She bursts into our room and throws herself face first onto the bed between the two of us. Between the mucus-filled sobs, she wails. Her body bares no visible wounds, no blood, no bruises.
A minute or so earlier, I had kissed my daughter, Thing 1, good night, leaving her in the glow of a nightlight resembling a sugar-encrusted pink daisy that has enveloped her dreams since age 4. It had seemed to be a routine end to a routine midsummer’s day.
She wants something but her words are muffled in the comforter. My wife and I look at each other, lost, and shrug.
We start rubbing her back and asking her what’s wrong tonight. She sits up a bit, her face red and swollen.
“I want Barney!” she wails.
My wife and I lock eyes. “Who?”
“I want Barney!”
“Barney? The purple dinosaur?”
My 9-year-old girl, the aspiring musical diva and fashion maven, weeks away from fourth grade, flops down again in cinematic slow motion.
“Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees,” she says and disappears into the comforter.
He was 10 inches of evil purple and green plush. What made him particularly satanic was a little button, hidden under the overstuffed polyester belly, that when pushed pierced the ears with warped musical plunks and saccharine:
“I love you.
You love me.
We’re a happy family.
With a great big hug
and a kiss from me to you,
won’t you say you love me, too?”
Barney was a fixture in Thing 1’s early years. Our favorite game with him took place on the living room floor with me imitating his doofy whine as I made his stubby arms stack blocks that would, when high enough, inevitably tumble down on his prehistoric noggin. It brought smiles and laughs to each of us delight, but for different reasons.
“Sweetie,” I say, “do we even have your Barney anymore?”
“I gave it to Mrs. K,” she sobs back. “For her new baby.”
Then it all became clear.
Mrs. K was her kindergarten teacher and, three years later, still Thing 1’s favorite. When Mrs. K became pregnant last year, Thing 1 volunteered to give the new baby her Barney. This, to me, was an amazing act of charity … toward everyone, including me. For several years, Barney had been relegated to bottom of the basement toy box, only to be heard from when some bigger, heavier, more popular toy landed on top of him, forcing us to hear him gasp for unrequited affection through an ocean of plastic and double-A batteries.
Tonight, while Thing 1 scarfed down thin-crust pizza with her best friend’s family during an evening out, she had seen her old kindergarten teacher in the restaurant.
And her baby.
And her old friend Barney.
And life as it once was.
“I have Mrs. K’s e-mail address,” I say. “Do you want me to ask her if you can have it back?”
“Noooooooooooo!” she moans. “I want Barney!”
“Then I’ll e-mail her.”
“Nooooooooooo! I want Barney!”
This continues for 20 or 30 minutes. We reason. We rationalize. We beg. She finally calms enough so My Love can escort Thing 1 to her room and settle her in.
How does one give back childhood innocence without taking it from another? Does mending one heart always mean breaking another? Most importantly, how much will this all cost me?
My Love comes back in and we ponder and we theorize and we deconstruct our little universe in search of meaning and truth.
Then my wife says plainly, “She said she’d be OK if Daddy bought her another Barney.”
In a few days, when the plain brown box arrives, I shall discreetly hand it to my daughter. There will be no acknowledgment between us, just silence, until she is upstairs, alone in her room, with the door closed and time standing still.
A version of this first appeared on Always Home and Uncool.