While the family was sick the other night, I made a run to the store to replenish our stock of chicken soup and clear juices. While I was there I picked something up for my two exhausted daughters laying in misery on the living room couches back home.
Later that night I stood in front of them with their tiny gifts hidden behind my back. The girls’ tired red nosed faces lit up with anticipation. With a flourish I produced a stuffed animal in each of my hands. Clara was given a small brown cat, and Lydia was handed a rainbow colored monkey. They both seemed happy. But I learned something a few moments later that I have been thinking about ever since. When I asked my girls to name their new friends I was given a tired glimpse into their hearts. Because the names they gave them turned out to be confessions of their fragile disappointment following those bright eyed anxious moments before the prizes had been revealed.
Lydia was first: “You don’t have to name her right now. But see if you can th—“
“Pony!” She cut me off.
“Pony?” I asked.
“Pony!” She shook the monkey in the air.
I looked to Clara for support. “Lydia really likes ponies.”
I turned back to Lydia who was hugging her monkey to her chest. She clearly was happy to have her multicolored monkey, but running circles around in her mind was a different toy that had not appeared. A pony. I made a mental note in my secret Christmas wish list and turned back to her sister.
“How about you Clara? What are you going to name your new friend?” She smiled, her eyes weary slits. She hesitated and watched me cautiously, “Thank you, Daddy.” She said finally, “But I don’t name stuffed animals anymore.” She glanced down briefly at the cat sitting next to her on the couch and then still watching me, gently moved the cat down to the floor. Then she smiled at me in her sweet way, as if to apologize. As if she knew I was watching through the window into her young heart and discovering her secret. A secret she did not want to reveal for fear of hurting her father’s feelings. The secret that my little girl was suddenly too old for stuffed animals. She had somehow grew out of them when I wasn’t watching and was now struggling for a way to communicate this fact. Maybe she was only just now discovering this about herself.
I knelt down and kissed her on her warm forehead. “It’s okay.” I told her. “You don’t have to name her anything.”
She closed her eyes, “Thanks Dad.”
The next day I discreetly asked about her cat and she shrugged. “I think I lost her someplace.”
I nodded in understanding, and mentally wrote this down on a different list.