I am standing over the kitchen counter, my glue gun in one hand and a tiny square of well-loved fabric—minky and striped with worn satin trim around the edges–in the other. Until a few minutes ago, there was a stuffed elephant head sewn to the center of that square—we call it Lovey. But as I was tucking Ruthie in for her nap, I tried to pull Lovey out from under her arm and its head got stuck. With a pop, the few remaining threads ripped and Ruthie wailed, holding a tiny square blanket in one hand and a gray elephant head in the other. I knew this would happen sooner or later–Lovey has been through a lot in Ruthie’s three years of life.
I have no sewing skills, but I’m a decent crafter, so a hot glue gun will have to do. Then, hopefully, naptime can continue as scheduled.
After naptime, I offer to hold all her stuff as we make our way down to the dining room.
“Hand me your books and your animals, Ruthie. You hold the railing.”
She pauses and looks up at me, her brow furrowed a bit as she considers my offer. She’s always negotiating between the most expedient and most independent ways to exist in the world.
“Ok,” she concedes, letting out a dramatic sigh. “But Mom? You can not have my Lovey, ok? Lovey is so special to me.”
With each step we traverse, she tells me one more thing about Lovey—how Lovey is so soft, Lovey wants to play, do I remember when Lovey was lost and we found him in the dollhouse? I’m grateful that my shoddy repair work has not registered with her or diminished her affection one bit. When we finally make it downstairs, she stops and yells, “I love my Lovey berry, berry much!” She squeezes it with all the strength and affection her toddler arms can muster.
Carters sells these types of baby toys with matching layette sets in size “NB,” a small puppy or safari animal attached to a tiny blankie. This particular elephant was actually a gift for my middle child from my mother, but he was always a muslin-blanket-loving boy and didn’t care much for stuffies. It sat decoratively on a shelf until Ruthie was a newborn. She was fussing in her swing one day when I grabbed the elephant from its perch and tucked it in next to her.
“Would you like a Lovey, sweet girl?” I offered. She stopped fussing. “She likes it,” I declared.
And that was that.
When I was six months old, my aunt and uncle gifted me a doll for my first Christmas. She had a stuffed body, a little different from your typical baby doll. You could squeeze her foot to play music, spin a plastic piece on her belly to make a rattling and clicking noise, or play peek-a-boo with the mirror on her chest. Her hair was made of loops of yellow yarn that peeked out from below the rim of a little bonnet. On her back were two pink straps so she could be tied to the rails of a crib. That’s just what my mom did, and I began the habit of rubbing my nose on that yellow hair.
Her name was Sally.
I lost her once, at Sea World. My parents were pushing me around in an umbrella stroller when I suddenly looked down and realized it: Sally was gone. My only additional memory from that day is of my dad, t-shirt tucked into his denim shorts, poking around in a Sea World trash can hoping for a glimpse of pink fabric or yellow hair.
We left the theme park without Sally that day, but someone found her eventually, and Sea World shipped her home to us. When she arrived, my mom snuck her off to the laundry room, because God knows where she had been. When my mom handed her to me, fresh out of the dryer, I sat right down on the laundry room floor, shoved my nose into her hair, and sobbed. In my head, I silently cried, “I missed you, Sally, I missed you!”
As I worked with my mom and Nanny Ruth to plan my wedding, Nanny thought it would be lovely to display Sally somewhere for all the reception guests to see–on a table with the guest book, perhaps?
This odd suggestion came from the same classy woman who insisted, “We cannot invite guests from out of town without offering them a cocktail! It’s just not done.”
Cocktails, I agreed with, but a childhood toy display I did not. I was getting married, for goodness sakes, entering womanhood and adulthood for real this time. (College was evidently just a warm-up.)
I wanted to say, somehow, I’m not that little girl anymore. I’ve grown and changed. Sally was special then, and maybe she’ll always be special, but I am no longer that girl.
Sally now lives in a box somewhere in my parents’ house, and if I’m honest, when I think about her, a sort of warmth and fondness rises in my chest. I still love her, I guess, but I don’t need her.
Some things never change, until suddenly, they do.
I don’t know how long Ruthie will cling to Lovey, or how long Leo will want to carry his blankies everywhere. The blankets have holes, and Lovey’s neck is surrounded by glue gun residue, the satin trim around its edges pilling and permanently stained. I have not needed to fish Lovey from a theme park trash can (knock on wood), but I should probably learn to sew while those skills would still be of use to Lovey. I know the time will come when my children will look beyond stuffies and blankies for comfort. I will stash their favorites in the attic, hoping for the day we might pull them back out again for nostalgia’s sake, or maybe even to pass them along to the next generation. They will be musty and yellowed but still loved.
In the meantime, I will wash those blankets with extra hot water. I’ll load another glue stick into the glue gun and try, yet again, to get that elephant’s head on there good this time.
Lindsey Cornett is a loud talker and lover of the written word who lives in Indianapolis with her scientist husband and three young kids. In both writing and life, she explores the intersections of faith, family, creativity, and freedom from perfectionism. She’s out there providing hope and solidarity to any other women who find themselves afraid to make mistakes. She is a co-founder of The Drafting Desk, an email newsletter of soulful encouragement for recovering perfectionists. If her kids aren’t demanding to be held, she’s probably carrying a pen, a book, or a coffee. Her writing has been featured at Coffee + Crumbs, Motherly, and (in)courage, but you can always find her on Instagram.