“Mommy, can I have one of those?” 5-year-old Riley asked in amazement.
“Yeah, me too! I wan’ da unicorn!” her 3-year-old sister Charlotte chimed in.
We were at the grocery store, halfway through my shopping list. I followed the girls’ enthusiasm upward: giant stuffed animals of every possible species, both real and imagined, gazed down at us from the top of the freezer cases. I could only imagine what the conversations had been like on the night shift at Smith’s: “Anyone know why we’re stocking humongous stuffed frogs next to the frozen peas?” “Because kids can talk their parents into anything, Bill. Now hand me that purple dragon.”
Normally, I could not be talked into buying the girls so much as an Elmo-themed box of granola bars if it wasn’t on my list. Normally, my answer to “Mommy, can I have that?” is “Why don’t you put it on your Christmas list [or birthday list, depending on which gift-giving holiday was arriving next] if it’s something you really want?” Ninety-nine times out of 100, they forget the new object of their heart’s desire before we even make it back to the minivan.
For some reason on this particular day, though, something else came out of my mouth.
“I’ll make you a deal. You give away every stuffed animal you have — every single one — and you can have one of these.”
I said it — and I meant it — but I didn’t think there was a single, solitary chance either of them would go for it. The last time I tried to get Riley to let go of the toys she didn’t play with anymore, she managed to part with an unidentifiable half of something that was probably once a Happy Meal prize. The chances of them parting with dozens — possibly hundreds, the way stuffed animals seemed to asexually reproduce in the dark recesses of the closets — of their dearest plush possessions were about the same as them swearing off sequined clothing.
But they looked at me, then at the row of lions, bears and parrots, and said, “Deal.”
We went home and bagged up every single stuffed animal, though I did allow some negotiations for which ones got donated and which went into the boxes of baby things in the crawl space to be saved for the eventual next generation (which did not include every fuzzy object in sight, much to their dismay).
Then came the best and very worst part: we went back to the grocery store and I handed each of them a four-foot-long stuffed animal. They proceeded to walk through the store telling everyone they met, “Our mom is BUYING these for US!”
Did I mention that it was two weeks before Christmas? I might as well have hung signs that read “Horribly Spoiled by Terrible, Clueless Parents” around their necks. Resisting the urge to frantically explain the entire story to a series of random strangers was an incredibly uncomfortable exercise in humility.
And yet, somehow, we all got something that we wanted out of the deal. I managed to get rid of several bags of small, cluttery toys without having to sneak them out in the dead of night and then blacken my heart with lies when someone asked where Mr. Fuzzy Paws went. The girls got giant stuffed animals, and there really is some magical wonder in owning a toy that’s taller than you are.
Was it a true parenting win? Who knows? (Do we ever really know?) Instant gratification is probably not a great lesson, nor is the idea that something new is more valuable than something beloved. Over the years, stuffed animals once again infiltrated our house with a vengeance, a stealth guerrilla force of bug-eyed Beanie Boos and their off-brand compatriots. But the girls, who are now 12 and 14, still own the giant tiger and his unicorn friend, and coming across them never fails to remind me of this weird, wonderful day from years ago.
Find more of Katie Cantrell’s thoughts on parenting and life at www.katiecantrellwrites.com or on social media @katiecantrellwrites.