When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with cheetahs. Unfortunately, we lived in Minnesota and didn’t have a zoo that could house such a magnificent creature due to the severity of our winters. Naturally, I harassed my father constantly to take me to a place where I could see a real, live cheetah. While my eight-year-old self had Africa in mind, any zoo that had a cheetah would suffice. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

My father handled my obsession brilliantly and made many efforts to put a cheetah in front of me. We traveled to different zoo and even made it all the way out to California to the San Diego zoo to see the Cheetah exhibit. I don’t recall the exact circumstance, but our trip ended without me ever seeing a cheetah. I believe the exhibit happen to be closed that day. Slowly, my dream of seeing a cheetah in real life diminished.

One day my father brought me a stuffed cheetah when he returned from one of his business trips. I was very grateful and out of the toys I received as a child, this cheetah ranked in the top five for sure.

Years passed and I started to seek out trouble. I have vague memories of packing up a bag to run away and putting the stuffed cheetah in my bag. I remember getting drunk and painting the cheetah purple with purple hair dye. As my childhood moved further away, that stuffed cheetah toy was the last thing to fall out of sight.

In my later years, as the distortion of my younger alcoholic fueled days were fading, I embarked on a journey to heal my inner child. This journey led me right back to the Cheetah. I made a few attempts to see one in real life and did get an opportunity to see one that was on a leash for a few minutes which was amazing but not sufficient to quiet my inner eight-year-old that was still screaming to go to Africa.

Naturally, I did what any caring parent would do, and bought my inner child a new stuffed Cheetah toy. I opted to buy a purple one as a nod to my angst filled teenager-self who had dyed the original cheetah toy purple. My adult-self, inner-child, and inner-teenager, all agreed to name this purple stuffed cheetah toy “Purple”.

Time passed and Purple traveled with me through the ups and downs of life. Most of the time, Purple spent his days in a box or bag but occasionally, I’d take him out to sleep with. It wasn’t the same toy that my father bought me all those years ago, but it represented that and so much more. Purple was the comfort of a loving father, the hope of a little child, and the acceptance of all the things that happen in transition from childhood to adulthood.

Then we had children. The mounds of stuffed animals that we collected from zoos, museums, birthdays, and Christmas was indeed impressive. Neither of our children ever had to press me too much for me to cave and buy them a stuffed animal. I wanted our children to have some of the same happy memories that I did with my stuffed cheetah.

Of course, the magic of my stuffed cheetah wasn’t material. It was my father’s solution to not being able to show me a real-life cheetah. He saw the cheetah in a store, without me there to tell him I wanted it, he bought it anyways and then traveled with it all the way home to place it in my little hands. This is in stark contrast to our children expectingly presenting me with a stuffed animal while pointing at the cash register.

A few years ago, when our son was about two years old, he went through a period of intense nightmares. I dug out Purple and told him that he had brough me comfort over the years and that he would guard him at night. Purple brought our son comfort over the next few years.

Six months ago, I was sick and our son, now five years old, brought me Purple to comfort me while I recovered. It was around this time that our new dog Lucie had developed a taste for stuffed animals and was making a habit out of destroying stuffed animals from our children’s vast collection. Our son seemed largely indifferent about many of the casualties but did take special efforts to protect Purple.

Last month, we brough our children to the Missouri zoo and watched three cheetahs in a wonderful exhibit. My heart was full, my inner child was satisfied, and our children could finally witness with their own eyes, the creatures they had heard their mother talk so much about.

Last week, I heard a cry as our son held a ravished Purple. His eye had been destroyed and his head had been ripped open. Lucie, our dog, hid in the corner as both our children yelled at her for being a “bad dog”. I intervened and reminded them that Lucie didn’t know that Purple was special and that she didn’t deserve to be yelled at. Our son, with tears in his eyes, said that Purple was wrecked and that he was sorry.

Purple was indeed a mess. The eye was unsalvable, but as I held him in my hand, I realized the opportunity to demonstrate to our children that scars are part of life and because of that, they are beautiful.

While our children were at school, I got to work. It was able to repair Purple enough to stop filling from falling out. I cleaned Purple up and was anxious for the kids to see that he had made a recovery after the vicious dog attack.

Our children were overjoyed with Purple’s recovery, and both vowed to take good care of him. While it’s only been a few days, I have every reason to believe that they will make good on their promise. So, it appears that a toy stuffed cheetah has worked its way into their childhood memories after all.

Today, I will remember that while meaning can be tied to an object, it does not define it. I’m grateful to know that everything changes and that the marks left by these transformations carry with them beauty and meaning. I will take time for my inner child and make sure our children become familiar with her too. I will encourage our children to find their own way and share in their passions and joys.

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