4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
My seven-year-old daughter wants a stupid, stuffed panda for Christmas.
Not just a stupid, stuffed panda, but a big, stupid stuffed panda, big enough to be bigger than her, for her to gesture over her head when describing what she wants.
Her sister also wants one. So that’s two big stuffed pandas. And no, we’ve never been to China. Or to a zoo for that matter. We have next to no experience with pandas. There might be a panda in a random photo bingo game we have. Maybe we have a panda Beanie Baby somewhere in the house. Otherwise, no panda.
And it’s a gift request that makes me itch. A panda?! A stuffed panda?
Wouldn’t you rather dress something up, I think. Or wouldn’t you rather solve something? Paint something? I mean, I’d rather get a new bike (she also wants one of those, which I’m looking into) or a lacrosse stick (also that.)
But a stuffed panda that will sit on their rumpled sheets and bedspreads and collect dust and dander and then be dumped into a donation bin where some well-meaning do-gooder entrepreneur shreds fabrics and attempts to recycle some tiny part of the crap we needlessly manufacture, like old sneakers and pillows and, well, stuffed pandas. Sigh.
And as she was telling my husband about the panda at dinner tonight, and as her five-year-old sister piped in about the stuffed panda she wants, too, and then her seven-year-old brother piped in about the huge stuffed monkey he wants (and we have more of a history with monkeys, but still… stuffed garbage), I looked across the table at my husband’s face, and his eyes asked my eyes, “Where do they get these stupid ideas?!”
Then I had a vision. Two visions actually. One of a huge Mickey Mouse. The other of a gigantic teddy bear. And by gigantic, I mean about four feet tall. And by huge I mean also about four feet tall. Because I had both growing up. The one was a treasure I dragged around with me forever, that uncomfortably stiff Mickey Mouse with the bean bag filling and the weird felt gloves and the deliciously soft ears. The other was a bear that I saved up $20 cash money to buy. It was a zipped up teddy bear body with a blown up interior, and so it always sort of smelled like a swimming pool float. But I’d sit on it sometimes, cuddle into it and read. Like my daughter does.
I remember standing at the checkout counter at our local Clover Store, and the cashier pointing to the teddy bear hanging from the ceiling that they had to unhook and bring down to hand me. It already smelled like dust but still felt magical. It felt larger than life. Literally. I had dreamed about that teddy bear and that Mickey Mouse, and now they were mine.
I met my husband’s asking eyes across the dinner table with a guilty look. How had I forgotten this illustrious past life of mine? (Like I always do.)
After all the stuffed panda hatred I’ve been harboring all month, the attempts at trying to talk my daughter out of this big, stupid, wasteful, space-hogging thing, I remembered that I had been that very same seven-year-old.
She catches me like that more and more these days. With these moments of awkward seven-year-old desire, or pride, or frustration.
And it creeps under my skin and hits a nerve. And it is only if I’m sitting very still and listening very hard that I eventually get the whole picture.
A little bit, she is me. And a little bit, vice versa. And she will learn someday that a bike is more useful than a stuffed panda, and a lacrosse stick will bring you decades of joy.
But for now, she will likely curl up with a stuffed panda on December 25th, whether we get it, or Santa does (he was the one who brought me the Mickey Mouse, after all) or a loving, doting Auntie or Uncle who will fold to the un-bear-able panda pressure.
And she will read her books sprawled across his white belly, and she will dream her dreams of who knows what, and for a moment, she will feel perfectly satisfied with this small part of her plush-ly stuffed universe that she wished into existence all on her own.