Baby Lion has been an integral part of the family since my son was born. We just didn’t know it at the time. He was one of the first stuffed animals that was gifted to my son, one of many, however, sent to us by a family member before my son even born. He was among the many stuffies who lived in my son’s crib with him (don’t worry, on the opposite side of the bed from where he slept). I can’t pinpoint the moment however when Baby Lion became Baby Lion, the most important, beloved stuffy, official 5th member of the Bessette family. His status was cemented, I think, soon after our move to Morehead. My son was also about 8 months old, so cognitively, ready to form real attachments to things.
Baby Lion is, as you can see from the picture, well-loved. He is almost a decade old, and wears every single day in his appearance – a bald spot, a matted mane, a scare from when he burst open one night causing my son to scream in a way I only heard again from him when he broke his arm. He has survived multiple bouts of stomach flu, the one time we got lice, being carried around by our dog, being misplaced multiple times at preschool, and the one time he got lost in our house, which caused immeasurable tears, but also marked the beginning of our son’s epic stuffed lion collection.
We’re getting ready for yet another move, and each time we move, we prepare the kids for the inevitable purge of things that are no longer of use – toys and books they have aged out of, clothes that no longer fit, stuff that is broken and just never put in the trash. It’s not easy for them – my daughter is far too attached to things than we would like. Everything (and I mean everything) for her is special. And in a way, it is, because she can tell a story, real or imagined, about almost every item she has kept. We negotiate limits and rules and guidelines (one box to keep, one box to display, the rest toss away) and no matter how much we get rid of, her room seems to spring new clutter overnight.
My son, on the other hand, is an easier sell, except when it comes to his lions. “Mom,” he asks me nervously, “we’re never getting rid of Baby Lion, are we? He’s a part of the family!” I assure him that Baby Lion and his pride of lion brothers and cousins will always come with us, for as long as he wants them. I often know how my son’s day went by how quickly he grabs Baby Lion when he gets home, having left him on the couch in the morning when he leaves. It’s been a really bad day when I find him at bedtime surrounded by a fortress of lions in his bed. There have been a lot of fortresses lately, with the move coming up. He is scared he won’t make any new friends. He is tired of moving.
I understand all to well my kids’ difficulty with letting go. I still carry around notes and journals and old school work from growing up (but now, for a purpose!) as well as all the books I collected as an academic over the years. I’ve written about letting those Canadian and Québécois books go, and then not letting them go (although that course never got taught), and then about letting them go again. And yet, here we are, all these years later, and I still have the books.
Funnily enough, I find myself in a position I never thought I would be in every again: doing what my graduate work taught me to do, which is explain Quebec professionally to people. I am doing in it two ways – writing for Popula and teaching an online course on Quebec language and culture. It is a side-gig, two projects that I started before landing my current job, but fun enough that I want to keep doing them because, well, it’s what I was “trained” to do. But I also find that, well, I don’t actually need those books anymore to do this work.
I imagine that as he ages, my son will let go of most of his lions, perhaps giving them away to younger family members or the kids of close friends. When we left Morehead, we left most of the non-lion stuffies for the pre-school the kids attended. They liked knowing that their toys were still going to be loved and played with. Their books and toys this time will be donated to the Children’s Hospital, where my son received such good care when he broke his arm, twice. But Baby Lion stays with us. He’s too important.
I think part of me was clinging on to the books because I wasn’t ready to give up that part of my identity. Hanging on to those books meant that I was still, somewhere, a Comparative Canadianist (which, haha, that’s silly). But it isn’t. Not really. I spent from 1999 to 2007 studying Comparative Canadian Literature, since 1996 if you count my BA. That’s a long time. I’ve left and let go of a lot of things in my life – my hometown, my home province, my home country. This includes friends and family that while are still near and dear to my heart, they are so far away. I carry them, which is invisible, and I carry the books.
So maybe I’ve finally realized that I don’t need to carry the books anymore. The books are buried in my basement; no one sees them, and really I only know they’re their, or care that they’re there. So I did it. I organized them, boxed them up, and I found a place that wants a collection of Canadian and Québécois books (the place who I am teaching the online Quebec language and culture for; the chair really wants them – he also once shared an old blog post of mine on social media and was reminded of it and shared that with me which was nice).
I kept the Anne Hébert books, and the Kim Thuy books, the Nalo Hopkinson books, and the Dany Laferrière books, along with a couple of books and novels about or set in Montreal, because they are a larger part of my identity, books about home, books that I read and studied and wrote about and internalized. But the rest, I boxed up and am getting ready to send on their way. Those books weren’t as much a part of my identity. They were my constant companion, and I thought a source of reassurance and comfort. But they shifted into being a burden, and so it is time to let them go.
When my son does something wrong, he punishes himself, throwing Baby Lion into the hall and telling me to give him away, that he doesn’t deserve him anymore. I always rescue him, bring him with me, tell him that I am going to keep Baby Lion for myself if he doesn’t want him anymore. He always ends up taking him back, hugging him tightly, asking me to give Baby Lion one more kiss goodnight. One night, I had to reassured my son that he could, indeed, bring Baby Lion away with him to college, to leave him up on a shelf, as a piece of home. That there are things we will never fully let go of, objects that represent our past, our lives, ourselves. Those are the things we should always carry with us.
The best part is, though, is that we get to decide.