The bear's name is Parquet and if you've ever read The Velveteen Rabbit, be assured that Parquet has been real for a very long time.
An odd eleven year old asked for a teddy-bear at Christmas and the bear appeared under the tree alongside a paperback Little House on the Prairie, and the floppy Holly Hobbie. The odd eleven year old had never heard of the butter-like substance that is Parkay Margarine. She had seen a photograph of an old parquet floor. The patina of time, regular maintenance, and filtered sunlight exposed honeyed hues and maple syrup and bits of buttercream, and so the bear was named Parquet. Her parents weren't familiar with the butter-like substance either, or they might have suggested another name. Then again, possibly not. Interference with the naming of anything was verboten in that house; there is great power in the giving of a name.
By the time the eleven year old was exposed to television commercials, it was too late and you just don't rename a bear. The eighteen year old got tired of explaining, having discovered that while most of the population was familiar with the butter-like substance and its ridiculous advertising campaign, it was not familiar with the intricate patterns and colors of parquet flooring. The bear was called 'bear' except in private.
The bear was produced in the marital bed, full name finally revealed. The brand spanking new spouse tried very hard not to laugh, but it was never unkind. The brand spanking new spouse had a general understanding of the bear's purpose in a grown adult's bed which meant Parquet got to stay right where he was and the once upon a time eleven year old still clutched him tight whenever necessary. Necessary happened quite a lot.
When the first baby was four years old, he took the bear from his momma's bed and that was that.
You know, that's my bear, right?
Yes. But I have him now, OK?
OK, but it's a loan. I want that bear back when you're done with it.
When the four year old boy was eight and his sister was three, his momma said it was time to pass the bear on. He was not happy about the abrupt change in the leasing agreement but his sister was a force to be reckoned with and he did not want to be bitten again. He handed the bear over and said:
Parquet has already lost an eye and some stuffing and the stuffing is my fault. Please try not to hurt Momma's bear.
These children were not familiar with the butter-like substance called Parkay. While they had no first hand knowledge of Parquet flooring, they believed their mother when she described the colors in the light that looked just like the bear.
Eventually they learned about the butter-like substance and kept the bear out of sight, but not out of their beds. Mostly it was the girl who kept the bear because SHE had inherited it and that was that. She asked her mother if she would have to give it back and her mother said the same thing: You know that's my bear, right? It's a loan and I want him back when you're done with him.
I won't ever be done with him.
Yes you will. Don't worry.
The baby was a bit of a shock. They knew she was coming. They both took part in the summoning of the baby on New Year's Eve, 1999. They both wrote the baby wish in the red, crushed velvet journal. They watched their mother's middle expand until she looked ready to pop. By the time the third baby was born, the boy was fourteen and the girl was nine. The boy still wanted the bear back but knew hell was going to have to freeze over first. The girl had no intention of ever giving up the bear. She was an even bigger force to be reckoned with, and he had no intention of getting involved in any sort of sister reckoning. His momma could do that. She was just as big a force.
When the baby was two, his sister did the unthinkable. She hid the bear.
When the baby was four, her mother did the inevitable. She took the bear.
This is my bear and I'd like it back now.
But you took it out of my room!
Yes, I sure did.
Because I wasn't going to get him back in one piece any other way.
What are you going to do with Parquet?
The same thing I've always done with Parquet. Hold him close and then loan him back out.
What?! But that's my bear!
But I can have him back later, right?
When your sister is done with him, he comes back to me.
And then what?
Well, I guess he goes to the next baby.
ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE ANOTHER BABY?!
No. Lucia. I am not going to have another baby.
Then who's baby gets my bear?
It's not your bear, it's my bear and I suppose the next baby is my first grandchild.
That's not fair.
Because Mike is older and he'll get a baby first and then I'll never get the bear back because he'll have so many babies I'll die before they're done.
Without ceremony, the bear vanished into Elizabeth's room.
When Elizabeth's momma knit Elizabeth a pink and pinker sweater, Elizabeth asked why Parquet didn't have a pink and pinker sweater. Elizabeth's momma looked at the leftover pink and pinker wool, looked at the bear and said, maybe.
Two days later, Elizabeth and Parquet wore matching pink and pinker sweaters. Momma drew the line at pants. Two weeks later Parquet had an unfortunate accident involving hairspray and gravel. Without thinking, the bear was sent through a wash cycle. When he came out of the dryer, all warm and squishy, his pink and pinker sweater had become an indelible part of his bear-ness. That thing wasn't ever coming off. Elizabeth outgrew the sweater, Parquet never did.
Parquet was a private bear through the lives of three very different children. He was quite unprepared for the fourth, who dragged him around by his foot very much like the way she dragged the cat around. She locked him in cabinets, dresser drawers, and coat closets, but at the end of the day, he was right back on her pillow. She locked the cat in a drawer once (possibly more than once) because she wanted to be sure to find him when she got home from school. The cat never forgave her. The bear forgave everything.
Elizabeth just happened to have two daddies and within the context of Elizabeth's memory, there were always two daddies. One lived in a house nearby and one lived in her house. The one that lived in her house put her to bed every night. First there was a story or eight, and then there was the tossing of the bear, which indicated the end of the evening. The daddy who lived in her house would stand in the middle of the room and toss her the bear. She would toss the bear right back. After a dozen unasked for trips across Elizabeth's room, Parquet was tucked into bed and then mauled until she fell asleep. THIS is a thing a bear understands.
Elizabeth was the only child who understood that someday she would have to give the bear back. She didn't fret, she doesn't fret about that sort of thing. She had a sense of permanence and stability that bypassed her siblings.
When Elizabeth was seven, her momma went away on a business trip. That wasn't unusual. Unusual was Momma not saying good-bye first. Momma always said good-bye. Since Momma's car wasn't in the driveway, Elizabeth accepted the story about the late night phone call and the rush from the house. She waited for Momma to call. Momma did not call.
The evening after Momma left, Parquet vanished. Elizabeth was frantic but her daddy who lived in her house said he sent Parquet to Baltimore to be with Momma.
Momma needs Parquet right now. She's having a very hard time.
Yes, in Baltimore she is have a very hard business trip so I sent Parquet. Don't worry, they'll both be back soon.
You didn't ask me.
I know, I'm sorry, it was late.
Elizabeth knew he was lying. She was furious but she reduced her questions to one: When is Momma coming home?
Pretty soon, don't worry.
If she hadn't been so worried about her momma, and so worried about Parquet, she might have noticed Lucia. Lucia looked like a ghost and refused to go to school. Lucia's face was puffy and red and she refused to go to school. Lucia's hair was unbrushed and she was not mean to Elizabeth. While Lucia was living through the worst week of her life, to date, Elizabeth was incensed because EVERYBODY WAS LYING TO HER. She was a little bit scared about Momma, but Momma always came home.
Momma came home and she was different.
It was the beginning of February when Momma went away, and when she came back, a week later, her face was smoothed out and she was mostly quiet. This lasted about a month and then Chaos, father of Little chaos, moved in. It was a horrible year. Everybody fought and Momma cried all the time. Even the au pair was getting mean. Sometimes, more times than Elizabeth wants to think, she heard her momma crying in the night. She would go back to sleep and if she woke up again, Momma was still crying.
By December, all the smoothness in her momma's February face was gone. Her 'in the house daddy' was the same, although Lucia told her later that her 'in the house daddy' was different too. He was angry all the time but you could only tell if you looked in his eyes. His eyes said he was lying.
Elizabeth was with her other daddy the night it happened, which is good because Lucia had her hands full. Lucia was living the second worst week of her life. Lucia saw her momma every single day when she was away. The 'in the house daddy' took her at lunchtime. Lucia was more scared than she'd ever been in her life. When her momma came home, she was relieved and happy and furious, right up until the world broke.
At 10:30 PM on December 26, the 'in the house daddy' packed up their half-brothers, pulled Lucia out of bed, and said:
I am leaving. Go in there and take care of your mother.
It took Elizabeth's momma an entire year to pull herself together. She still went to work everyday but nothing else was the same. Both girls were scared all the time. However, the daddy that lived near by was in the house a lot more than he used to be. He took care of both girls and he took care of the momma. All of that was horrible but the final blow came one year later when Elizabeth's 'in the house daddy' walked away from Elizabeth and never looked back.
People said, but she already has a father, she'll be OK.
Her momma and her nearby daddy said, no, she will not be OK. She had two daddies and now one of them is gone. Just gone. Not very many people understood. The daddy that stayed said, they never would.
Elizabeth got a lot of help, and some of the life choices she made might not have happened if her 'in the house' daddy hadn't left. While she harbored her pain and said, 'I'm past this now', her compassion grew and spread outward, first into her community and eventually into the world at large. She became a force of nature of a very different sort.
The thing about empathy, the ability to read a person, doesn't always originate from a safe and loving environment. Often the ability to read a person is born of fear, and loss, and grief. She became wary like a stray dog, but remained engaged and affectionate. She kept her own counsel, but stayed connected.
Elizabeth's momma sang the same song to Elizabeth every single night until one day she was too old to be tucked in with a song.
Some nights, hours after Elizabeth has gone to bed, her momma stands outside her room and sings to the door, very, very softly. Elizabeth is twenty, and too old for bedtime songs, but her momma will probably stand outside that door and sing until the day she leaves home.