I felt so silly, a grown woman sitting on the floor of a shed, sobbing over a stuffed cat. But there I was. My mother had given me a box of my childhood keepsakes, report cards, award certificates, programs from school plays, and, patiently waiting at the bottom, Contessa Kitty Cat. She was my best friend, keeper of all my darkest secrets, my guardian angel, my therapist, my constant through all the changes and growing pains of youth. She was ratty, her pretty white fluff now a matted mange more closely resembling a sheep in a rainstorm. Her blue eyes were chewed to milky cataracts. A few plastic beans spilled out of a hole in her paw as I gently lifted her and hugged her tight. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, she was real to me, a rare lingering piece of magic.
After a brief but heavy war in my mind, I decided she would now guard over my three year old. I brought her to Millie and told her of our adventures. I explained how she was a great listener, how you could tell her anything and she would always understand. I told Millie how precious she was to me and then relinquished my grip along with all my need and leftover angst and all my desire to be loved and protected, finally fully embracing motherhood. It isn't my place to need a talisman any longer. I am the one who will love and protect and guide my little girl through the joys and sorrows of growing up.
It has been six years now, and Millie still totes Contessa on every vacation, searches for her every night, cries to her when she feels life is so unfair. Contessa has been patched with pieces of washcloth after getting ripped apart by a puppy, FedExed overnight after being left behind at a hotel, stitched and refilled with new plastic beans. She is barely recognizable as a cat. To me, and to Millie, she unites our childhoods and provides a common thread. She reminds me of what it was like to be young and helps me find grace in my responsibility to discipline and nurture. She reminds Millie that I was once a child, too. It helps her see me as human, not just mother. Contessa still works magic as I suspect she will for my granddaughter one day.
As the curator of a children's shop, I buy stuffed toys carefully, knowing that some of them will walk out of my shop and into the arms of a child who will make them real, will find their magic, and carry them in their hearts for a lifetime. Every Jellycat, each SigiKid Beast and Maileg bunny, every Buddy Blanket, has the potential to touch someone's life, or break their heart. I can't tell you how many desperate phone calls I have received from parents around the world searching for a specific toy to replace a lost friend. On great days, I can help, and will quickly ship out the needed toy. When I can't, I help look, because I know just how devastating the loss of that friend can be. It is as real to a child as any flesh and blood being.
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