Posted in Family

(Used) Lions & Bunnies & Bears, oh my!

with Toots in his nightcap, the early years

Since my first birthday, I’ve had this stuffed bear I call Toots. Well, I’ve always called him a bear, but his physiology really does defy taxonomic classification… I’m not sure whether the tail and belly button (both features added by my Grandma at my demand) would clarify or confuse the question of precisely what type of critter Toots was originally intended to represent. Or why he looks like he’s perpetually cheering.

Regardless, Toots is THE bear, the companion of my childhood, the indispensable intimate who went with me on every trip, every vacation, every  Girl Scout camp, every sleepover and slumber party–I never spent a night without Toots.

Toots as toilet-training pal

Toots protected against nightmares, comforted in the face of stressors, conversed with me at all hours of the day and night, and was in every way entirely “real” to me.  You’ve read the Velveteen Rabbit, right? A stuffed animal becomes real by being loved to bits and tatters…

And “loved to tatters” pretty well describes the state of this bear.  After a lot of years’ worth of trips through the washing machine (and hanging by his ears from various clotheslines), he got too fragile for anything but hand-washing, and by the time I hit college, my mother had to give him a full facelift just to keep his stuffing on the inside.

Because, yes, even in college–much to the amusement of my roommate, and the annoyance of my boyfriend–I still went to sleep every night with Toots tucked in the crook of my arm. This bear traveled with me through twenty-one countries (some of which don’t exist anymore on today’s maps) and through all the rough moments of growing up, and (perhaps ironically) of trying to become a grownup.

Toots (& my sister's bear) crossing the country by train, 1985-ish

On the evening that I left my first husband, I grabbed a sleeping bag and Toots on my way out of the house, and spent my first solo night on the floor of the empty apartment for which I’d just signed, wide awake and clutching Toots for reassurance.

Toots was my comforter and my protector, but I also felt protective about Toots–as evidenced by the strange recurring nightmare that haunted me, reappearing for years in a multitude of variations, in which Toots somehow got lost in the world.  I would wake feeling equal parts foolish and traumatized, but within that dream I always felt an awful anguish over the knowledge that he was “out there” without me to take care of him, that he wouldn’t know what happened to me, or that I loved him and had tried to keep him safe. Time after time I dreamed of Toots slipping out of range, out of my protection, out of reach of my love.  I feel as foolish relating this dream as I always felt on waking from it, but the emotion during the dream was always real, and rending.

Christian the logician...

My mother told me, when my son Christian was born, that having a child would be like having a piece of my heart walking around the world outside of my body.  I haven’t yet come across a more apt description than that–and I found myself this week reliving that nightmarish feeling of helplessness that I used to experience in dreams about Toots. But this time it’s not a ragged bear I can’t help–it’s my son.

Christian is one of those kids who has been “adult” since his toddler years.  He’s off all the charts intellectually, and he deals with everything–including his emotions–with his brain. He intellectualizes his feelings and internalizes them and “stuffs” them, refusing to talk about his emotions, ever.  I recognize this trait easily, because he’s exactly like his mother. In my case, it took a mess of addiction and the grace of A.A. to relearn a lifelong habit of “trying to feel things with my head,” as a friend so aptly described my previous process.

For Christian to be stressed to the point of actually expressing an emotion is the equivalent of a scream for help from anyone else.  And this is the child who was curled in a ball on my lap last Sunday, clutching his stuffed bunny (his Toots-equivalent) and clinging to me and openly crying–because we had only a few hours until his dad would pick him up, and he doesn’t want to go back to that house.

Christian with his Bunny (and my owl)--when dad's arrival wasn't so imminent...

I won’t burden you with all the reasons, except to say that they coincide with many of the reasons why I don’t live in that house anymore. (I did write about one telling example last month…) But here we are–I had the power to remove myself from that household four years ago, but I’m absolutely powerless if my children wish for the same “escape.”

The realities of my own disasters come crashing home at this point–it’s entirely due to my last alcoholic relapse that the kids aren’t with me at least half the time, as they used to be.  It took a court battle (funded by my parents–bless them!–because I’d blown every resource with that relapse) for me to hang onto my legal status as a jointly custodial parent, and to win back any time with them at all, after six months in which I saw them only a handful of times.  I can point fingers at my ex, but it’s my own doing that I have so little leverage now in the matter of helping Christian out of his father’s household.

Earlier in the weekend, we had been watching Secondhand Lions–a movie about a boy Christian’s age, who at one point tells a beloved grownup: “You have to stick around, because I need you!” Christian turned to me with the great seriousness of which he’s capable, and told me forcefully: “That goes for YOU. I’m not putting you in the ground ‘next to the lion,’ so you have to live a LONG time. I need you.”

Toots, Christian's Bunny, and our inherited "lion"...

And that’s what was still ringing in my mind as I wandered around the house after their pick-up, distraught by Christian’s distress (and my uselessness in the face of it), and restlessly picking up his Bunny–to which he’d clung all afternoon, right up until reaching the sight-line of the door where his dad stood waiting. For the moment, I can’t do a damn thing about the schedule, and I can’t “protect” him from being unhappy at his dad’s house.  But maybe what I can do for him today is something about that “stick around” thing.  He’s a worrier, and the fact of my smoking has always distressed him.  So…  I quit.

“End-of-smoking” is its own story for another day, but I will say that when Christian called–in tears again–the next day, he was mightily cheered by the lowdown that I’ve laid down the lighter. Yup, I’ve locked myself in by saying it aloud–and until he’s here to see non-smoking-Mom for himself, a bear and a bunny and our second-hand lion house-cat are keeping watch and keeping me honest.  Toots seems to be cheering…

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Author:

I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

29 thoughts on “(Used) Lions & Bunnies & Bears, oh my!

  1. My heart hurts for Christian and you. But your strength and courage are great gifts you are giving your children. Congratulations on quitting smoking.

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  2. Kana, you are an amazing woman. Your story resonates across generations. To put your child first seems to be a huge step in your recovery journey. Keep up the good work and by example you will show the world that you are the person you were created to be (and be glad in it.)

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  3. Kana,
    Thanks for sharing your life with us.
    I always feel something after reading your posts, whether pain and sorrow for another human and her life’s struggles, or the happiness in knowing she’s got the human resolve to overcome life’s shit-hurling antics.
    Today’s post was definitely the latter.

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    1. I look forward to reidang your BLOG;I pull it up almost every day. Sometimes I think of a response to something you posted while going through my day but I just don’t take the time to go back and leave a comment. I’ll work on that! Have a great weekend. Love, Vera

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  4. You certainly do have the strength of a lion and I know you can do this.And don’t kid yourself, chicky. You aren’t just quitting for Christian, you are quitting for you as well, because you KNOW you WANT to LIVE.

    The good news is, you know you don’t have to do it alone. You have an excellent support system in place and they will all stand by you when things get rough.

    Rock on, Super Mom!!!!

    Karen
    http://klsyed.com

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  5. Great post, Kana! I am also quitting my cigars. I stopped buying them and now I’m dabbling a bit with the couple I had in my purse and the couple I had in my desk drawer, etc. ( I’m glad I didn’t do this when I stopped drinking or I’d have never made it.) I think this weekend will be my total stop time. I’m just doing it for my health and that social outcast thing, but you have the best reason of all… Be here for your kids who need you so very much. I am rooting for you girlie!

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  6. We go on with our lives wanting to change something we know needs changing, but nothing really changes. Then one day, something happens, a line in the sand is crossed, and we are unable to go back to what we were, just a moment ago … it’s kinda cool really!

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  7. In a ridiculously complex and simple way, you are awesome in your ability to not only slay dragons, (at long last), but also correlate their demise with the birth of hope, and demonstrate how making the hard choices and following through helps make up for those things that are outside of our control. Toots isn’t the only one cheering. We all are. Well done, Kana.

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  8. Your writing has the ability to reach out and grab my heart.
    BTW, holding and chewing on cinnamon sticks helped me quit smoking many years ago.

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    1. That is the first suggestion I’ve heard that actually APPEALED to me as a “substitute” behavior–thank you for the suggestion!! :)

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  9. Hi,
    I think it is fantastic that you still have your bunny from when you were a child, it’s great that you have looked after it all this time.
    I have a friend at the moment who is trying to stop smoking, I feel for her it certainly doesn’t seem like a very easy thing to do, will power seems to play a big part, I hope you are successful in achieving whatever you set your mind to.

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  10. Kana, I feel for you and your son. I used to beg my mother to quit smoking, crying that she would die from blackened lungs. She just responded, “Everyone’s gotta die somehow.” Recently, I gave up Diet Coke, partly for my daughter’s sake, because I felt like I was being a horrible role model drinking it like water, and I just know all of those chemicals in my body were not healthy for me. It’s not as hard as quitting smoking, I am sure, but I definitely appreciate the struggles you are going through.

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  11. Hip, hip, hooray for you quitting smoking, dear Kana! Such a wonderful gift to yourself and to Christian! Praying for him at his dad’s house, praying to a MIGHTY change of heart in his dad, as a matter of fact. Praying for comfort for you as well, Mighty Kana! Brave Kana! And thanks so much for all the sharing about very dear Toots! My little brother cut some of his teeth on the plastic nose of his Ted-Ted and my grandmother mended the nose–and he still has that bear!

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  12. Congrats! Children can definitely have such a strong effect on their parents, because they’re connected, just like you and Christian. Now that your situation is getting better, I hope that everything else will go well! Good luck!
    This has been such a touching story. Wish you lots of happiness for you and your dear son.

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  13. I’ve heard that description before of kids being a piece of your heart walking around in the world and so agree too. That’s exactly how it feels at times, including hurting when they hurt. * HUGS * I’m sorry Christian and you have to go through it but i’m glad that you are there for each other too. BTW WOOHOOO!!!! and WTG on quitting smoking and for the best of reasons, your kids! You can do it : )

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  14. Oh, baby — so proud of you! (Not that you need me to be proud, but I am.) And what a wonderful gift to you children (and your husband…and YOU) to quit smoking.

    As for darling Christian — is it possible to contact a lawyer and see if he (Christian) is considered old enough to state his desires and be seriously considered by the legal system? I know it’s worked for others. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances, but you’re a different person now.

    Arms around ya, sistah.

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