Prone to Sentimentality

Tonight my son said something that I found profoundly sad. He has a toy bunny, a little blue rubber contraption with an LED that goes on when you move the toy really fast (or throw it into the ground). For some reason, Jackson has grown attached to this bunny–now called “Floppy.” He made a house for it, likes to have it watching over him at night, and tries to sleep with it; until tonight I had succeeded in convincing him that it wasn’t really a cuddly toy.

Tonight, during our nightly struggle to get Jackson calmed down and asleep, we had a brief conversation about how Floppy was dirty and needed to be cleaned with some water. I suggested Jackson might use a damp cloth “tomorrow night,” and Jackson mentioned that he had put the bunny under some water at daycare. Then he mentioned how some other kids had been playing rough with Floppy.

Then Jackson said Floppy was broken. Indeed, there was a small tear behind one of floppy’s ears, and the ear itself had grown weak from repeated pulling (remember, this toy is some kind of rubberized plastic). He wanted to get a new bunny. He wanted to call grandma to find out where she bought the bunny.

“I want to destroy Floppy and get a new bunny.”

I lost it.

I had been so focused this evening, most evenings, on Jackson’s need to get to sleep and had been on edge anyway. I didn’t get mad at Jackson, exactly, but a mix of anger, desperation, incredulity, and profound sadness washed over me and I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say.

Maybe it was his use of the word “destroy,” so often used to describe animals that have been euthanized. I couldn’t believe he wanted to destroy something he had grown so attached to. Aren’t children supposed to refuse to give things up even long after they’ve lost their utility?

Further, I felt guilt that he hadn’t yet learned the lesson that we don’t just go out and replace things that are broken. Intellectually I know he’s still too young to really understand this. It is also a hard lesson to teach because we replace things when they are broken all the time. But a toy to which he’s become attached, to which he has attached some kind of life?

This could have been a teachable moment, a discussion about the need to love imperfection. I certainly have my own stories of stuffed animals I loved despite their being broken. I had a rabbit my grandmother had knitted for me that had a big hole leaking stuffing. I loved it anyway. I could have calmly told this story. Instead I took the short cut and just said “we don’t replace things just because they’re broken.” Of course we do. All the time. Not the best way to approach this problem.

While I was busy overreacting, grasping for anything that I could do to get Jackson back into bed and on the road to sleep, having trouble breathing, saying things that didn’t make much sense, covering my face and pulling my hair (hey, we’re all prone to histrionics from time to time), Jackson leaves his room and crawls into bed with his mom. She finally calms him down enough that he gets back in his own bed, clutching Floppy in his hand.

“Would you like to put Floppy on the table so that nothing happens to him?”

“Yes.”

“I love Floppy.”

“Me too.”

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