This is Charlie. He has been in Isabella's crib since the day we took her home from the hospital almost four years ago. He has spent every nap tucked under her arm. She often sleeps with him draped over her head. She kisses him goodbye before she heads out the door to preschool. She wheels him around in her stroller. She teaches him in her imaginary classroom in our living room.
Isabella, the twins, and I had gone on a walk around 11am. Isabella was riding her bike. She had taken armfuls of crap with her on the ride: jewelry, her binoculars, a flashlight, a canteen...and Charlie. She placed all of these things in her bike bag, which fits over her handlebars.
Usually, I place Charlie in her bike bag. This is because he just barely fits in the bag, and I almost always secure his front paws inside the bag, so that he has less of a chance of falling out.
But on Saturday, I didn't. The twins had spent the morning screaming, and a change of scenery was desperately needed, so we decided to go on a bike ride. I was busy loading the twins into their stroller, while Isabella stashed her things, including Charlie, in her bike bag. I strapped on her helmet, and we took our usual route around the neighborhood.
We stopped twice along the way: once to chat with a friend and her kids, and once so I could place a quarter I found on the ground inside her bag. We came home, gave the kids lunch, got them down for naps (or quiet time, in Isabella's case), and right afterward we left for a party at our friends' house.
We returned home at bedtime. Usually, Charlie is lying around in one of his usual spots: the kitchen counter, the sofa in the living room. On top of the gate at the bottom of the stairs. But we could not find him anywhere. We got the twins in bed, and then spent a good half an hour scouring the house for Charlie.
Once it became apparent that Charlie was not going to materialize anytime soon, I realized I needed to get Isabella to bed. She was already up way past her bedtime.
"Would you like to choose another friend to sleep with you tonight?"
"I only want Charlie!"
"Sometimes it's nice to cuddle with another buddy."
"I want Charlie!"
And then the great, heaving sobs started. Huge, from-the-belly sobs, which quite literally broke my heart.
"I love Charlie and he loves me!"
"Charlie's looking for me!"
"Did someone take him?"Both the hubs and I began to suspect that Charlie had fallen out of her bike bag during the walk, although I felt I would have noticed this if it had happen, because Isabella is always in front of me while on bike rides. So, just before we attempted to get her into bed, I ran our bike route, desperately scanning lawns and gutters to see if I could locate him.
When I returned home empty-handed, things took a turn for the worse. Isabella was borderline hysterical. She was in bed, but had no intention of sleeping. She had been up since 6:30am, and hadn't had a nap. She was exhausted. I climbed into bed with her. She cried quietly while I stroked her hair. She fell asleep with her body curled into my chest.
I extracted myself from her bed without disturbing her, went downstairs, and began scouring the Internet for Charlie replacements. The hubs took a flashlight and did his best peeping tom imitation, as he walked our bike route looking for Charlie. He wasn't out there. I immediately emailed our neighborhood's Yahoo group to alert the neighbors to keep an eye out for him.
I IM-ed the incredible Stacey, who had gone through a similar ordeal with her son's beloved "Harry" about a year ago, to ask for pointers as to how to deal with Isabella's deep sadness over her loss. She spent over an hour helping me search for replacement Charlies. We compared fur patterns, mouth and nose shapes, "old-style" Gund bears versus "new-style." She gave me some great tips: put up flyers, post on Facebook about finding a new Charlie, spread the word far and wide to see if anyone could help. She dropped whatever she was doing late on a Saturday night to help me. For this, I will always be grateful. Thank you, Stacey.
It was nearing midnight. The hubs and I were literally sick to our stomachs over this loss. I hadn't eaten dinner. I had to get up at 6am to run a 10K yesterday morning. We were exhausted and despondent. Charlie was just a stuffed bear, but he was everything to Isabella. If we couldn't find him, or convince her to accept a replacement, which, hey, had been returned to us bathed and looking brand new!, we would be wrecked.
The hubs was picking up toys in the dining room. He opened up Isabella's Thomas the Train puzzle box to pack away the puzzle she had put together earlier that day.
Inside was Charlie.
I was so happy I started crying. I grabbed Charlie, tip-toed upstairs and into Isabella's room, and placed him on her pillow. The next morning when she woke up, I went into her room as I always do, and she sat up with a huge smile on her face and Charlie in her arms.
"Mommy, while I was sleeping, I felt a little bit of fur, and it was Charlie! So I hugged him under my arm and went back to sleep."Parents watch their children suffer through unimaginable horrors much worse than the loss of a stuffed animal. Isabella is a healthy, happy little girl, and I am thankful beyond measure for this.
But oh my god, it was literally killing me inside to watch her go through the emotions associated with losing Charlie.
I hope it's a long, long time before we have to head down a path like this again.