This weekend, I learned a little about my daughter, and a LOT about myself. It all began on Friday evening when we were gathered around our dinner table loudly discussing what we would do if we won the Mega Millions jackpot (it had climbed to over $600,000). I don’t play weekly, but every so often I can’t resist the siren call of fast, easy money — that is, if conjuring up six winning numbers from scratch counts as an easy task.
We were all sharing what we’d like to do with this windfall of cash (my son wanted to go on vacation; my husband wanted a better car; and I wanted a permanent vacation, better car, and bigger house). When I asked my daughter, age 7, to share in the daydreams, I was greeted by her face streaming with tears.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, genuinely concerned and surprised. I could recognize instantly that these weren’t tears of rejoicing, but rather of regretting.
“I don’t want to win,” she blurted out. “I like my old life. I like our old car. I like our home. I don’t want things to change. I LOVE things the way they are.”
Now, at that moment, I was of two minds: first, please don’t let the lottery gods hear her. Don’t let a first grader jeopardize our possibility of striking it rich. The second one: Wow, I am so glad that she has a good life here and appreciates what she has. Jane’s happy, and that makes me happy. Gosh, I am proud that we’ve raised a child who is not a slave to materialism.
However, that revelation was immediately followed by another, more hushed plea to the jackpot overlords: Mr. Moneybags, please let us win! The kid doesn’t speak for us!
Well, after the drawing that night, I learned that we hadn’t won (HUGE bummer), and I had managed to come up with only two matching numbers across five tickets. Seems like we had been jinxed big-time!
That geared us up for the next major life lesson — once again courtesy of Jane. She was all set to go to a birthday party the next afternoon for a classmate where the theme was “make your own beautiful bear or plush pal.” She seemed to be in high spirits. We were finishing up a meal of Chinese takeout and were cracking open the fortune cookies. She got one that said: “Prepare to enjoy a new romance very soon.”
She looked at me pensively. “What does that mean exactly?” she asked.
At 7, Jane is too young for crushes; she doesn’t get why girls scream and weep for Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers. So, I said, “It probably means that you’ll find another stuffed bear or cat to love this weekend at the party. You love Lambie and Pumkin’ and Cat. So now you’ll come home with another one you’ll love just as much.”
If looks could freeze, Jane’s glare was icicle-worthy. “I’ll never love another animal as much as my old ones. They’re my special friends. How could you say that?”
Apparently, I was suffering from “MFIM” disease: maternal foot in mouth.
Watching Jane so adamantly defend her menagerie of make-believe pets — critters that have been with her since her crib days — I realized that she never thinks about where they come from or how they came to be in this world.
A large number of her bedtime buddies — or as she refers to them, her “kids and cousins” — are from Aurora. Friends and relatives used to gift Jane with these cuddly toys every time they came for a visit. Cute and colorful and not very costly, the Aurora cats, lambs, bears, and pooches have withstood the hands of time (and Jane’s grubby, grabbing baby fingers too).
When I walk into her room these days, and my eyes fall upon her toys that have often fallen off her bed or have been piled into plush pyramids, it’s like a time machine for my soul. I spy her hot-pink cat — the second animal she ever received — which she gleefully named “Cat” and immediately I see her as a two-year-old loping around the house and getting into mischief.
When I pass by her dog pound, I recall when she first met her aunt’s dachshunds and learned that a playful puppy is a lot more kinetic and paws-on than an acrobatic kitten. She never had a pack of cats try to climb her legs or lick her to death!
The interesting thing about Aurora is that they seemingly come up with a new design every week. As I step over raccoons and navigate past owls, it’s as if the pages of “National Geographic” have sprung open and the creatures have all leapt and stampeded into Jane’s bedroom: the Serengeti of New Jersey.
To my daughter, these stuffed animals are her friends and her confidants. She curls up with them when she is sleeping; she sits them in invisible classrooms to teach them their ABC’s; she carries them down the stairs by the armloads to watch family movie nights with us. (And she protects their soft sensibilities by covering their eyes when a movie gets too scary or has too many sloppy kissing scenes.)
For her, these friends and kiddies (certain ones are her “children” and my “grandchildren,” as she reminds me) have come into her life magically and dare not be replaced. Each one is an individual, and each one has a special role and a special part to play in her existence.
I know deep in my heart that the new bear or dog or frog that she brings home from the party today may eventually earn a spot in her pantheon of plush favorites, but I dare not say it. I realize this is serious business for her, and she does not want her social order crashed so easily and so cavalierly.
So, as a mom, I stay mum. I don’t dare spill the secret that these are all manufactured designs — designed to be overtly adorable and vulnerable and competitive for a child’s affections. I agree, instead, with her that it will take a heck of a lot for a late arrival to ever hope to compete with the adorability of her tiger cubs or the charisma of her Chihuahuas.
And just then, the company’s name suddenly makes sense to me: Aurora! It DAWNS on me, if you will. All of these stuffed animals have brightened up Jane’s childhood; and by doing that, they’ve brightened up my life too.
I’m not looking at a room that has exploded with too many stitched and sewn pals. I’m looking at a room that has exploded with lots of laughter, long-ago tea parties, and, most of all, love. And even when Jane grows up, moves away, and — Lord forbid — misplaces her affections for these well-tended toys, I shall always hold on to how happy they made her feel, and how glad I was to witness her comfortable growing up.
That, I imagine, was how I hit the jackpot this Mega Millions weekend.