Many moons ago, I was forcibly uprooted from the co-ed, hippie, Montessori learning enclave of my early childhood and enrolled by my parents in Catholic all-girls’ school. Whereas once I had daily worn teal-and-black animal-print high tops and tee-shirts celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was suddenly thrust into a world of uniform plaid jumpers, saddle-shoes, and dour-faced nuns.
Orderly rows of assigned desks replaced the colorful carpets on which I was accustomed to lounging. I was no longer permitted to while away the hours in the library, obsessively consuming comics and books on the Salem witch trials, or scribbling in my journal. Instead, study time was strictly scheduled and misbehavior was publicly punished. I was forced to take math beyond pushing a desultory bead around an abacus.
Math, in fact, was the fundamental cause of this disorienting change of course, as recent testing demonstrated that my nine-year-old self possessed the vocabulary of the average college student (thanks to my insatiable appetite for reading) and the math skills of your average three-year-old sorting out Cheerios at the breakfast table. It seems my parents found this troubling, and despite the fact that I could adeptly weave hammocks from plastic six-pack rings and was extremely disturbed by the Gulf War, some basic educational tenets were lacking in my development.
This alleged inability (or total unwillingness) to learn math was also what prompted my mother to chauffeur me, whining, to Kumon twice a week, while my dad suffered my crying fits over everything from fractions to basic Algebra. If you are wondering if the extra-curricular Kumon teaching methods are effective, I can only say that my math skills sped from 0 to 60 and the school was later that same year forced to furnish me with a sixth-grade math book – this for the girl who, months prior, had barely mastered basic addition. In my experience, Kumon is the steroids of arithmetic, and for your math-averse child, akin to a prolonged, pinpointed torture session. Obviously, I plan to subject my own children to it in the future, when they’ve been very bad.
So I was nine-years-old, in fourth grade, and major, bewildering changes were afoot. The other students were mostly Catholic, with a handful of Protestant girls and an initially surprising number of Muslim students (less surprising when one considered that the school was both prestigious and the only all-girls’ institution in the city before the age of high school). This was an entirely different experience from my previous, gently Episcopalian/Unitarian Universalist scholastic exposure to religion. I was required to attend mass and learn about the apostles. For this, I had left behind my terrarium and my slap-bracelets. This new world of cafeteria lunches and gym class and morning prayer and miniature crucifixions on every wall.
I spent my early mornings in “the dome,” the outdoor gymnasium area at which our parents dropped us off before we were allowed indoors, freezing with our bare legs in the winter and sweating through our polyester uniform shirts in the spring. By my second day, I discovered the tetherball pole, and passed the precious minutes before class dominating other girls with an athletic ferocity I did not know existed in me. WHACK, WHACK, WHACK, I went, watching with satisfaction as my opponents jumped in vain and my smashed balls whizzed feet over their grasping hands.
Grades were important there, and money, and hair, things I had never considered before. I became jealous of Amanda, a small, neat girl to whom I always came in second-place in cursive class. Her perfectly-formed, round feminine lettering was always praised over my slightly spiky missives. I beat her in the spelling bee and smiled for a week. I hid my cotton training bra under a vest, and was befriended by a popular, freckled Irish girl with the biggest family I had ever known. One day, I watched, mute with fear, as my deskmate went into diabetic shock. I could see her eyeballs shake in her sheet-white face until the teacher swooped in to pour juice in her mouth. We read Where the Red Fern Grows aloud in class, and every single girl spilled out of the classroom sobbing at the end.
Everything was different and new, sometimes in good ways, sometimes not. I was lucky enough to have a stellar teacher whom we all adored, a warm woman in her fifties who didn’t tolerate nonsense, but had a genuine fondness for her charges and a nurturing sense of humor. She rewarded us not just with our sterile conduct report cards, but with sticky frog toys and playful stickers and glittery, bouncy balls we would stash in our desks when the headmistress came around.
It was this teacher who told us about Rabbit Rabbit Day. I have held a series of good luck charms throughout my life, from an imaginary leprechaun to stuffed animals to worry dolls to jewelry to the action figures I stashed in my purse for high school exams. As a child without religion in a series of religious institutions, I have always appreciated having my own talisman, personally imbued with meaning, even if I never attributed actual faith to the item. The importance of a lucky charm comes from within, and I think I’ve always realized that – while I could never hand over my fate, there was some comfort in pretending that a certain, chosen treasure could instill protection. At age nine, my spiritual views were far from solidified, but fairies and astrology were no less realistic to me than God and Jesus. I can see now that I was rather an enthusiastic little pagan who didn’t see any reason Christianity couldn’t be incorporated into the other vaguely supernatural fascinations I already held. Catholic school would eventually knock that out of me, but I was still entranced when, very early in the semester, our fourth-grade teacher told us about Rabbit Rabbit Day.
Rabbit Rabbit Day is a good-luck ritual that can be performed every month. The trick of it is, when you first wake up on the first day of a new month, the very first words from your mouth must be the incantation, “Rabbit Rabbit White Rabbit.” That’s it. If you can successfully do this, you will have good luck for the rest of the month. It is harder than it sounds, because it is so easy to forget in the fog of early morning wakefulness, and sing a song in the shower or implore the weatherman to better news, or just say “hello” or “good morning” or “shut that goddamn alarm off” before your thoughts have really kicked in. Now a grown woman without religion, I realized recently how dearly I hold this superstition, as I have tried to uphold it every month for the nearly 20 years since I was introduced to it, with varying success. I keep an index card in my bedside table with “RABBIT RABBIT!” scrawled across it in permanent marker to prop against my alarm clock once a month. Sometimes I even put a note in my Outlook calendar for the night before to remind me, and I try to be especially vigilant on the New Year.
Until I decided to write about it, I had never once looked up the origins of Rabbit Rabbit Day. Wikipedia has a fascinating (to me) breakdown of the essentially shadowy origins of the tradition and the variations of the superstition, which is funny to read as it’s always felt like such a personal thing. I have shared it with many people I’ve known, some of whom have tried to adopt it as well, and I have to say that I recommend it. Does it work? That’s really up to you. I think that it does give you a fresh reminder every few weeks of the prospect of a new beginning, of time passing, and a gentle prod to undertake this small, fixed period of time like a lucky one.
So give it a shot. And before I talk to you tomorrow, “Black Rabbits” or “Tibbar Tibbar.” Who knows? You might thank me for it, and it you have any other tips for good luck, I am all ears.