On Sunday, ArtGirl stood in front of the mirror looking at herself. I noticed two things: she seemed bigger to me and she was not holding her favorite stuffed animal, Jelly Dog.
It was then that she told me that she was going to try to stop carrying Jelly Dog with her everywhere.
For almost two years, this little stuffed animal was always with her, tucked into the crook of her elbow and hanging over her forearm like a limp appendage.
Throughout kindergarten, Jelly Dog would travel to school, sleep in her backpack during class, and join her on the playground where, somehow, she learned to do the monkey bars without ever fully extending the arm with which she held Jelly.
To see the two of them at dinner was quite a scene. Every item of food ArtGirl ate was first “tasted” by Jelly. She would first pass each bite by Jelly’s mouth before eating it herself; every drink was “sipped” by Jelly before she drank it herself.
During this time, her deepest existential concerns found expression in relation to Jelly. She would often say:
“I know Jelly is not real, but I think he is real.” Or: “What will happen to Jelly when I die?” Or: “I don’t want Jelly to die.“
So it came as a surprise to hear her announce on Sunday that she was going to let Jelly go. But there it was … and she marched upstairs to put him away in the room where we store a rather large collection of stuffed animals.
She came downstairs in tears. We hugged for a long time.
All day she struggled not to go back and get him, but she missed Jelly.
During this time, she said the most beautiful, poignant, and remarkable things.
She said:”It doesn’t feel right with him, but it doesn’t feel right without him.”
She said: “I want to go and get him, but if I take him back, I will have to go through this sadness again.”
On Sunday night, I brought him back for her so she could sleep. You see, her mother is wise, and she suggested that “going cold turkey” was perhaps not the best option and that we should instead just try to leave him at home when we went out. We agreed, a weaning process would be best.
ArtGirl told me: “Cold turkey is not for me.”
But by Monday night, she had gone most of the day without him. When I asked her if she wanted me to get him for her she said: “I do want you to get him, but I don’t want you to get him.”
I understood perfectly and suggested that perhaps she needed a little back scratching to help her fall asleep tonight. So there we sat, me scratching her back, her missing Jelly, me thinking how I admired her process, and her falling asleep.
We celebrated on Tuesday when she woke up having slept without him.
And now it is Thursday, and we visited her new school as she prepares for first grade.
We talk about Jelly sometimes, but we both agree that Jelly did his job and is enjoying his retirement with his other stuffed friends.