When my son was a toddler, he developed an obsession with stuffed animals. I don’t mean he was partial to Teddy Bears. I’m talking about a full-blown hoarding of every obscure plush critter he could dream of with his pre-school mind. I searched the internet for just the right stuffed owl or that hawk-billed sea turtle who could spout off facts about its eating habits. He had lemurs, rabbits, penguins, and every variety of cat and dog I could get my hands on via the World Wide Web. He would separate them out on the floor of the den and offer tours of his imaginary zoo. He took great care and pride in this stuffed menagerie, so much in fact, that he even had his picture made at three years of age with his favorite toy beagle, Buddy.
We were socking money away for veterinary school, sure that this would be his lot in life. I encouraged this love of animals because – honestly – I thought it was precious. He named them and although he never slept with them or needed them for comfort, you could always tell which he was partial to on any given day by the creature that held the place of honor on his bed. He eventually became so enamored of his stuffed dachshunds that we caved and got him the real thing. (Stupid, stupid, stupid parents)
However, little boys grow into big boys, and his interest in the animals waned. His attention turned to creating the ultimate Lego world and shooting his little sister with his arsenal of Nerf guns. The animals found a new home in a couple of large toy boxes tucked away in a hall closet. Each time we would have an “Oh-my-gosh-get-this-house-cleaned-from-top-to-bottom” kind of day, I would beg him to part with some of the animals. “We’ll donate them to Goodwill so that another little boy can enjoy them,” I would plead. He wasn’t having it. Even though he wouldn’t admit it, they were a part of him. In his mind, how could any other kid take proper care of Sheldon, the penguin in a lumberjack suit? Even though he never played with them any more, he would rather have the whole lot of them squished in a dark toy box than have someone else touch them with hands that might be sticky.
On a recent dreary Sunday afternoon, my son came to me and said, “Well, I’m going to bite the bullet and throw out everything today.” He seemed serious this time. Although I was skeptical, I thought maybe his middle school brain was ready to part with the toys he associated with his little boy life. I agreed to help him, so we pulled out the boxes and started making piles. He decided that he should probably keep a few of the animals – the rhinoceros he got as a gift from his Dad on the day he was born and the Beanie Baby Pterodactyl that shares his exact birthday and year. This was really happening. I might just get another shoe closet! (Yay, me!) We reminisced over the toys, remembering which dog was the brother of which, and how he came up with this name or that. The Goodwill pile grew larger with only a few lucky critters getting a pass to stay with us.
Then, it happened. It was our “Toy Story 3” moment. If you've seen it, then you know what I mean, and if you haven't, you'll understand any way. It's the moment when reality hits a teenager and he finally understands that his childhood buddies, these seemingly unimportant toys, aren’t going to be in the house forever, and neither is he. In the movie, the boy - who starts off as a little kid in the original “Toy Story” - is leaving for college and has to decide what to do with his favorite toys: Buzz Lightyear, Woody and the rest of the beloved gang. It was painful and poignant to watch, and I haven’t come so close to crying at a kid’s movie since “Bambi”.
About an hour after we finished sorting the animals, my son came to me and gently said, “Maybe we should just keep them here for now. You know, we could put the boxes in the garage and get rid of them later.” He didn’t need to say another word. I quickly replied, “That sounds like a great idea to me.” I knew that for as much as I want my children to grow into independent young adults, there will always be a part of me that wants to keep them close to my side forever. I didn't want to get rid of those toys any more than he did.
We carefully packed all of the precious cargo into airtight containers and put them safely into a corner of the garage without another word spoken. We didn’t have to…we both realized that those toys, sweet symbols of a little boy’s first years in this world, will always live in his heart…to infinity and beyond.