Do you remember the character Bing Bong from the Pixar Film “Inside Out”? Bing Bong was the imaginary friend of the main character, Riley. Throughout the movie, we are exposed to Riley’s inner thoughts and how she works through the gamut of emotions; and oftentimes Bing Bong, a colorful and delightful cat-elephant-dolphin hybrid, is right there to help carry her burdens and joys through life.
While none of my three children have revealed the existence of an imaginary friend in their lives, they HAVE had the next best thing…the Lovey. These little furry friends have been played with, cried on, and loved on for the better part of each child’s existence. When Graham lost “Bunny”, we scrambled to find the same little blue floppy-eared rabbit, but all we could find was a very similar dog. So today at 6.5 years old, he still sleeps with “Bunny” who is, in fact, a dog. We don’t have the heart to tell him.
And when Mia was born and we received the almost daily shipment of stuffed animals to commemorate the birth of a new child, I wondered which stuffed animal would be “the one.” Turns out it was a little white lamb, who we affectionately refer to as “Lambie”. Sleep, travel, sickness, celebrations and life cannot continue unless Lambie is in the picture. Even if she’s in the other room, as long as she’s within reach, all is well. There is a comfort that comes to a child from knowing this little furry friend is nearby, and there is a comfort that comes to a parent’s heart in knowing that somewhere in the minds of our children, a little space is reserved for this friend (imaginary or furry) where they can ease their fears and share their joys.
Perhaps none of this has played out more beautifully than in the life of Pinky the Bear. Pinky started as a soft pink bear from Build-a-Bear, gifted to us from dear family friends when Stella was less than a year old. And for the last 7+ years, Pinky has been a part of our family. Again, sleep, travel, sickness, celebrations and life cannot continue unless Pinky is in the picture.
And she’s not just a part of our family in Stella’s mind; she is a family member to all of us. When we made the move from Phoenix to St. Louis, there were lots of emotions and unknowns about which direction our life was going to take.
One day while my husband was out on interviews, I took the kids to the mall by our temporary hotel for a ride on the carousel and lunch. And of course Pinky came along. Later that night while we were all getting ready for bed, Stella realized Pinky wasn’t there and had been left at the mall. Exhausted, I said, “Oh, I’m sure she’s ok…we can go back over and grab her first thing tomorrow.” To which my husband said, “No. Pinky is our family…she’s coming home tonight.” And before I could protest or say a word, he had the keys in his hand and was out the door. (Love that man)
Yep, she’s part of our family. And really, when you think about it, she been part of our 8-year journey of being mom and dad, making sure she’s present to soak up all the fears and hurts and joys that our little girl has processed while growing up: moving to a new state, making new friends, getting a new brother followed by a sister. Pinky has been there for it all.
So imagine the knife to the heart when Stella was packing up to stay in Arizona for three weeks this past summer. We were about to take her to the airport and I did a mental checklist with her to make sure she had everything. Bathing suit, toothbrush, books: check. Pinky…”I’m leaving her here and taking my new stuffed unicorn that I got for my birthday.”
KNIFE TO THE HEART. Immediately my mind was mush, replaying the scene from Inside Out. You know the one: the “Bing Bong Death Scene.” Does your heart get ripped out and stomped on every time you watch that scene? Yah, mine too. Every parent knows what that scene means…it’s the symbol of one foot in childhood and one foot in adolescence, where they ride out of the pit and all the imaginary friends, lovies, pacifiers and security blankets fall to the side. They get left at home instead of taking the plane ride. They are replaced with real friends and journals and their growing minds that are learning to process all the emotions of growing up.
But we all know nothing can replace family. Pinky is family, along with Bunny and Lambie. She will always be with us, even if she’s in a keepsake box that Stella takes with her when she leaves our home.
And you better believe Pinky went to Arizona this summer. Because this momma’s not quite ready for that scene yet.