Owl Surgery

Zoe called me in to tuck her into bed last night, and when I walked in I found her frozen and staring down at the sheets. Normally this means she’s discovered a spider or some other bug, or she’s just barfed, or something equally disgusting has just taken place. I steeled myself and asked, “What’s going on?”

Silent, she motioned towards the sheets on the other side of her bed. I saw two small, white, round pellets on the purple sheets. As I bent over to scoop them up, she asked, “What are those?” I knew immediately: Hootie’s beans.

Zoe claimed Hootie as her lovie when she was about 18 months old. She swiped him from her father, who had fished him out of a bin of Beanie Babies in the Osco Drug in Columbia, Missouri, at my insistence my senior year of j-school. I had been on the ad club team and for reasons I don’t remember we had all selected these little bean bag animals and carted them to Nebraska with us for regionals. They were mostly thrown around and placed into funny positions, serving as a misfit team of mascots for our ragtag ad club. Mine was Chocolate Moose. When M came to visit me shortly after the trip, we were in Osco to pick something up and I showed him the bin. Mind you, this was before Beanie Babies were all the rage. It was really just a decrepit wire bin of little bean-stuffed animals all thrown in there. He picked through and came up with a little brown and tan owl named Hoot and we bought him for $3, I think. Hoot spent the next few years hanging out with Chocolate Moose.

When Zoe was little, we had placed some stuffed animals on the shelves in her room, and it became our bedtime ritual to kiss all our animals, one by one, at bedtime. Hoot and Chocolate Moose had made the cut and were on a shelf together. We’d stand in front of the animals and wish all the babies goodnight and then, satisfied, she’d lay right down in her crib and go to sleep. It was a good system.

One night, out of the blue when she was about 18 months old, her little hand shot out during our bedtime kisses and, without a word, she snatched Hoot off the shelf. She drew him to her face, stuck her other thumb in her mouth, and was finished. Hoot had been claimed; he was now hers. M looked at both of us and laughed. “Um. I don’t think he’s mine anymore!”

From then on, Zoe and Hoot were inseparable. That owl has been to so many places, and has been left behind so many places. One time he even spent a few extra hours in the National Corvette Museum. He was almost lost on an Amtrak train. He visited Santa and the Easter Bunny every year, and was on every Christmas card. He went to preschool with her every day, and to bed with her every night. When she started talking, she changed his name to Hootie. I can’t count how many times she’s patiently explained to bystanders that he’s not a penguin, he’s an owl, expressing her frustration in private to me later. “He’s brown and tan, Mommy. Penguins are black and white!” To be fair, he is rather penguin shaped, and his eyes are these beady little black numbers, not the giant owl eyes you’d expect. He’s been to Girl Scout camp and to Cincinnati, New York, the Dominican, Playa Del Carmen, Chicago, and Florida. He’s been on planes and trains and more car trips than we can count. Sometimes he drives.

Needless to say, Hootie has a place of honor in our family. So when we discovered that he had lost some of his beans, we nearly had a catastrophe on our hands. Zoe started to spool up. “It’s okay!” I exclaimed, because upon examination I discovered that Hootie had split on a seam, and I knew I could fix that. I can’t sew much, but I can throw in a couple whip-stitches in an emergency. “I’ll take care of him…you just go to sleep and I’ll bring him in when he’s okay.” She went to bed, and I could tell she was worried.

So that’s how I found myself at 9:30 on a Monday night, rooting around to find brown thread and a needle and then sewing up the backside of a little brown and tan owl. His surgery successful, I returned him to a sleeping Zoe. This morning, when I went in to roust her from bed after she turned off her alarm and went back to sleep, I saw that she was clutching him as she has every night for the past decade. Her eyes flew open when she remembered what had happened the night before. “Hootie!” She snuggled down into her covers with her owl and I was happy that I was able to make everything right in her world again.

Editor’s Note: Most of the people in our lives know Hootie, because he’s a fixture in our family and has been everywhere with us. I posted about his back surgery on social media and was happy to see the outpouring of support for him and his injury. On behalf of Hootie, I thank you for your concern.

#blog#daily life#family#memory#personal essay#writing#zoe

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