life is a stuffed seal at show-and-tell

by Janelle Hanchett

So I’m obviously not over the whole stuffed seal thing (which I briefly mentioned in this post). And here’s why: I never have even an inkling of a clue of how to handle shit like that, so when it comes up, it lingers. It stays. Until it goes. And then, it comes back again.

Here’s how it happened.

As a souvenir from Santa Cruz, Rocket chose a big, stuffed white seal, with huge, sweet dark eyes. It was a simple toy. But Rocket loves his “stuffies.” He zeroed in on it immediately and for him it outshined every toy in the place (and believe me, we checked them ALL out). He carried it with him the rest of the day. He slept with it in the car on the way home. He slept with it in his bed. He had it in his arms ready to go on Monday morning, first thing, popping out of bed, elated to share it with his class for show-and-tell day. It was visibly excruciating for him to have to leave the seal at home to wait for Tuesday to come (when it’s actually show-and-tell day)..but when it did, man, the little guy’s excitement was undiminished. He bounced out of bed (“today I get to share my seal”) – got dressed in record time – ran to the front door of his school. All because of the seal. So excited to share.

That night as I was giving him his bath I suddenly remembered show-and-tell…excitedly I said “Rocket! I forgot! How was show-and-tell today?”

It was as if my words themselves pierced him. He was almost startled by the hurt. His face contorted suddenly into sadness. His eyes looked down. His mouth fell. His whole body shrunk.

And I fell with him, asking him “oh baby, what happened?”

And he answered “Nothing,” which is what he does and it kills me every time because how can he be only five and already protective of himself and closed off and fearful? But it’s what he does when something really hurts.

 So I knew it was a tough one.

 But I pulled and tugged a little then a little more (“please tell me what happened”) – trying to wrap him in warmth and safety as I wrapped his little body in a towel.

He looked at me with those freckles across the bridge of his nose and eternal blue eyes and said “They didn’t even think it was cute.”

I could feel something turn my insides upside down into a confused knot of rage, protectiveness, sorrow and insane empathy – oh little man I’ve been there. I know that pain. That rejection. I saw him standing there at the front of the class, excited in that wild, abandoned, fearless way only innocent little ones get excited and I saw his hopeful eyes looking around the class, waiting, for a comment, a smile, a moment of recognition. Some kindness. Some connection.

And finding none. And realizing you’re a damn idiot, standing there in front of everybody holding a fucking stuffed seal – wishing they’d see the beauty in it – perceive what you perceive – thinking for a moment these people may “get you,” – that maybe we’re connected after all…and realizing you’re a damn fool for putting yourself out. For trying. For exposing yourself like that to a room full of goddamned distant assholes.

Maybe I should have said that to him. But I didn’t.

 I didn’t know what to say. So I asked “What do you mean?” hoping to buy some time for the brilliant mother response to enter.

 “They didn’t even think it was cute. They said it was a girl toy. Jason brought in a dinosaur toy and they said that was ‘cool’ but nobody liked my seal.”

Ah, fuck you, motherhood, for making me the person responsible for saying just the right thing to this boy in this moment. Fuck you for making ME the person to set it right. To teach and guide him. To make this situation okay. And fuck you for abandoning me in my moment of need.

You don’t help me. You only made me a mother. You only made me a child’s whole world. You never told me how to be that world – how to be that mother. how to not hurt. how to make the pain subside.

So without a single tool I’m left with just me.

Always, just me.

And I got nothin’.

The canned mother response flashes through my mind… “Oh honey, the important thing is that you like the seal. We don’t care what the other kids think.”

But I couldn’t say it. because it’s just such bullshit. It’s just such crap.

Because we do care. Of course we fucking care. I’m not going to insult him with meaningless 1950s sit-com responses.

Though I have no other ideas.

So I don’t say anything. I bury my face in his warm clean neck and kiss his head and hold him as tightly as I can and I feel that pain that is his pain and the pain that is powerlessness.

Because it isn’t about a damn seal. It isn’t about having tough skin or learning to hold one’s own in the world or be a man or respond to others appropriately.

It’s about dealing with the pain that is existence and the pain of this moment with acceptance and courage and a little faith that it’ll be alright on the other side. And I want to give him tools to face that pain squarely but who am I to do so? When I spent so many years hiding in a whiskey bottle – so many years mumbling “nothing” – tearing my stuffed seal into tiny worthless shreds, too terrified to admit that I loved it. That I thought it was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. That I wanted you to think so too.

So REALLY. Who am I to give him these lessons?

Well, his mother, I guess.

watching the sun set over the ocean...wonder what he's thinking.

22 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | April 28, 2011
  • Kimberly

    Dammit Janelle, you have such talent.

    I have a little whiplash from nodding so much while reading this.

    I didn’t think I could possibly love you more…but now I do.

  • Teresa

    Sometimes no words help anyways and a cuddle is really what you need…

    One of your best posts yet!

    • renegademama

      Thanks, Teresa. I bawled writing it for some reason. Well not “bawling” like hysterics – but there was a pretty decent flow of tears for a bit there. Feels good sometimes, to just write that stuff.

  • Jess

    So well said.

    My son, my second, is a sweetie. A sensitive soul, and GOD it kills me sometimes that I can’t fix the world for him. I want to purge the hurt before it even happens, but I can’t. I’m so damned helpless. And that kills me.

    Fucking stuffed-seal-hating asshole kids. Maybe their dinosaurs will bite them in the ass.

  • Elena (running in heels after child)

    My daughters two best friends want to sit by each other at preschool and not her. It is such a small thing but she feels it and I hate it.

    I am trying to come up with an arsenal of responses for things I can tell her when people break her heart, but even thinking about it breaks my heart.

    Damn motherhood,


    • Dawn

      I was like your daughter Elena and I don’t know that there is anything you could say. I stopped hanging out with those friends and played with the boys after it happened too many times. She will find her way.

  • Elena

    I cried reading this. I think you handled it beautifully.

  • Denee

    This is one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing!

  • eringirl

    Obviously my girls aren’t there yet… but I spent so many of my younger years being the kid who didn’t get it. I don’t know that there are words to make it better. Reading this as a new mother brought tears to my eyes, because I want to protect my sweet little girls from all hurt and pain and suffering and I know that I can’t. And that sucks. So what do we do? The only thing I can think of is to (hopefully) raise kids who accept others and don’t perpetuate this behavior. Oh, and when the little shitheads from school are older, then we give them payback.

    You put up the Bob Dylan song the other day. This is the song that I think of:

    (don’t know if I can put a video in comments- it is “caught in the crowd” by kate miller-heidke)

    • eringirl

      apparently the video doesn’t show… but it is a great (and heartbreaking song). check it out.

  • Shan

    Okay, I put on mascara for the first time in *months*, allergies be damned, because I’m tired of looking tired and old. If these tears in my eyes fall I will leave today with little Tammy Faye streaks.

    For what it’s worth, I think your response, for him, may have been the best thing. For you, not so much, I know. But don’t we all sometimes wish the other person would STFU and hold us?

    • renegademama

      have i ever told you I FREAKING LOVE your comments? I feel like I know you. It’s weird. If we met, we’d already be friends. Strange. But so damn true.

  • Cheryl at Busy Since Birth

    I had to come and track this down. Your reading of it at open mic was magic. Going to be sharing it now.

  • traci

    My youngest son loves pink and stuffies and Hello Kitty and sparkly jewelry.

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