Saturday, December 26, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes

It was late December, 1987 and I was at my sister’s basement apartment in New York for the Christmas holiday with my then four year old son. I had come to New York with Sean to stay for a week at my sister’s tiny one bedroom apartment on City Island, which meant that I slept on the couch in the living room and Sean slept on the floor next to the couch. “On the floor” meant he was nestled on top of a thick stack of blankets, which also lay a few feet from my sister’s Christmas tree. But, at nine o’clock on Christmas Eve, Sean was still wide awake, far too excited about Santa’s imminent arrival to close his eyes. As I recall, the living room was darkened, but the tiny colored lights on the table top Christmas tree were lit up. Sean insisted they stay on for Santa.

So, I did what any trip-weary parent with a wound up four year old on Christmas Eve would do – I told Sean that the sooner he went to sleep, the sooner Santa would arrive. In ten minutes, my son was fast asleep, holding on tight to his favorite stuffed animal.

My young son was quite attached to the various animals in his bedroom menagerie, most of which were stuffed, plastic or rubber. Sean had different favorites at different times in his childhood. As a toddler, he became very attached to a small solid hard plastic “cow with his head sticking down” (as opposed to the “cow with his head sticking up”, which, as part of a farm animal set, was also part of his menagerie). For a long time, he absolutely would not go to sleep without this particular black and white plastic cow, which was occasionally a significant problem when the cow somehow could not be found at bedtime. A year later, a black rubber snake was his favorite sleepy-time friend. By age four, he had so many stuffed animals, from bears to lions to snakes that I have lost track of which was his favorite at any given point in time. Suffice it to say, one of them went to bed with him every night.

Christmas came and went with its usual hectic schedule of gift-giving, church-going, and family-oriented festivities. When we were about to leave New York and head back to California, my sister remarked to my young son that she would miss him once he left New York. Sean’s immediate reaction was to offer her his child-fist sized, hollow plastic, white felt-covered polar bear, so that she could remember him by it and so that “she wouldn’t be sad once he was gone”.

When my son was killed in an accident some 13 years later, my City Island sister formally remembered those same words to friends and family in attendance at his California memorial service. The simple words and immediate empathetic reaction of a four year old boy had touched my sister’s heart and stamped an indelible impression on her memory. I’m sure she remembers his words to this day.

Why did I remember this event today, Christmas Day, 2009? It is Christmas Day afterall, but it has been over nine years since my son died. Maybe I thought of it because we all need something to remember our loved ones by, whether that “something” is memories, photographs, or plastic felt-covered polar bears. Maybe the reason is because I still can’t find those hummingbird earrings my freckle-faced ten year old gave me one birthday so long ago. Maybe its because Christmas-time is the season of peace and love and harmony, and of remembering loved ones with phone calls, emails, cards and gifts. Or maybe its because all I have left of my son are a few framed photographs and the precious memories of Christmases past. Perhaps it is all of the above reasons, scooped up together and tied in a big red bow - my lovely son, and memories of special times spent together, the best gifts of all.


  1. this post brought tears to my eyes - you have such a poignant and eloquent way with words...

  2. Oh the emotions that a small memento can bring to us. We lost a 25 year old family member like that and the pain never goes away, it's real bad around any holiday.

    I am your new follower, recomended to you by the Crazy baby Mama.


  3. Hugs and blessings to yot this holdiay season.

  4. I came over here as a favor to crazy baby momma, and half way through the post, my reason for staying changed. I love when people can open up and make you feel emotional, whether it is happy or sad, it makes us feel real and shows us that everyone's path through life is different.

    I don't think that we ever forget our loved ones, not one second of one day. I think that there are just certain days when it surfaces more, like the holidays or birthdays.

    I was very moved by this.

  5. I also came over here from a link from the Crazy Baby Mama. You write beautifully and brought tears to my eyes.
    I often think of my lost family members on the holidays too... being the mother of 3 1/2 I honestl'y can't imagine losing one of them, and I hope that I never do.
    Thank you for sharing your heart felt story. I hope that you've had a pleasant holiday... family stress and all!
    nice to meet you! : )

  6. so sorry to hear about your son..holidays are good for these memories...we need to remember the good times...i think that is the best tribute we can give them. great post...popped over from baby mama...

  7. I was sent over here from The crazy baby mama, and she was right. You are amazing. I love your story telling, writing skills and memories. I look forward to getting to know you, follow you and reading and commenting.

  8. From Crazy Baby an emotional glad to have found you and Im glad you shared your memory...everytime you do it sheds a beautiful light on your son...Thanks..!!

  9. I am also over from Crazy Baby Mama's. She was are an amazing storyteller. I can't wait to hear more!!!