|The quintessential rag doll tagalong|
This is Puppy.
You’ve probably seen him before. If you know us in person, I know that you have.
Puppy follows Matthew everywhere. The skating rink. The library. The doctor’s office. The bathroom. He tags along for every game of catch in the park. Sits between our laps and every book we’ve ever read together. And when Mary is not in the car with us, he takes her place slumped calm and composedly under a seatbelt, next to Matthew’s booster; his front legs wilted happily over the heavy nylon stretched across his lap. He has stains of every color variation and texture embedded into his fur. He gets washed almost as often as Matthew’s underwear and he is worn with the sands of being well loved.
Yesterday it occurred to Matthew that with the speeds he’s learned to ride his bike at now, he can’t comfortably hold puppy by the ear while simultaneously holding onto the handle bars and keeping his balance. I wasn’t bringing the stroller either, so Puppy couldn’t come.
This was an issue.
I started to put my foot down. I started to tell him that it isn’t going to be a catastrophe if puppy misses out on this one bike ride just this one time, just around the block. I knew that Matthew would understand. He usually does, even if he persists a little. He’s attached to Puppy enough to want to bring him everywhere, but he isn’t so attached that he falls apart if we forget now and then. But then I stopped myself.
I looked at my son; long legs draped over a tall huffy, one foot resting carelessly on the pedal, the other keeping him upright and steady on the pavement, not straining to reach at all. His face looking on in that thoughtful way, but void of all that stark anticipation it used to be filled with just last year when he mounted a two wheeler with training wheels for the first few times. This year, he isn’t gripping the bars as tightly. He isn’t nearly as entranced by the idea of going (all the way!) around the block. His tongue isn’t going to be stuck to the inside of his cheek when he first pushes off. And he won’t even bat an eye when his tire goes slicing through a puddle bigger than he is; If anything? He’ll laugh and look back and say, “Whoa, Mommy! Did you see that?” He might even just call me “mom.”
He’s getting so big.
Matthew’s grown out of a lot of things in his four years of life; a lot of things I’ve really dreaded having to let go. His Nautica crib sheets. His Winnie-the-Pooh snowsuit. His argyle sweater vest. His habit of putting his pants on backward. His use of the made-up term “amn’t” (am not), Even, to a large degree, his intense fondness of Thomas the Tank Engine. These were all things that, for a time, I pictured when I thought of him… that I don’t anymore. The weird thing is that it never stings quite like I think it will when I pack one of them up to donate or I realize all at once that he hasn’t needed (or done, or wanted, or said) one of these characteristic things in a long time. There isn’t even usually much more than a passing thought and maybe a little, biting wince of sentiment paid to it after it’s whisked off, inevitably replaced as it will be by something new and twice as integral to who he is.
I’ve learn to give away stuff by the boxful without even bothering to give it a once over like I used to, just for the sake of breathing it all in, one stuffed animal at a time, before it’s meaning is no doubt lost on someone else who will never love it like he did. Who has time for senselessness like that with three kids around..
But I know that on the day that Matthew looks on this creature for the first time and only sees beads where he once saw sympathetic eyes; feels nothing more than stuffing sandwiched between long-threaded fabric where he once felt an unshakable, beating heart; hears nothing where once there was a voice… we’ll both have lost a little something worth remembering in a very big way. This animal, more than anything else he has ever loved as a child, holds the magic of his youth.
“You know what? I bet we can find room, somewhere…”
Puppy will be there.