Before she could walk or talk, she latched on to that little stuffed Pooh bear, and for the next several years he went with her everywhere. By extension, he became a child of Husband’s and mine as well. We would wipe juice off his chin after she lovingly gave him some from her sippy cup – “Dat good? Hmm?” We would sew his seams back together after she flung and swung and wrestled him joyously around the house as she (and I swear he) both smiled and laughed. We would dash frantically through stores and parking lots, looking for where she dropped him, as she wailed “Pooh, Want Da Pooh!” -and very soon we learned to keep as sharp an eye on him as we did on her and Son after her. There was the heartbreaking lesson we had to teach her on the day when, in a fit of tantrum, she threw Pooh out of the car into the parking lot, and we scooped him up and hid him for five heartbreaking minutes as she wailed inconsolably, thinking that she had left her friend behind and he was lost forever. We gave him back to her and she hugged him close, hating and hating us…but she never threw away anything precious again.
There’s even a formal, studio-done, paid-for-with-money, family photo: Mom, Dad, three-year-old Daughter…and Pooh. Sometimes I groused about having to keep track of him, keep laundering him, keep sewing him back up; but Husband wisely observed, “Someday, we’ll be left holding the Pooh.”
On her first day of school, Daughter was insecure and worried about having to leave her special friend behind. It was an older, colder world in Kindergarten; she could no longer tuck him safely in her preschool backpack and take him along. I promised her that I would hold on to him while she was gone and bring him along with me to pick her up. I did hold him, a bit tighter than I realized, as I watched her disappear into that school. It didn’t look like it – she shouldered her backpack, stayed half a day and came home, same as preschool – but subtly, under the surface, everything changed that on that first kindergarten morning.
The next day I held her Pooh for her, and the next, until one day I noticed that she was no longer asking me to; she was leaving him behind on her bed without any trouble.
Then came another day, a day I didn’t notice because I wasn’t looking, when she grew taller and stopped swinging him around the house, and he became a bedtime-only buddy.
Then, a bedtime-only-sometimes buddy, left behind on sleepovers and weekend trips.
Then, an old buddy I would often find face-down at the bottom of a pile of clothes, not really missed at night.
Today, on her first day of classes, Daughter readied herself quickly, downed her breakfast and coffee, grabbed her books and her lunch, and, with a quick peck on my cheek, flew out the door and drove away. No backward glance. It didn’t look like it – she’ll be home in time for dinner – but subtly, under the surface, everything changed on this first college morning. Even though she’s commuting, I suspect that we will not see too much of her. Every new friend made, every late-night study session, every opportunity set before her, every on- or near-campus activity, will expand her orbit a little wider and a little wider, until she reaches escape velocity. This is exactly what is supposed to happen. There’s a future out there; it’s her job to go after it.
And it’s my job, now, not only to support her in the present, but to be the keeper of her past. Because the days will come – not every day, not many days, but some – when she will want to take it out and look at it. She will want to visit her old room, look through old pictures and mementos, remember where and who she’s been. We plot our future in part by our past, and sometimes, like toddlers do, we “check back” with our safe places and people. Sometimes. When the exploring gets a little scary. When we need that little reassurance.
Some days, for one reason or another, she will come here, wanting her Pooh. I’ll hold him for her until then.