There are a few things that make their way into people’s lives, particularly little kids’ lives, that we may not truly understand as outsiders, looking in on just a small window of other’s daily goings-on. In this particular instance, I’m talking about some of the stuffed animals that we have in our home.
I don’t say this with any amount of disdain or complaint. We have a number of them, in fact Noah has the entire foot of his bed covered in a menagerie of stuffed creatures. I have a tub full of them I couldn’t bring myself to dispose of when we moved because they were some piece of my kids’ childhood I didn’t have the heart to dump in the trash unceremoniously.
But there are a few things that attach themselves to my kids and only they know why they glom onto them so tightly, and that’s okay.
For my oldest daughter, the creature was a horse named Sophia. She never could tell me why she named the horse Sophia. The mare had survived moving from Omaha, where we got the horse, to Texas. A friend from kindergarten, who lived not far from us, daughter of two doctors, gave the horse to Abbi. I never knew why, but Abbi loved that horse. My theory was it was a piece of Omaha, a piece of that former town, where her first years, the formative days where she spent every Monday just with her Daddy and ate ice-cream in Omaha’s Old Market. It was a tie, not to the person who gave her the horse, though they were friends, but to the memory of the place. It moved to Texas with us. Abbi slept with her every single night. When she got sick with a stomach bug and Sophia got dirty in a night filled with worrisome vomit and fever . . . Andrea, my late wife, washed Sophia. The mane became matted, clumped and stiff. She was beaten up, worn, and tattered . . . and Abbi still wouldn’t sleep with anything else. Obviously, at 18, she doesn’t sleep with her any more, but I happen to know that tucked away in a safe place in her room sits Sophia, just in case. A tie to another time and place.
My middle daughter has a different animal. Hers is a regular Teddy Bear. Hannah was always a tomboy and her imagination wasn’t focused on names at that point. She got the bear at a build-a-friend kind of place where we took Abbi for her birthday. The thing that I think ties the bear so closely to Hannah is that her sister, Abbi, wasn’t forced but asked that Hannah be part of the birthday celebration. She wanted Hannah to have a bear and make one and have a good time. Getting the bear, I believe, was a difficult part for both girls because we’d already decided by that point we were moving West, to California. For Hannah, like her sister, this is as much a tie to good days as it is to a time before she became the middle child and was the youngest. She loves that bear, and like Abbi, doesn’t sleep with “Soccer Bear” (told you it wasn’t that imaginative) she still has him. Like Sophia, he’s been beat up, dirtied, washed, and still survives.
Noah has a sock monkey. It’s not named anything but that, but it’s a sock monkey. I contacted the Rockford Sock Company, who still makes those brown thick socks, and found they make the monkeys, too. I passed this along to Santa Clause, mainly because he wanted it sooo much. The spark was a movie: Mister Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. It is, frankly, a very sad movie with a happy thought attached to it, but throughout a little sock monkey wants nothing more than to give a hug to one of the main characters. When Noah got his monkey, he loved it like no other present that year. My wife was astounded. I was reassured that I wasn’t too bad at finding presents. I failed for my wife every year but my kids seemed to be doing well. The monkey has had a leg pull a stitch…then the other. Today, it’s a tie to the last year or so Noah had his Mom. I don’t think that’s why he loves it so, but it stays with him. There are only a couple creatures he keeps at the head of the bed, sleeping with him: his sock monkey and the knitted owl that his sister made for him, named Nelson. Those remain cherished for him.
Sam . . . has something that I never thought would become his favorite. When we were in Texas, my job had me leaving town, a lot. California was the same. On one of those trips I vowed to the boys, in particular, that I’d bring something back for them. For Sam, it was a little grey stuffed dog. He named it, for whatever reason, Shuno. (Shoe-Know) I never even thought he liked the dog that awful much. But when we went on a trip one day and he didn’t have Shuno . . . Sam melted down. It must have meant a lot to him (though it annoyed the hell out of me) when I turned around, twenty miles from home, and went back for the dog. It’s remained with him since. He doesn’t cuddle it, it’s not a security blanket, at least not in the sense that you’d typically think of it. But this morning he came down the stairs, Shuno on his head, acting like a model from 1953 trying to walk upright with a book on her head. When Shuno fell he grabbed the dog and dusted him off. I looked at Shuno last night . . . he’s matted, dirty, beaten up. I’ve sewn back two of his legs already. But Sam won’t get rid of him. He loves the dog. I like to think for Sam it means, for him, that when I said I would always come back I do. Having lost his mother that might be even more scary for him, and Shuno might just mean for him that there are times when it was still that way. I do come back . . . and he’s refused to let anything happen to him. The last time Shuno threw a stitch Sam bugged me every fifteen minutes until I broke out my reading glasses, the needle and thread. While he showered I fixed Shuno. After he came down he asked if I would fix the dog, which he couldn’t keep with him due to the large seem burst on his leg, and I threw the dog to him. He’d never looked happier, like I’d solved the mystery of the pyramids single-handed.
So why is this tale of a dog, a monkey, a bear and a horse anything to write about? There’s a common thread here: each of those kids has chosen their respective surrogates for comfortable and happy times. That doesn’t mean that Abbi or Hannah were happiest without their siblings. Still, they have happy memories. Abbi – in that tiny little house with the hardwood floors. Hannah – in Texas with her best friend down the street and a sister who shared a special day with her. Noah – a memory of how he loves hugging and clings to secure and good things, good times when he had two parents. Sam – the boy who loved a present I wanted him to love so much and never revealed it until it surprised me. It’s a reminder for him that there’s some security in his Dad.
I know some parents who worry about kids with their animals, kind of like Linus in the Peanuts cartoons with his blanket. But remove those symbols and you might just be removing something that ties those kids to warm and comfortable places. They’re not living in the past. Maybe they’ve idealized it a little bit . . . but none of it is harming the future, either. Even today, if they need a reminder of how things were great back in the days they had two parents they have that. My kids face that we’re all different and have different thoughts about the future. We all realize that their Mom wasn’t as great or perfect as the ideal pictures hanging on the wall.
But there were great and amazing times that give us comfort. For them, it’s as simple as a dog, a monkey, a bear and a horse.