Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Come Back, Little Purple Dinosaur, Come Back

She bursts into our room and throws herself face first onto the bed between My Love and me. 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 Thing 1 good night, leaving her in the glow of the 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 and mattress. My Love and I look at each other, lost, and shrug.

Thing 1's only other spontaneous meltdown came roughly two years ago to the date. We had just finished a bedtime story when, without warning, she burst. She didn't want to go back to school in a few weeks. She didn't want to be different and hated and weird.

First grade had been exceptionally rough for a girl who had loved kindergarten so dearly. Only one classmate from the previous year was among the other 22 in her homeroom. A bully refused to assign her a role in the game of "family" they all played among the multi-colored slides and damp wood chips every day at recess. Someone had started rumors about why she wore sunscreen and floppy hats even during the New England winter.

"I want to be normal," she cried that night three years ago. It was the first and still the only time I had ever heard those say those words.

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!" she cries again.

"Barney? The purple dinosaur?"

My 9-year-old girl, the aspiring musical diva and fashion maven, weeks away from fourth grade, flops down again but 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 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 came 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 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? I wonder. Does mending one heart always mean breaking another? And how much will this all cost me in the end?

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, just silence, until she is upstairs, alone in her room, with the door closed and time standing still.


  1. My kids didn't even KNOW Barney... I wouldn't let them... I wad selfish like that!

    On the other hand...DORA and DIEGO run rampant around my house and I'm not sure that is a good substitute!

    Lucky Daddy gets to be the Champion!

  2. Beautifully written, K.

    I'm misty and wistful over this one.

  3. Oh. This made me cry. That really doesn't happen often.

  4. Now this is true love, you buying a new Barney. It is amazing how things begin to hold such importance to all the family members

  5. One word: Ebay

    The favorite elf of Santa and parents everywhere.

    (And how's that book coming....?)

  6. First, my 11 yr old will kill me when she finds out that I put out on the internets, that, yes, she was a Barney lover too. And we had a similar situation when she was a pre-schooler and lost her beloved bear over a weekend - it turns out she had left it at daycare. We ordered another one from eBay, and it's tucked away for her, when she has her first baby.

    Bear is coming with us in vacation. He will probably go to college, too.

    Wonderful post.

  7. Did you hear that? That was my heart breaking. My little girl who is 7, has The Big One (TBO), a flat and floppy pink elephant who goes along for the ride to school and back again for pickup in the afternoon.

    The Big One has gotten us through many a rough day at school. She might even make it to college.

    Everybody needs a best friend. Even if it's pink and floppy or purple and sings.

  8. And here I thought the story would involve late night break-ins, spinal injury and cover-ups in an attempt to re-claim the missing toy.

    Your part in the film would be played by Harlan Williams and your wife would be Jessica Alba.

  9. If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops, oh what a rain it would be!

    I have a 9 year old too...

  10. Anna Lefler sent me!

    I'm still piecing out the layers of this beautifully written post.

  11. Kevin, you are such a good dad.

    She is lucky to have you and Your Love to care for her.

    - Julia at Midwest Moms

  12. There is something truly terrifying about Barney.

    Kids too, but that's my own personal bugaboo.

  13. I'm so heartbroken for her growing pains. Not getting a role in "family." Its the most important thing when you're a little kid. You're daughter's heart sounds like it has deep pockets.

  14. Dude. My heart hurts for you and for your sweet one. If only Barney could solve all the problems.


    I hate asshole kids. I hope that this year is better for her. Or Her Internet Aunt Becky will come and kick some second grade butt.

  15. My already fragile heart is ripped a bit more after reading this post, which is filled with beautiful. We should all keep a sentimental friend nearby, I quite think, and I wish your daughter didn't have to put up with thoughtless kids. I hope her school year is good.

    I also wish I'd saved the Teletubbies dolls my oldest bundled in this tiny arms and carried around all the time when he was younger. Even if he never asked for them, I think there'd be something comforting about having them tucked away somewhere.

    (and the bonus of those dolls? They didn't talk...)

  16. My daughter lost her precious Biz Bunny when she was seven. I searched all over the internet for a replacement, but I could never find one. She is still missed -- 7 years later. I gave Hippie my Teddy who I slept with until I got married. He is some comfort but will never be the same as Biz Bunny.

  17. You are, as always very cool, Mr Uncool. What a way to save the day!

  18. Yeah. You're a better man than I. I'd have more Barney.

    I'd upgrade to American Girl doll.

  19. I plan to pre-program our new son to be terrified of Barney just so we don't have to endure a single moment of his purple doucheyness.

  20. This is why I am such a pack rat, cause I do the same thing when I remember stuff that I've given away. There is a whole stack of records that I've been mourning for years now.

  21. It's hard when they get just old enough to realize they're not little anymore. And things are real. And people can be mean. And it was so much easier when it was just you and Barney.

  22. Sometimes all we want to do is go back when life was sweeter and less complicated.
    Sometimes that includes a purple dinosaur.

  23. Kids grow up so fast these days. I'm glad she still feels like a kid. And I'm glad you indulged her. Nicely done.

  24. Poor kid. I'm sure if my son ever gave away a single piece of his Thomas the Train collection, similar gifter's remorse would set in at some point later on.

  25. That's sad, beautiful and touching all at the same time. That stage stuck between young child and tween is hard - going through that ourselves.

  26. These are the moments that make parenting worth it-being there to reassure your kids that you're still there to make it okay again. Especially from a father and daughter. Sets the bar pretty high for the guys she dates later in life.

    And I promised myself I wouldn't cry, sniff!

  27. Too cute.

    My son is fifteen, and he still has a Thomas the Tank Engine pillow on his bed . . . just for show, ya know?

  28. We used to have that very same Barney toy. I'm not going to lie...I'm so glad my kids don't miss it! I spent many a night listening to Barney singing on the monitor.

  29. Now I am sitting here at work with misty eyes missing my little bean. You suck. And by suck I am mean you kick ass. Those kids are damn lucky to have you.

    Now I am off to talk about how print will overtake digital as the preferred medium.

  30. Awww, and look - no hearts were broken in the reparation of hers.

  31. That is the most important thing when you're a little kid. You're daughter's heart sounds like it has deep pockets.

    Home Security Systems no CREDIT CHECK everyone is approved

  32. Heart-breaking! To feel so acutely the loss of childhood idyll at so young an age...


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