My children stole my stuffed animals last night.
As a little girl, there were several things I didn't do: I didn't play dress up. I didn't play with dolls. I didn't try on my mother's make-up. I didn't brush my hair.
And there were several things I did do: I climbed trees. I ran barefoot on gravel driveways until callouses formed on my soles. I traded my mother's pearl ring for a slightly used coloring book. I had the ugliest darn stuffed animals a toy company ever came up with.
Their names were Babe, Daisy, and Cindy.
Babe was a blue ox, as in Paul Bunyan's ox. He abandoned me a long time ago. Work to do in the great beyond, I suppose.
Daisy is a purple mouse whose head, precariously attached to her skinny neck, is nearly as big as her body. She wears a pink tux vest with pink felt buttons, and is missing her right eye. Her fur is matted beyond redemption, and she is days away from losing her black pom-pom nose. Also, as of this morning, three of her six whiskers are melted from getting too close to the fireplace, and she doesn't look very happy about it.
Cindy is a ratty, brown bear about a foot tall. She has a metal box inside her that leads me to believe she spoke or sang at some point. Or has been storing important CIA information the agents have forgotten about for decades.
Ivan and Emma hung out with me in my room last night before bedtime and rediscovered Daisy and Cindy, who were resting more or less comfortably in a wood box by my bed, lying atop a stack of books I've been meaning to read. Emma promptly adopted Cindy and took her to her room. Cindy slept in a doll crib, as Emma was aware of her fragile nature and didn't want her to end up with any missing limbs come morning.
Ivan adopted Daisy. Only he's renamed him Fluffy. "But her name is Daisy," I said. "No," he answered patiently. "His name is Fluffy." I tried again: "When I was a little girl, I called her Daisy." He said, "No. Mom..." then took a deep breath "you were already a little girl. Now Fluffy is mine."
I have a picture my father took of me when I was about Emma's age. I'm asleep in bed, the lights on, a book on my chest, Daisy wrapped up in one arm and Cindy in the other. They look much younger in the photo. We all did.
I never spent a lot of time imagining what life would be like for me when I grew up. I didn't dream about having a husband or children--at least not until I was in high school. I didn't imagine what sort of job I would have, where I would live, who my friends would be.
And I certainly never imagined some day Daisy and Cindy would wind up in my own children's arms.
Years ago, my parents gave each of their children a photo album full of old pictures of us as kids. Each album was personalized, some photos the same as those of a sibling, others unique to our own books. And the front page in each album held an individual photo with a caption beneath it. My photo was of me at about Ivan's age, screaming and crying and writhing around as my older sister Sandy tried to contain me. The caption read: "Bobbie after being told she would be a mother some day." The picture made me smile; the caption made me cry. Not because it was true but because it was so completely untrue. I thought, seeing what he had written, "My father doesn't know me at all. He doesn't know how much I love being a parent." And I also thought, "Really? Is that how I come across? As someone whose role as a mother makes her look on the verge of a breakdown?" Neither option brought me much comfort.
So I removed the caption and threw it away later, never telling either of my parents.
The truth is, I do struggle with being a mother at times. I'm not a natural. Sharing my time, my space, my body with a child . . . it's hard. But while it's hard, it's also my greatest source of happiness, having these four little (and becoming not-so-little) people to love like this. It's a job much better than any I could have imagined as a kid, lying there with carnival-prize ugly stuffed animals in my arms.
Stuffed animals I will gladly hand over to my own kids now and even let them rename without further argument. Like Ivan said, I already had my turn as a little girl. I wouldn't go back there for the world. I have the world right here.