I suppose there’s a great cosmic harmony to the fact that my daughter, Mary Ella, has a lamb as her favorite stuffed animal. It’s been her favorite since she was two years old. When she was three, she went through a program at our church called Cubbies (part of the AWANA Clubs), and she learned about a character named Luv E. Lamb; it wasn’t too long after that her stuffie was christened as “Lovie.”
For a while, everywhere that Ella went that lamb was sure to go.
Now, Lovie spends most of its time in Ella’s bed. No longer a necessary companion for car rides, field trips or over-nighters, the little lamb is still a requirement for the bedtime ritual. Of course, Ella has over 8 stuffies that sleep in the bed with her, usually including Hello Kitty, a camel, a skunk, Jesse the Yodeling Cowgirl, a lizard, Kitty Cat, and maybe one or two rotational friends. But only Lovie gets the prime place next to Ella; when she pulls the covers up over her head, only Lovie is nestled in her arms.
And when I go in to wake her up in the morning, only Lovie is there still.
It took me a while to notice this particular truth – the truly special place that Lovie occupies – but for some reason it’s been abundantly clear to me as of late. I walk into her room and turn on her bedside lamp and there is this tiny little person sleeping, her face looking much the same as when she was just a few months old. I see her in repose and marvel at how quickly she’s grown, how quickly she is growing still, and I wonder where the time is going.
Sometimes I sit down on the bed and put my hand on her shoulder, or on her forehead, and almost inevitably she’ll put her hand on mine. I’ll stare at it for a solid five minutes, the tiny little fingers, the softness of her skin, the flawlessness of her nails. She holds my hand in her sleep and the size difference that thirty years brings seems as massive as the difference between a Matchbox car and the one in my garage.
Then I’ll look down and see Lovie Lamb, tucked safely away beneath her elbow, or pulled gently into the crook of her neck. My eyes will lock onto the soft glossy black eyes of that stuffed toy and I’ll feel an almost irresistible urge to cry. Because this lamb, this silly little collection of cotton and fabric and stitches, represents the innocence of my daughter so well. I look at this tiny artifact and realize that one day all I will have left of “my girl” is the little lamb she loved so much.
I mentioned these observations to my wife this morning while we were out running errands. How I know that, when it comes time to clear away the trappings of Ella’s childhood, Lovie Lamb will be the one thing that I keep as a memento. That I’ll put that cherished, ragged stuffie inside our closet and bring it out on those days when Ella’s impending adulthood is all too real. That I’ll look at that lamb and remember when Ella shared so much in common with it: small, innocent, guileless, free from worry and hurt.
Rachel quickly told me to knock it off.
But I can’t help it. Even this morning, as she burst from my car to race some of the other kids to the bus stop, I watched as her little legs carried her away from me; and I realized, as if for the first time, that life is the death of the present but the birth of memories. Each hour that passes takes me further away from the little pink bundle of love that we brought home from the hospital; each day takes me further away from Ella being my little girl. But at the same time this passing brings with it the gift of memory, the blessing of captured moments that will live forever in my head and heart.
One day, Ella won’t need her little lamb. And not too long after that, she won’t need her “daddy” either. At least, not in the same way. But when that obsolescence comes, it won’t be a bad thing. Bittersweet, certainly, but not bad, because I will have her life stored up in my heart as the best memories that anyone could ever ask for.
In a world that passes away from us all too quickly, it’s good to stop for moment and remember that, once upon a time, Mary had a little lamb. So did her dad.
Thankfully, I’ll get to hold on to both.