After a monthlong string of serious columns, my youngest son, Lindell, 6, has brought it to my attention that I haven’t yet addressed the most pressing issue of all: The fact that his stuffed bird, named Lindiddy, needs a bath, and no one can bring themselves to do it. Because no one wants Lindiddy to fall apart.
All of my children have had favorite stuffed animals during their childhoods, but none of those other “pets” have taken on the life that Lindiddy has. Lindiddy is effectively the seventh member of our family (with our dog Sparky being the sixth, of course). We don’t speak ill of Lindiddy. Sometimes, he joins us at the dinner table. And if there was a fire, someone would probably grab him on the way out the door.
Lindiddy is not your typical stuffed animal. He’s not a classic teddy bear or dog. He doesn’t have a sweet face and sparkling eyes. No, Lindiddy is a lime-green jertin. Specifically, he’s the jertin in the curtain from the Dr. Seuss book “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.”
When he first came to us four years ago, Lindiddy had fluffy fur and a mohawk of green on top of his head. Through the years, his fur has become mashed, the mohawk matted. His eyes are sewn in, but the eyelids are drooping. His yellow nose is crooked, like he flew into a window. He has long, orange legs that are bent at the knees, and flopping wing-like arms that are too long for his body.
When Lindell was still a baby, he carried Lindiddy by his long neck, pushing the stuffing up and down and leaving a hand-sized dent in the middle. Today, Lindiddy’s head won’t stand up straight due to this long-ago injury.
Lindiddy came from the check-out counter at Kohl’s. Dustin brought him home because “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” was, at that time, Lindell’s favorite book. If I remember correctly, the purchase was partially a donation to a children’s charity. Meaning, Lindiddy and his kin are not regular stock at Kohl’s, nor anywhere else. Parents with kids with favorite blankets or stuffed animals know what this means: no replacements.
These are the facts as I know them. According to Lindell, however, Lindiddy came from his parents’ nest, which fell during a tornado. That’s how Lindiddy broke his neck. He flew to safety at Kohl’s, which is where Dustin found him. There is some speculation that Lindiddy once flew in World War II, but Lindell says that was just Lindiddy telling fibs. He has spoken to Lindiddy about this and says he won’t lie again.
Sometimes, I wake up in the morning to Lindiddy “talking” to me: “Lindell’s Mommy, you need to get up. It’s 7:00.” At hotels (yes, Lindiddy travels with us — in his own suitcase), Lindiddy hides in the curtains so that Lindell can say, “Look, he’s a jertin in the curtain.” Before we leave, someone always asks, “Does anybody have Lindiddy?”
Ford, 13, and Owen, 11, both had stuffed dogs. Ford’s was named “Rocket,” and Owen’s “Just Puppy.” I remember putting baby Ford and baby Owen to bed and resting their puppies in their arms before pulling up the blankets and tucking them under their chin. It was like a Christmas card.
Putting Lindell to bed has an entirely different, Suess-y feel. He snuggles up against a lime-green bird with a mohawk on his head.
In preschool, Ford’s “Rocket” fell in the toilet. We bought a replacement. Owen’s “Just Puppy” stayed in the hospital during Owen’s tonsillectomy and had an emergency hot bath afterward to get rid of the germs. “Just Puppy” didn’t survive the bath, so we got a replacement.
One of my greatest fears is that Lindiddy, with his bent neck and matted mohawk, would one day meet a similar fate and there would be no replacement. It’s Lindell’s fear, too.
So Lindiddy doesn’t get bathed, though he desperately needs it. His fur smells soured from years of drool and sticky fingers mixed with the dirt and grime of travel. He’s been accidentally stepped on in the car and left on the bathroom floor.
Recently, I decided it was time to save Lindiddy from becoming a biohazard. I convinced Lindell to let me give Lindiddy a bath. It would be a “bubble bath,” we told him, and very gentle. Lindell’s older brothers rolled their eyes as if to say, “He’s just an old stuffed animal!”
“I know, I know,” I whispered to them as I walked by.
But then, in the basement, as I got ready to throw the stuffed bird into the washing machine, I stopped. I pictured Lindiddy’s drooping eyelids staring out at me as they go round and round in the soapy water. I pictured Lindiddy banging on the glass with his oversized wing-arms to get out. Then I pictured him staring at me again from the dryer: “Save me! It’s hot in here!”
I came back upstairs with Lindiddy cradled in my arms.
“Mom!” Ford and Owen yelled.
“Hey, if you saw the way Lindiddy looked at me,” I told them, “you couldn’t do it either.”
Sarah Smiley is a columnist and author of “Dinner With the Smileys,” a memoir of a year of dinners and motherhood.