My 4-year-old shuffled out of his bedroom and across the living room towards me, clad in footy pajamas and carrying his shabby, faded yellow Ugly Doll he calls Fea Bea Babo. His eyes were downcast and I detected a subtle pooling of fluid clinging to his lower lids as he told me in his quietest voice that something was wrong with Fea Bea. I felt the metallic rise of panic “Oh shit, not Fea Bea!”
This doll is his comfort, his serenity, and for a highly sensitive kid like mine, serenity is often a hard thing to come by. Actually, it’s not really the doll, it’s his tag. My child takes supreme comfort in fondling the tag that hangs off of Fea Bea Babo’s swollen belly, akin to the comfort one might take in rubbing the smooth curve of a rosary bead. He had stroked and pulled Fea Bea’s tag until two faint strands of woven thread were all that remained. My husband and I knew the tag was not long for this world, but we were still not at all prepared for the tag to die.
Sulli’s voice was trembling, the pools becoming rivers running down his cheeks. He held up Fea Bea and choked out the words “Fea Bea doesn’t have anything on his side anymore.” The tag was completely gone. Goddammit.
I mobilized. “I’ll fix her sweetheart. You hang out with Daddy and I’ll be right back.”
I ran into the basement where most of Sulli’s toys live and searched for frayed tags. I tried the hobby horse, too new, the lion, too short, then I saw my savior, my nappy haired, flattened teddy bear named Marshall that I got from Marshall Field’s in Chicago when I was a kid. His tag was perfect. Plenty frayed, not too short, nice and wide so Sulli would have a good year of fondling before this tag disappeared too. How wonderful, how meaningful, how perfect! I quickly cut the tag off of Marshall and lovingly sewed it onto Fea Bea Babo.
With tears pooling in my own eyes, I presented the new and improved Fea Bea to my kid. I was feeling like such an awesome Mom. I had saved Fea Bea and validated my son’s need for an object of comfort. I had my iPhone poised to take an epic picture of maternal triumph that I would immediately post on Facebook when Sulli looked at the tag, ran it through his fingers, and proceeded to completely freak out. He hated it.
The tag wasn’t right, it didn’t feel right, it was lumpy where the stiches held it in place, it was too long, too thick, just wrong. No amount of convincing would make this tag right. I couldn’t handle it. "Did Sulli not realize how amazing it was that I cut the tag off my favorite stuffed animal to replace the tag on his? Did he not see the meaning, the symmetry, the sentiment in this late night sacrifice I made for him?" No, he did not. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t what he needed. What he needed was to mourn, to be uncomfortable, to be sad. I couldn’t fix this loss for him, all I could do was be there.
I removed the tag per his request and he hugged the new, tagless Fea Bea to his chest, curled up in his bed, and went to sleep.
One of the hardest things about being a parent is letting your kid be sad, letting them make peace with their world when bad things happen. Thank you Sulli for reminding me that I can’t protect you from everything and that you don’t need me to save you all the time. I will fail miserably in this endeavor, but thank you.