Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Golf Buddy

Chris sent me a stuffed bear for father’s day. He's in Chicago for the summer, doing economics research with one of his professors. He's been off at college for three years now, and increasingly his visits are like those of adult children, a couple of weeks a few times a year. When he's home, Chris and I like to play golf together, and the bear has golf clubs on his back. I’m going to sew the little guy onto the headcover of my driver so he’ll be there every time I play. Like Tiger’s headcover, but with a different message.
When Chris and Nick were twelve and ten, we moved to Palo Alto. Our house was small and we didn’t have much storage, so we got into the habit of giving away things we didn’t need. One day we culled their stuffed animal collection and took a bag of furry loved ones to Goodwill. I still remember those adorable little faces pressed against the inside of the plastic bag, as if they were looking for a way out, or at least to know where they were going: Woody and Buzz on the way to Sunnyside Daycare.

I guess all parents who can afford them give their children stuffed animals. And all children love to get them. I remember all the times I was working too hard, traveling far from home for too long, and coming home with a raccoon or a bunny. Grant and Ashley played for hours with Junior the raccoon and Baby Brambles. Somehow Brambles always ended up on top of a jutting ceiling overhang, and I would have to bring in the ladder to rescue her until her next flight from that scary, sadistic raccoon.

On airplanes to New York or some other city where there were deals to do I would think of Junior and Brambles and Grant and Ashley lying on the couch at home on Saturday mornings playing out their stuffed animal roles. That image made me feel connected to them. Coming home from those trips, in the six hours across the country, looking out the window, I would always get maudlinly sentimental about having to be away from my children. I couldn’t even listen to Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” in those days.

With Chris and Nick I was home more, so the stuffed animals were more for them than for me. I wasn’t begging for forgiveness all the time, at least not for being away too much. I’ve noticed, though, that whatever my level of parenting guilt, my children always loved their furry friends. They found some comfort in them that was in part derivative of their parents’ love and in part something entirely different. A kind of totem of unconditional love and acceptance. A companion who never scolded, never left home.

The way we relate to people we love can be perplexing. We miss them so much when we are away from them and then when we get together sometimes we can’t wait to be away again. That kind of push pull can be amusing, or tragic. We are built to love, and built to be selfish. In my case anyway, that conflict seems to play out every day.

Not so with stuffed animals, though. They always have that little raccoon smile. Or rabbit. Or bear. They are always patient. They don’t mind if you neglect them. They require no apology for your transgressions. They will listen as long as you want to talk. It’s no wonder children drag them around with them everywhere. Take them to bed. Dress them in pretty clothes. Toss them up in the rafters.

For my part, I’m taking my new golfing buddy out with me every time I play. He’ll be with me there on every shot. I’ll ask him what club he thinks I should hit. He won’t blush when I swear. He won’t tell on me if I kick my ball out from behind a tree. It won’t be like having Chris there, but it will be a part of him with me. The part that I know loves me no matter what.