In North Carolina a little boy passed a day like so many others before with the comfort of his favorite toy, a plush lion's head attached to a comically small blanket. He carries the toy with him wherever he goes and sleeps with him every night. Unfortunately, it was the inevitable day when Lovey Lion was lost, you can read the full story of Lion Lovey's last day over at Dad and Buried.
In Chicago, J Bean has always been in love with a similar toy, a sheep purchased as a gift before she was born. Sheep was received with a companion lion like the one mentioned above. Sheep is in J Bean's hands anytime she is upset, every time she lays down to sleep and during just about any moment of anxiety or boredom. Sheep is in her arms right now and I'm fighting back my own tears as her own bead and trickle down her face. How did we get here? Why is J Bean crying? How did a 4 year old just teach me so much about love, sacrifice and the feelings of a stranger?
To understand how we got here, take a look at the link embedded above about Detective Munch losing his beloved lion. I read that story a few days ago and was surprised to see a little boy's lost lion in the story was an exact replica of our own. I considered the idea of asking J Bean if she would be willing to part ways with the toy and I'll admit I was fairly confident, if the story were presented correctly, she would choose to donate her lion to the mourning Munch. She's always been a giving soul. J Bean's attachment to "sheep" is strong and when we temporarily lost that fading lamb a year ago I scoured the internet until I found and ordered two duplicates and an extra lion. As these things often go, we found the real McCoy the day before the replacements arrived so we packed them away and waited.
Our lion was more than gently used and served as a substitute for "sheep" on the rare occasion that sneaky ewe couldn't be found at bedtime. J Bean had agreed to give "extra lion" to an envious friend for her birthday last year so the idea of giving this one away was not without precedent. We also have "new sheep" in the mix after another false alarm of losing the one and only original bona fide "Sheep" several months back. It's always just been "Sheep." J Bean summarily dismissed any and all attempts to elicit other handles for her fuzzy friend over the years. The two sheep, one much dingier than the other, and a lion are fixtures in J Bean's bed. The lion is just as old as the original sheep, albeit slightly less worn.
After reading of Detective Munch and his missing lion and later discussing the matter with his father, Mike, I called J Bean over to the computer. I showed her some pictures and told her how the boy loved Lion Lovey just as she loves Sheep and how he had lost his favorite toy this week. J Bean quickly indicated she could send Lion to him, explaining "he's not my favorite anyway and then he'll have a lion again." She began asking questions about the boy in the pictures. We discussed shipment options and the idea of a new pen pal. Then I asked her again if she was sure this was something she was OK with doing and that she wanted to carry through. To my great pride, J Bean indicated it was. I sent a message to Mike letting him know operation Lion Drop was a go.
Five minutes later J Bean was bawling.
"Sheep and I are really going to miss lion" she sobbed. The tears slid down her face and I kicked myself for misjudging the situation. I felt simultaneous sadness (for her feelings), guilt (for the possibility that I might allow Detective Munch to go without our replacement lovey if it was going to break my daughter's heart), and disappointment that J Bean was seemingly looking to back out of her commitment. "Was it fair? Should I have asked this of a child?" I thought to myself.
A minute or two later, with her lip finally stiffening, we discussed the situation. I reminded J Bean I had already informed Detective Munch the toy was on the way and I asked for her input on what we should do. I was struck sideways when I realized J Bean was not trying to back out of the deal, she was simply expressing her sadness and admitting she did care for the toy. This is a loss I didn't know she would feel, I thought the toy's status was far below that of sheep. Having had her necessary cry, she still wanted to give the toy to Munch. Her tears were not of remorse or a change in heart but just an acknowledgement of her feelings.
Ultimately, she made one card for Munch and another for the lion (her idea to help him through the times when he would undoubtedly miss her). I had stepped away to the next room for a moment when I heard J Bean say to the lion, "I know I will miss you more than you miss me, and you will have a new home where you will get to be somebody's favorite toy but....," she trailed off into a few more whimpers.
I was at a loss. I was so proud of her I nearly ready to burst at the seams, but my heart ached for her pain. Sure, it's just a silly lion, but these totems hold much power and affection among certain circles, a fact I only thought I understood before that moment. When I reentered the kitchen, J Bean asked how lion would travel. She decided on a cracker box, wrapped in brown paper (to keep him warm), and mandated that lion would be accompanied by a tiny gingerbread man made of melted crayon remnants. The little man would double as friend for the recipient and lion alike.
J Bean drew some pictures and stamped and stickered a few cards for the occasion. One card for the mysterious boy miles away and one for the lion who would go to meet him. She then offered to help me tape up the package. Her tears were dry, already fading to memory behind those blue eyes, as she stuck her tongue to the left (just so) in order to maximize focus on the placement of the tape strip.
As we addressed the package she said, "I hope Munch will send me a picture of Lion when he gets there. Sheep will really miss him and it's nice to get pictures of something you don't have anymore."
"I'm sure he will, Little Bit. Give me a hug and let me tell you a few things," I said as I pulled her in for a tight squeeze. I pushed some of her hair from behind glasses where it had been lodged during the previous water works. I continued, "I love you so much. I think you are a very special and kind person and I am very proud of you. Good has a way of coming back to us and doing good makes us feel nice too, doesn't it?" She nodded quietly and I studied her expression closely, taking in every quirk of this little blinking and breathing gift that just keeps on giving.
In the distance, I hear the faint yet familiar rag tune "The Entertainer" which 'round these parts signals an ice cream truck in the vicinity. I hope you swing by our house, sweet chariot, because I know one little girl who is getting a Choco-Taco tonight even if I have to run three blocks to get it.
Detective Munch, please take good care of lion he was never meant to be a second stringer and deserves to be the favorite toy of a special little boy. J Bean looks forward to having a pen pal in a far away place and maybe hearing about some of Lion Lovey's adventures from time to time.