Saturday, February 06, 2010

The loss of Livy's beloved shark and manta ray

There comes a time in a child's life in which her possessions become friends -- more than friends. Her clothes, her toys, the furniture, a house, daddy's car become part of her existence, part of her comfort, part of her love for the world. Losing those possessions can hurt, even be devastating sometimes.

My daughter, Livy, became very attached to our previous coffee maker (she started making my coffee for me in the morning from the time she was 3. She loved the sound of the coffee grinder, pouring the water, watching the coffee come out. She would yell, "Daddy, your coffee is almost finished!" I would almost be in tears at my love for her and the joy she got out of it.) She's 6.5 years old now and still enjoys making the coffee for me (and her) and especially enjoys doing it if she wakes up before me.

Then one day a year ago the coffee-maker broke. She cried and kept on crying and said, "Daddy, don't throw Mr. Coffee away. I want to keep Mr. Coffee for the rest of my life." So Mr. Coffee is still in the garage. I asked Livy one day about two weeks ago if it was time to throw Mr. Coffee away and she started crying again. (We parents ask such stupid questions sometimes!) Mr. Coffee is still safely ensconced in the garage in plain sight -- and my lips are SEALED.

But something more tragic than Mr. Coffee happened a couple of months ago and Livy still talks about it every night when we go to bed. Her little girl friend Tory (2.5 years old) decided one day to flush "shark" (a plastic shark that Livy bathed with) down the toilet. Livy was utterly devastated, inconsolable. Livy always talked with "shark" and his friends "manta ray" and "Mr. Boat" and "big shark" and others when she took a bath.

Tory, of course, didn't understand what she did. She was just doing an experiment, as 2-year-olds do. While Livy was still crying 15 minutes later, she leapt from my arms, ran into the bathroom, grabbed "manta ray" from the bathtub and flushed him down the toilet. "I don't want "sharkie" to be lonely," she cried desperately. When she did this, I began to cry with her. Few things in my life have touched me more.

In the first week after the tragedy, Livy asked me a dozen times why Tory did it. She understood what I was saying each time, but she couldn't get her head around the idea that something so important to her would not be so important to someone else and be seen in the same way (as a love, not as an experiment).

For another month, she asked if "sharkie" and "manta ray" would be OK and where they were. Each time she teared up. Then, a week ago, she said she wanted to save "sharkie" and "manta ray" and asked if I could do something. I told her that they were probably happy together in the Chattahoochie River but that we couldn't really do anything to get them back. She, of course, cried.

"Can't you send divers to go get them, daddy?"

I tried to explain how big the Chattahoochie was and how hard it would be to even find a real shark in it. That explanation didn't wash.

"I want "sharkie" and "manta ray" back, daddy."

"OK, baby," I said. "When I make lots more money, I'll pay for some divers to look in the Chattahoochie River."

"Will they find them?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said, "but it'll be kinda tough. But they'll try real hard."

I never lie to Liv, so when I get enough money, I'll pay a diver to look for "sharkie" and "manta ray." Meanwhile, Livy is happier knowing that we'll give it a try and that their safe return is at least possible.

If we don't find her friends on that day, she will deal with it like the death of a loved one, as she had done before when they were flushed and like she did with Mr. Coffee.

I remember when my beloved cat Scooter died when I was young, and Livy's loss brought that back to me. It is a time in early life when we deal with permanent loss. It's part of being human, part of growing up, part of life -- it shows how strong our bonds to this lovely world are. And crying is the only thing to do.

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