There are a couple of tell-tale indicators for Cullen’s stress level. During the part of the year when he wears socks, the number of socks he tries on in the morning usually will tell me what level his sensory overload is. 1-2 pairs he is good to go, 3-4 and he is going to have a rough day, 5+ and I deliberate calling in sick to work and school to stay holed up in our Batcave.
Another one is his attachment to Barbara. His love affair with manatees started early. He was just barely talking, 3-years-old, and he discovered the manatees at Sea World. He stood nose pressed to the glass for well over an hour. Watching them float and eat their lettuce… they don’t do a whole lot of anything else. On our next visit we exited the manatee exhibit to the inevitable gift shop. He spied a giant stuffed manatee that was literally as tall as he was. He ran over to it, picked it up and turned to me with a face full of joy, “Mama, Barbara Manatee wants to come home with us.” The fact that he asked for something blew me away because he NEVER asked for anything, he was more content playing with notepads and high-lighters than toys. He also had never shown any interest in any of the stuffed animals he had at home, (I think he was even frightened of the monkey I had gotten him at Build-a-Bear). But here he was holding a 3 foot manatee that he had named… Barbara?!? I convinced him that a more manageable size would be better for taking home, and we left with Cullen clutching a brand new (12″) Barbara. He did not put her down for 3 days. And then the unthinkable happened. Barbara was stolen. Yes. Stolen. Who steals a stuffed manatee you say? A despicable, black-hearted person that’s who. Cullen was heart-broken.
Not being able to afford another trip to Sea World just to buy a stuffed animal we had to wait almost a year before a kind soul we knew planned a trip and graciously brought back the exact same manatee. I still don’t think I have ever seen Cullen as happy as he was to be reunited with Barbara. He would dance and sing the Barbara Manatee song with her, but she wasn’t allowed out of his room often.. and never out of the house. (Unless he was going to Grandma’s house for more than a couple days). Every precaution was taken to keep her safe this time. She had a special place on his bed, and he rarely went to sleep without her.
When we moved to our house we live in now, Cullen was careful to keep his “moving buddy” in sight at all times during the packing of the truck and when we reached the new house he safely stowed her behind his mattress in his new room. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that he is carrying her around the house with him in the mornings before school or after his shower at night. I feel like lately with the supplements he is taking for his behavior that he is feeling more vulnerable because his emotions are clearer to him. He can now clearly define how he feels when he is sad, frustrated, confused, happy or angry. Where before every emotion registered as the same.. something foreign that he could not grasp. Barbara anchors him and makes him feel secure.
I made dinner too late last night, and hungry Cullen brought Barbara into the kitchen with him and was swinging her around. I told him to be careful, not to be too rough with her. Multiple trips through the laundry have left her a bit more floppy than she used to be, and he pointed out the spot between her fins seemed a little empty. He said we should get a backup Barbara, just in case. I explained he should take care of her because the manatees have moved from California Sea World, and it would be almost impossible to get a new Barbara if something happened to her. (Do you know how hard it is to find stuffed manatees?) Then I said something silly.. or stupid. I said I once thought about having a Barbara made that looked just like the one on Veggie Tales……
Weeping and gnashing of teeth over a stuffed animal that doesn’t even exist! He went on and on for 10 minutes about how he had a “fake” Barbara, and how could he go on like that? How could I not get him the real one? Luckily, I finished dinner and satiating the hunger became a priority and the “fake vs. real” dilemma was dropped. At least for now.