a fish in a trout stream
and I will swim away from you.”
“If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother,
“I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”
As an adult I could read all sorts of things into this story, making it about control, and not letting a child have autonomy. Though I know the message is supposed to be ‘I love you, I will not let you get too far away from me,” I see it is “you can’t hid from me, ever, I will find you. Which feels creepy. It doesn’t say “if you are a trout in a stream, I will be sad and miss you.”
And the message felt so mixed up as an adopted kid. Because, on one hand, I desperately wanted to believe that no matter what I did my parents would be there for me. But, I, of course, knew that wasn’t the case. Because if parents, or mothers in particular, would go to the ends of the earth to find their ‘little bunny’ then where was my mom? Not my adoptive mom, I knew she was right there, but where was my other mom? And what was wrong with this little bunny that she wasn’t coming to find me? And, if she didn’t do it, then what would my adoptive mom do if I ran away? So there was sadness.
The other thought was “oh my gosh, she’s going to come find me,” in a too-terrified-to-articulate way. This idea that the mother character would change shape (become a fisherman, a mountain climber, a gardener) in order to find the bunny made me question everything around me. Was that grocery store checker my mom? Was the school bus driver my mom in secret? Who was she? When would she pop out of hiding and tell me she had found her little bunny?
Of course life isn’t like the Runaway Bunny. I hadn’t run away. I had been given away. The Giveaway Bunny hasn’t been written yet, but perhaps it needs to have its own story someday. And it wasn’t until I was an adult, reading the story to my son, did I realize “this book is full of shit, and traumatized me, and I need to find something different.”
And I have.
In the book, No Matter What, by Debi Glilori.
The book is gender-neutral, with a Large and Small fox characters, and the sentiment is ‘no matter what’ I will love you. But instead of the freaky-find-you-at-all-cost-if-you-run-away, the message at the end is”We may be close, we may be far,/ but our love still surrounds us…/ wherever we are.” I’ve read this one 100 times to Potamus, so many that I almost have it memorized. And it feels good to find a book that fits his needs while doesn’t trigger my own history. I highly recommend it to little ones in your life.
It’s funny, though, to be triggered by random memories from childhood. And to have words, now, to explain how I was feeling then. It makes me wish and hope for many more children’s advocates to help kids give voice to their experiences. Or even to ask the questions about how a book, or TV program, or conversation makes a kiddo feel. While I don’t know if I would have felt safe enough to say how I felt about that story, I think it would have been interesting to at least have been asked.