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The Rainbow Bridge refers to a place beloved companion pets go when they pass away. It is a comforting and warm image, that seems to provide a sense of peace for the families of so many loved pets who lose their animal companions at a time that, at least from our mortal perspective, is far too soon.

I have had cats my whole life. I have had so many go over the Rainbow Bridge. Lulu and Ovaltine, Keyboard and Ruby and Coral. Once I left my parents home, I took with me my cockatiel, Sal, who passed away at 12 years of age just after my FirstBorn son turned two almost 10 years ago.

As a family, FirstBorn saw the death of Moses, who was taken from us while I was pregnant with my Little Man. Just a few years ago, we all cried and buried our most exceptional member of our family, Esau.

In our family, the Rainbow Bridge also refers to something else – something that comes from the Waldorf Steiner educational philosophy, which emphasizes the role of imagination in learning. At the local Waldorf school, we participated in beautiful parent-and-me programs; they focused on community-building and allowing children to play in a non-academic atmosphere. By definition, these programs were non-competitive and welcoming to those who were not interested in a lot of the “mainstream” parenting trends. Many of us believed in not having toys with batteries or any electronics in the home; we encouraged meaningful play unobstructed by a lot of intervention,; and we allowed children to observe adults doing meaningful work as they played. They learned by observing, rather than being directed. (Many are critical of the Waldorf philosophy because of some aspects of Steiner’s life and philosophy, but I have a “take what you like and leave the rest” attitude about it.)

Our boys had very few toys and the ones they did have had no batteries and no plastic. We de-emphasized any traditional academics such as learning the alphabet or reaching children colors; instead, we encouraged play and body movement as critical in their first 7 years. For many years, we did not have any TV, movies, computers or electronics for them; instead, we sang to them a lot, and we still believe in the value of teaching crafts and home-tending as valuable skills that build character and a sense of responsibility that encourages independence, strength, and creativity.

And every year that my children celebrate a birthday, I tell them their birth story and the story of how they came over the Rainbow Bridge, a Waldorf tale about how children come to choose the family they are in.

You can customize the story, but it goes something like this.

There was a little angel who wanted to go over the Rainbow Bridge. He asked the angel in charge if it was time. The answer was no. The little angel dreamed of delicious foods and sweets and delicious things on earth. He awoke and told the angel in charge of his dream and he asked the angel in charge if it was time to go over the Rainbow Bridge. No, said the angel in charge. Then the little angel dreamed of bikes and games and pianos and books. He awoke and recounted to the angel in charge this dream and said, “Now is it time!?” The answer was still no. Then the little angel dreamed of a man and woman in a blue house with a cypress tree in the front. They looked happy and safe and they held their arms out to him. The little angel told the angel in charge of his dream and the angel in charge said, “Now it is time.” And the little angel was sent over the Rainbow Bridge and when he arrived, he saw that the man and the woman from his dream were waiting for him.

When I tell this story to my Little Man, the little angel’s third dream features a 2-year-10-month-old boy playing in the front yard of the home with the cypress tree in the front.

I get chills every time I tell this story. And even writing it makes me tear up.

While I honor the memories of my pets today and share my heart with everyone remembering pets who have gone over the Rainbow Bridge, I can’t help but remember that in our family and in so many families, the Rainbow Bridge is the bridge of possibility: between that world where the angels play, and our world where those angels come to us and land in our arms to be embraced and loved, in the family they were always meant to have.