Odd-looking toy that played an important role in my son’s life

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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

I don’t remember who the gift was from. Unfortunately, that description has gone through my mind, like my son’s first words and how old he was when he spoke it. Horrible, I know. what can I say? I was in a position to survive the paternity of those early years. There were a lot of steps going on here, not by the newest member of our family. But that is another story.

All I remember about the gift is my initial reaction to it. When our child opened the box and took out the attached soft toy, my mind immediately moved to the existing mountain of stuffed animals in our house. The mountain that remained mostly untouched. I sighed. I knew that this orange knit cat – named Sasha according to the box – was going straight into that pile. I pictured myself placing the bag on the pile and pulling it over the curb at some point. My parents’ guilt meter climbed several notches.

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Before my son was born, my husband and I vowed to work separately. Our house will remain an adult place and we will teach our child right from the beginning that less is more. This was the year before Mary Kondo and she was given teasing tips; Perhaps we were ahead of our time. Under our vision, toys are limited to a small basket, preferably void of plastic products and noisy things. Who needs a lot of luggage? Not us and our child, definitely.

We had no idea who we were against. When Sasha’s gift box was two years into our time as a parent, most of the surfaces in our house were covered in baby items. Trying to incorporate the toddler universe that we felt like working for ourselves. We came to know that if we keep peace and keep our child safe then we can live with many more.

As I expected, Sasha walked into a mountain of stuffed animals. However, according to estimates, the kitten did not live in the pile. I’m not sure why. I mean Sasha is cute but seems unmistakable. Picture a medium-sized knit orange cat with a lopsided smile and a cropped purple sweater. I would not have thought that Sasha could give a candle to Ferzi Monkey or the Finnish Me Elmo, but what did I know?

Sasha’s appeal leaves no doubt that she was involved in the meal time. We were desperate to get distracted, especially when our son was in a high chair. Without entertainment, our child would fight the injustice necessary to remain seated by flopping “bonelessly” or using the infamous “clearing of the deck” maneuver, which included eating on his tray that flew everywhere. My husband started using stuffed animals in distraction games with success. Under the influence of my husband or wife, Sasha used to say silly things and drop material on the floor. We knew we were doing something when our son started asking to go to his high chair to play the “Sasha Game”.

Over time, Sasha’s powers grew beyond distraction. If we were having a hard time doing something to our son (such as staying with a babysitter or walking outside in the car), sometimes a notched cat could surround him. Sasha’s involvement can usually reduce meltdown or at least buy us some more time, such as a secret weapon. My husband loved the ventriloquist cheese. So good in fact that when our son was a little older and was starting to question the world around me, I lay him down on the bed whispering “If you can speak, Sasha, please do it anymore” . At that moment, I wholeheartedly wished that Sasha could really speak.

It was not just my spouse and I used Sasha to achieve some desired results. In time our child learned how to use a knit cat. For example, I remember her excited announcement at one point that it was Sasha’s birthday the next day. Easily, Sasha had told our son what kind of cake and toy to get. We went with it and had a birthday party. To some extent, it seemed like a fair game. It seems that the comfort that Sasha gave our son paid for it.

This rest was especially important while sleeping. Sleep was challenging for our son for a long time and, as a result, for us. We came to know that our child loved to keep the cat weaving at night and would have been more willing to settle down if Sasha had been there. This made the knit cat priceless in our home. If we had been robbed during that time, probably the first possession I would have checked would have been Sasha’s. Members of the extended family knew Sasha by name and everyone understood that great care is required when working with a stuffed animal. Nobody wanted to shake our sleeping boat by calling Sasha wrong.

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We were so worried about losing Sasha and the trauma that this would be the reason (for all of us) that we bought a fake stuffed animal as a backup. Unfortunately, when the intended backup arrived, we can see that our plan was flawed. As a knit toy, the smile angle was completely different, as was the sweater fit. In addition, the backup was brilliant in color as it lacked the wear and tear of countless kudos. We did not even try to pass this stuffed animal as Sasha. When our son saw the backup, he immediately named it Imposter Sasha.

Remarkably, our son is now a teenager and if all goes according to plan, he will leave home later this year to attend university. Sasha no longer has a major role in our day-to-day lives, but I know that I will never take Sasha in check. We all love that cat.

Fall down, when I’m an empty-nester, I can probably pull Sasha out again to comfort me.

Nicole Rhodes lives in Nelson, B.C.

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