by Caroline M. Yoachim
The second week of kindergarten, Mimi came home with a rabbit. Despite numerous mentions of the Temporary Friends project in the parent newsletter, I wasn’t prepared to see my five-year-old girl cuddling a honey-colored fluffball that was genetically engineered to have fatally high cholesterol and die of a heart attack later in the school year.
“I named him Mr. Flufferbottom.” Mimi told me. I glared at Great-Grandpa John, who’d been watching her while I finished up my shift at the clinic. He shrugged. My gruff maternal grandfather wasn’t my first choice of babysitter, but he needed a place to stay and I needed someone to watch Mimi after school.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to name him, honey?” I knelt down and put my hand on Mimi’s shoulder. “He’s a completely biological rabbit, and this kind doesn’t tend to live very long.”
“Teacher said to pick good names for our rabbits,” Mimi said. “Besides, you put new parts on people, so if Mr. Flufferbottom breaks you can fix him.”
Replacement pet parts were readily available online, and the self-installing models could be put in by anyone who could afford the hefty price tag and follow simple instructions. But replacement parts defeated the purpose of the lesson — research showed that children needed to experience death in order to achieve normal emotional development. Aside from the occasional suicide or tragic accident, there weren’t many occasions to deal with loss. Schools were required to incorporate Temporary Friends into their kindergarten curriculum in order to get government funding.
The school couldn’t control what parents did, of course, but the parent newsletter strongly discouraged tampering with the damned death pets in any way.
“Mimi, sweetie, that’s not how it works this time — I know we get a lot of extra parts for Graycat, but your Temporary Friend is only until…” I tried to remember from the newsletter how long the rabbits were engineered to live. Six months? “Only until March, and then we’ll say goodbye.”
I expected Mimi to put up a big fuss, but she didn’t. She took Mr. Flufferbottom to the cage we’d set up in her room and got him some food and water.