There are certain times in your life where you can’t deny that your children are growing up. From day-to-day you can sort of ignore the process and pretend like your child will always need you to push them on the swing or cut up their chicken. That these days of whole-body hugs and baby kisses won’t end. But then, the kids do or say something that makes you realize all in a sad flash that this beautiful time will not last forever.
Last weekend I had one of those moments.
KJ generally sleeps with a lot of stuffed animals. It all started with “Doggie.” Doggie was a shower gift from my aunt, and KJ started sleeping with him as soon as he was able to sleep with stuffed animals. Doggie made the transition with KJ from crib to big boy bed, and generally was around whenever KJ needed him. But then, one night KJ got the flu and Doggie needed to go to the “spa.” Enter Bear. Like Doggie, Bear was one of those small blankets with an animal head on top. He made a great substitute for Doggie, and just never left the bed when Doggie came back.
From there, KJ just kept adding animals. Any stuffed animal that he took a shine to went into his bed. Lily. Bunny. Giraffe. Wally. Curious George. For a short time, Cat. Over time the mix of animals changed and some have fallen out of favor, but almost every night you can count on Doggie, Bear, Bunny, Lily, Giraffe and George snuggling in next to KJ. Sure, things are crowded, but it’s cute. Every animal has its place. And when we say our prayers, KJ asks God to bless each one of them, by name. They are important to him, and thus, they are important to me.
But then, out of the blue last weekend KJ decided he didn’t want to sleep with his animals anymore. I was unprepared for this declaration of independence. KJ gave us no warning that he was finished sleeping with animals. In fact, after waking up from his nap that very afternoon he brought his Bunny downstairs with him. Plus, KJ has this (admittedly strange) habit of sniffing the ribbon on Bunny to help him relax. I just couldn’t imagine KJ without his Bunny.
But KJ was clear and went straight to his bed, removing each and every animal until nothing was left. “Are you sure?” I asked him as he removed the animals. KJ said he was sure. So, I helped him load all of the animals onto the empty shelf on his bookcase. “They’ll be right here for you if you want them during the night.” I told him. But KJ didn’t seem to need any reassurance. He just sat there waiting patiently for his story.
There haven’t been a whole lot of times in my life where I’ve felt more sad than when I put Doggie on KJ’s shelf. In the last three years, I’ve grown attached to Doggie. Doggie has been with KJ through it all. The tough transitions at daycare. Round-the-clock breathing treatments in the hospital. Sweet Pea’s birth. Whenever KJ was scared or tired or just needed a friendly face, Doggie has been there. I wasn’t ready for KJ to not need him any longer.
As it turns out, neither was KJ. As I was reading KJ his story, KJ started looking sadder and sadder until I finally asked him what was wrong. In a sad, sad voice, KJ answered, “I want something to sniff.” Never have such strange words sounded so sweet. I immediately hugged KJ and told him he could have whatever animals he wanted. KJ ran and brought Bunny, Doggie and Bear back to bed. Over the next few days, all of the animals have found their way home. And all is right in the world.
I know someday KJ won’t want to sleep with a menagerie in his bed. But I hope he holds on to his Bunny and Doggie just a little bit longer. Just as they provide him comfort and security at night, Bunny and Doggie provide me comfort that the baby days are not behind us yet.