When my daughter Olivia was about to graduate from preschool, we took her to Build-A-Bear Workshop as an early graduation present. She selected a multi-colored bunny rabbit that she promptly named Colorful Princess. Olivia and Colorful Princess quickly became inseparable. Olivia told her all her secrets and they had long conversations during naptime. That bunny shared meals and outings with us. Bedtime stories and family hikes. She showed up at doctor visits and went with us to the movies. Colorful Princess was a real tag-a-long Sue.
When graduation day arrived Olivia and Colorful Princess wore matching pink taffeta dresses to the big event. The night before I set Olivia’s baby fine hair in curlers for the very first time. Now she marched bravely forward toward the stage in time to Pomp and Circumstance, under a halo of fluffy curls. Sitting there beneath a canopy, in the sweltering June sun, I held Colorful Princess on my lap. She wore a tiara just like Olivia’s and I wore sunglasses to hide my tears. While the other excited parents jostled for prime photo-taking real estate I clung to that rabbit like I was clinging to Olivia’s childhood. Because I was.
Part of the graduation ceremony included a song and sign language number to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from the movie Toy Story. It was sweet and clumsy and everything a preschool graduation performance should be. The kids forgot the words or wandered off stage, some cried. But Olivia sallied forth with the stoic perseverance that would become her trademark. She belted out each word while her tiny hands performed their pantomime, her gaze never wavering. After the ceremony, we joined family and friends at Benihana to celebrate with fried rice and flying shrimp. Olivia and Colorful Princess sat together at the head of the table filled with pride.
Cut to four years later. Olivia is now in the third grade and getting older at the speed of light. We’re driving to school one morning and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” comes on the radio and I lose it. I mean like ugly cry lose it. As Olivia watches the tears roll down my face she naturally asks what’s wrong because, let’s face it, I look crazy. How can I explain to her that as much as I want her to learn new things, to thrive and become her own person, I really can’t bear the thought that she’s growing up? I just want time to stop.
You see we haven’t seen Colorful Princess around for a while. She’s under a pile of other once well-loved stuffies in a basket that rarely sees the light of day. Olivia, who is now nine, will not come within 10 feet of a dress and will only wear her beautiful brown hair in a ponytail, under a ball cap. No more hair curlers for this kid. No more pink. No more letting mama pick out her clothes. In fact, she’s stopped calling me mama in front of her friends and holding my hand in public. It’s all happening too fast. And it blows.
I asked Olivia today to go through the toys in her room to find some to donate. “This house is too small,” I say as I launch into my spiel. “We have too much stuff and others have so little.” Olivia quickly fills a box with toys she’s happy to part with, no questions asked. A Dora the Explorer backpack, a wooden xylophone, a fake plastic cell phone with flashing lights and Justin Bieber ringtone.
And there on top of it all sits Colorful Princess. She’s a bit worse for wear. She’s missing a shoe and her tiara is broken. But there she sits still grinning and hopeful. “Are you sure you want to give her up?” I ask, playing it cool. “Why don’t we keep her?” I implore, determined to change her mind. I’m not ready for this. Not by a long shot. “Yeah, it’s fine. I never play with her anymore Mom.” And just like that, we’re marching on into the future.