My 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, has accumulated a family of stuffed animals. If I counted them, I’d miss my writing deadline, so let’s just go with “over a hundred.” They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are great for cuddling, others are puppets, and one can even be ridden. Simply put, Jessie’s room represents the animal kingdom quite well. Stuffed animals, almost all of them with names, sleep with Jessie in her bed or watch over her from their home on her bedroom dresser. The largest ones, an elephant, a dog, and a penguin, take up floor space.
My wife, Mattie, and I have found Jessie’s tween years to be interesting. At times, we watch a grown-up Jessie with “teenage” mannerisms. Occasionally though, we get to see the little girl who still finds joy and comfort with her stuffed-animal friends. If the animals could talk, I wonder what they would say. They’ve seen and heard a lot during Jessie’s first 12 years.
For sure, they’d share happy stories. Often, they starred in Jessie’s plays, puppet shows, and dance performances. Many of the lucky ones were “animal of the day,” which entitled the honoree to a spot at the kitchen table for breakfast and a front row seat on the sofa while Jessie read books to it. Of course, the animals got to watch lots of daddy-daughter fun times on her bedroom floor, as we played cards and board games, had picnics, and dressed Barbie dolls. I’m not sure if the animals would consider Jessie dressing up our real dog in all kinds of outfits as a happy time (it was for Jessie) or an unhappy time (probably the dog’s perspective).
Speaking of unhappy times, the animals would have witnessed a few of those, too, as life has its challenges. I’m not referring to falling out of the crowded bed due to Jessie’s tossing and turning, or cleaning day when they spun in the wash machine. Unfortunately, they witnessed sad moments and felt the moisture of Jessie’s tears during her difficult days, like the death of her first dog and leaving her friends to move to another state. More recently, the animals probably wish they could all squeeze under the pillows while she practices the clarinet, at least for the squeaky parts.
There have also been learning times – for everyone. The animals witnessed a dad crouched behind Elle, the floor elephant, as Jessie learned to sit up on her own. Abby, the stuffed dog with floppy ears, went to Pre-K to learn about veterinarians and won an award. Many animals attended class in the bedroom as Jessie and I held syllabus day at home while Mattie, a professor, held class at the college. I never thought I’d be a nervous speaker in front of stuffed animals, but again, these were learning times. The animals did give me a good evaluation at the end of the session.
Sometimes the animals even took part in exciting trips, like family vacations, wagon rides around the neighborhood, and picnics in the back of the pickup truck. Some of them came with Jessie to our bed when she had bad dreams or the electricity went out. And even though a few animals fell onto the ground, they always made it safely back home to Jessie’s room.
Then, there were the extra special family times, like when the entire family snuggled in Jessie’s bed to observe the newly hung glow-in-the-dark stars and planets on Jessie’s ceiling and walls. Sometimes it was a bit too cozy, like when we squeezed Dad, Mom, Jessie, our dog, and 14 stuffed animals into her child’s play tent. Eeyore hasn’t forgiven me yet for sitting on him, and he’s a lot flatter than he used to be. Mattie and the dog squish the stuffed animals, too, when they lie on opposite sides of Jessie for bedtime prayers, while Dad kneels at the foot of the bed.
“Okay, Dad, I’m ready to go.”
I look up from the morning newspaper. No stuffed animals are in sight. Neither is my little girl. Instead, I spot a young lady in a pretty red dress, pulling her book bag toward the front door.
“Mattie, I’m taking Jessie to school now. I’m going to stay with her all day as she’s way too pretty.”
Okay, I realize a 6’5” father won’t blend in with the sixth graders. Maybe it’s good I have an army of stuffed animals at my disposal. A protective dad can’t have too many lions, tigers, and bears. Her skunk might come in handy, too.
Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Father’s Day!
Father’s Day is June 18. MoMENts: A Dad Holds On, available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle, would make a great Father’s Day present. Please spread the word.