Manny the Bear came home from preschool on Thursday. Manny was put down by the front door when we got home that day. And there Manny stayed, all nice and cozy, in his giant blue flower backpack. For four days.
Manny is the Build-A-Bear teddy bear that makes the rounds throughout the school year. Every week he is sent home with a different child in the class, complete with changes of clothes, a bed, books, and toiletries. The kids are supposed to take Manny around with them over the weekend like he’s a member of the family. And before he returns to school, the child is supposed to draw a picture of something they did with Manny, and then the parents write a description of the illustration.
Yeah. That didn’t happen.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had Manny visit us. Manny came to stay a few months ago when he was making his first go-around with the class. I was all gung-ho then. Howie and I took Manny out of his backpack, changed his clothes into pajamas, and set up his bed on the floor next to Howie’s. We even pretended to brush his teeth. Then I got all nervous that something would happen to this precious bear if he was on the floor (dog eating/shedding on it, Lewis pulling the arms off or swinging it around, Howie stepping on it during one of his several night-wakings, etc.). So I put Manny up on the dresser, and he stayed there until the weekend was over. That time the assignment was to take a picture of your kid doing something with Manny, so Tim and I hastily took some pictures the morning before Howie brought him back to school. One quick click and there’s Manny and Howie sitting in the chair watching a show. Assignment complete.
This time, I didn’t even read the book to find out about the drawing assignment until Sunday evening, when Tim asked me if we were ever planning on taking Manny out of his bag. Since Monday was a holiday, I figured we still had plenty of time.
Monday came and went. Manny stayed in the backpack.
Monday night I asked Howie if he wanted to draw his picture of Manny, since he had to go back to school Tuesday morning.
“No.”, came the answer. And I didn’t push it.
Tuesday morning I called the school and asked if we could keep Manny one more day.
Tuesday came and went. Manny stayed in the backpack.
But that bear was on my mind all day. I passed by that bag every time I went to the bathroom. Shouldn’t I at least open it up and give him some air? But then something would distract me and I’d move on.
As we celebrated my birthday Tuesday night, I asked Howie if he wanted to take Manny out to celebrate with us.
“No.”, came the answer. And that was that. Once this kid decides he’s not doing something (or eating something, or going somewhere), that’s it. You cannot change his mind.
This morning, it was time to return Manny. And still we had nothing to show for his stay here. I pulled the binder out of his bag (still leaving Manny in there) and dragged Howie over the to table.
“We have to draw a picture of Manny. Let’s draw him with birthday balloons for my birthday.”
(Tim said I should have told Howie to draw a stick figure of himself next to Manny’s bag. In hindsight, not a bad idea.)
“But it’s not your birthday anymore!”, cried Howie, which sent him into a tizzy of complaints about not having had any cupcakes for my “party”. And cries of sadness over not getting any presents for my birthday.
“I’m going to draw squiggle words. It says Happy Birthday Mom thanks for stealing someone else’s birthday.” (please don’t ask me what that means) And he proceeded to take the crayon and just draw wavy lines in the box on the paper. And then he turned to me and smiled.
“Howie, the directions on your homework say DRAW a picture. It says it right here. That is not a picture”. I handed him a fresh piece of paper.
“Stop trying to make me hate you!”
And with that, we were done. I don’t know where he’s heard those words before, but he pulled that script out just at the right time. I closed up the binder that had all the other kids’ pictures of Manny and silently put it back in the backpack. With Manny. Howie ran off to run laps around the house with his brother.
His teacher happened to call at that moment about something else, and I shared the story of Manny with her. She told me not to worry about it, they would ask him at school if he wanted to do it there and if not, it was no big deal.
No big deal. To them. But this was clearly about me.
I felt guilty that Manny had stayed in his backpack all weekend. Our life is so chaotic that adding one more member – even a stuffed furry one – would have thrown me over the edge. I can barely get my kids dressed some days. Dressing a bear was not going to happen.
I felt guilty that we didn’t lead the kind of life that lends itself well to a drawing. Other kids had Manny going to work with their dads, visiting restaurants, and sleeping in their beds. We didn’t set foot outside the house all weekend long. Manny didn’t set foot outside the bag.
I felt guilty that I was longing for the kind of life where my kid could sit down and draw a picture of something wonderful that we all did with his classroom bear. This is a kid who has just started to hold a pencil the right way. I started to panic about homework – even though real homework is still years away. I already battle with my oldest about it. I can’t even imagine how challenging this will be for Howie.
And I felt guilty for making him feel bad about what he did do on that paper. We had nothing to draw for Manny, so making something up made no sense to him. The wavy lines represented words, and that’s what he wanted. What was wrong with that? Nothing, except that I didn’t want the other parents to see his squiggles. Because I didn’t want them to wonder why my kid couldn’t draw a bear.
I can write all I want here about how I’ve come to terms with Howie’s diagnosis, and I’m okay with it all. But sometimes when I see what other kids and families can do, I’m reminded of how different we really are.
Howie clearly knew what he was able to do. For me, the battle over what we can and can’t do as a family will rage on for years to come.
“People I know, places I go, make me feel tongue-tied
I can see how people look down, they’re on the inside
Here’s where the story ends
People I see, weary of me showing my good side
I can see how people look down
I’m on the outside
Here’s where the story ends
Ooh here’s where the story ends” – Here’s Where the Story Ends by The Sundays