Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Finding Wish Bear

“Mama! I can’t find Wish Bear.”

It’s the tone, more than the words, that capture my complete attention. I hear ‘Mama!’ - usually followed by a request of some sort– all throughout the day, and, like any apt parent, I can easily gauge the speed at which I need to respond by the sound of my child’s voice more than by the actual words he is using.

In this case, I responded immediately, but rather typically – “Have you looked under the bed? In the closet? In your bookbag? In your toybox?” My list went on and grew to include looking under MY bed, in MY closet, under the car seats, behind the couch, in the board game chest, in the linen closet….and I looked again in all the places he’d already looked before. That little pale green bear had, for all practical purposes, simply vanished.

Has my child lost things before? On occasion, yes. There was the little die-cast Tonka bulldozer that he left in a buggy at Wal-Mart, never to be seen again. And the big Fisher Price boat with a deck and a plank that he left by the creek one evening, an evening it would later rain so hard the creek would swell and wash the boat away forever. The soft black bathrobe he loved that inexplicably disappeared on a vacation to the mountains…these are small losses, really. These were shrug-your-shoulders, ‘Oh well’ kind of things, situations I tried to use to teach my child responsibility for his things.

But Wish Bear being lost was an entirely different ball game. You see, I was lucky enough to have a mother who saved most of my favorite toys from childhood. So when my son was born, some of his first toys were the small, moveable Care Bear dolls I’d had growing up. In time, I managed to find a few Care Bear VHS tapes, books, and other assorted items, including a small stuffed Wish Bear that was, upon receipt, firmly instituted as my son’s very favorite toy.

And who wouldn’t love Wish Bear? She’s got not only a pet star named Twinkers who accompanies her everywhere, but the power to grant wishes, as long as they are from the heart and for the good of everyone. Wish Bear went everywhere with us, from the market to the mountains; on every overnight trip; on the planes when we flew abroad; tightly clutched in his arms when he had his tonsils removed. Wish Bear was his comfort during sickness or sadness, a familiar, favorite friend. It was a toy I wanted to keep, to save along with the tiny die-cast blue car he loved to hold in his hand as a toddler; the gown he wore as an infant; the onesies I tie-dyed for him and the set of books we used to come home and read every day. As a single parent who works 40+ hours a week outside of the home at one job while still pursuing dreams of another, I don’t take time to be overly sentimental. Life moves in a blur far too often…but Wish Bear was a constant, a staple, a fixture of my son’s childhood, which is passing by too quickly for my own comfort.

And she was gone. Clearly. I felt a little sick. Not just because Wish Bear was missing, but because a few days before we’d taken loads of items to the donation box at the thrift store. I mean loads of stuff. It’d felt so good to get rid of it, then…but all I could think now was that through some tragic oversight, Wish Bear had found her way into one of those boxes. Nothing else made sense. We had looked everywhere.

I put the thought out of my head, a skill I’ve mastered, and we went to run errands. We picked up my friend’s daughter and went to visit another friend and her daughter at the lake. We found caterpillars and the kids swam. We came home. My son played outside. I planted Black-eyed Susans, drank coffee, and tended my flowerbeds. But when bed-time came, he resumed his hopeless search. A long time later, my son, who already refuses to walk into school with me in the morning, who already insists on picking out his own clothes so he can look ‘cool’, who is already beginning that necessary stage of separation from mom that will last, I know, for the next few decades at least, looked up at me with tears in his eyes.

“I give up,” he said. “Wish Bear is just gone.”

And what could I say? Keep looking? There was no place left to look. He climbed into bed without complaint, and I told him goodnight. I had so many things waiting, after all. So many projects I needed to tackle, a to-do list longer than most people’s weekly agendas. But I couldn’t focus. I had to find that bear.

Amazing how children rearrange and reinvent our priorities for us. I dismissed all of the plans I had and spent my solo evening hours scouring the house yet again, looking in unimaginable places, possessed with a determination to find that Wish Bear. She could not be gone. She represented an entire portion of my son’s young life. And while he would recover from the loss of her, I wasn’t so sure that I would, and it surprised me to realize how desperately I wanted, or needed, to find that little stuffed animal.

And then I did. I found her wedged between a large chest and a small storage bin, in a small space obscured by the drawing tablet propped up beside it. How she came to rest there will forever be a mystery. All I know is this: I’ve accomplished many things in my life, things that have brought me great delight, seemed very impressive, given me monetary rewards or fleeting moments of regional fame. But nothing, I swear, has ever equaled the feeling of being able to place that small stuffed bear into my son’s arms. Nothing.

Parenting isn’t an easy road to begin with. Parenting solo takes the already not-easy road and fills it full of mountains and storms and twists and bends that seem, at times, impossible to navigate. But then, there are these fleeting moments when all is right with the world. Moments when you know you’ve done something spectacularly good for your child, moments when you know, without a doubt, that you have fulfilled a purpose, that you are a hero to someone. No matter how tough you think you are, these moments find their way beneath all of your guards, softening the edges life has hardened around you, enabling you to feel more joy than you ever thought was possible.

Perhaps Wish Bear really does grant wishes after all…