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Magical "Finking"

By Carissa Tobin

MON JAN 10, 2022

On a frigid January morning, Little L hopped down from the cream-colored armchair where we were snuggling and informed me that Oso was going to go to the store.

“It’s Oso’s Christmas!” she said. “He wants to get presents at the store!”

She put Oso inside her doll stroller, put the stroller outside her door, hopped back up in my lap, and said, “Where’s my Os….?” and started laughing. Cuddling just isn’t the same when your lovey is out in the hall.

A little while later, Little L informed me that Oso needed to go outside.

“Who’s going to take it out there?” I asked. “I’m going to start making pancakes.” Although I’m always pushing to get my my indoors-loving family outside, it wasn’t even 7AM yet and I was still in my Mama Bear PJs.

“I’ll go with Oso,” Little L informed me.

“You’d have to get bundled up,” I said, knowing she would never do that.

“Okay,” she said. Lately there have been some words I didn’t hear at three. “Yes," "okay,” and most recently, the occasional, “Great!”

She pulled on her pink snow pants. I could have stopped her, but I’m always trying to get her some fresh air in winter. Plus, she was going out alone, something I’d been hoping would catch on ever since we moved to the house.

“How about in the backyard?” I said. It’s gated, and that’s a better place for her to play alone.

“No, Oso wants to go down the front sidewalk. I’ll walk him around the neighborhood so he can go to the store.”

“Well, honey, you can’t go walking around the neighborhood by yourself. But you can take him around in the backyard and the side yard all you want.”

“No, he wants to go to the front yard.”

“Okay, well how about you put him there and then you go back and get him a little while later?”

Maybe if I’d had my coffee already, I wouldn't have suggested leaving Oso out front all by itself.

When Axel hopped out of bed a few minutes later, he came down the hall shivering. “What's going on? It’s freezing in here.”

Little L was carrying Oso out the back door in a mini doll wagon. Oso, at least, had been wrapped in a towel either for warmth or safety or cleanliness. I watched through the window as she took Oso around to the front yard and put the wagon on the front walkway. Then she left it there and came back inside.

“Oso’s going to the store!” she said.

Axel's eyebrows shot up. “You can’t just leave Oso out there alone!” he whispered.

“I know,” I said. “But she wanted to go outside on her own, so I let her...”

“I’ll keep an eye on Oso,” he said. “Oso is just sitting there on a platter for any dog to walk by and grab.”

Can you spot Oso, wrapped in white and camouflaged against the snow?
Can you spot Oso, wrapped in white and camouflaged against the snow?

Axel stood at the front window, keeping vigil over Oso, our most prized possession. In an emergency, we would grab Little L and Oso. On a plane, Oso goes in the carry-on, and if that weren't feasible, we'd probably buy a fourth ticket. To be quite honest, I don’t even feel comfortable leaving Oso at home when we leave the city limits for a couple of hours.

Little L went back into the front yard.

“Oh, no, she’s putting him out on the front sidewalk!” Axel reported from his post.

I would have run outside in my stocking feet if anyone, human or canine, so much as sniffed at Oso.
I would have run outside in my stocking feet if anyone, human or canine, so much as sniffed at Oso.

I opened the front door. “Little L, honey, what if a dog comes by? Can you put Oso somewhere safer?” For someone who claims to love Oso a million times around the sun and back, she was being a little nonchalant about its whereabouts.

She moved the wagon closer to the house. “He has to go to the store,” she told me. “To get gifts.”

“Okay, well why don’t you go to the backyard and count to 20 and check if Oso goes to the store and comes back?” She nodded and set off, while I oiled the pancake griddle.

She was back at the door a couple minutes later. “I counted, but his wagon is still pointing the same way,” she said.

Now, Little L has a slew of grandparents who would probably play along with this whole thing. Maybe I should have walked out there in my bear pants and moved the wagon. But I was trying to make pancakes and coffee and frankly, I wasn’t that interested in this game.

“Ummm, maybe he just backed onto the front walk when he got back home," I ad libbed.

“Yeah,” she said. "Oso just backed in because he wanted to be facing that way." Yes, and. I like it.

With Oso safely back inside the house, Axel and I breathed a big sigh of relief. Little L would never sleep without Oso. You can see why it's of such high value to us.

"Oso isn't a boy or a girl. It's just an Oso," Little L explains patiently when asked.

“Oso wants to wrap the presents he got,” Little L informed me as I set a handful of forks on the table.

“Okay, how about after we eat?” I asked her, scooping the last pancakes off the griddle with my wooden spatula.

As soon as breakfast was over and she'd brushed her teeth, she wanted to know where the presents Oso bought were.

“Ummm, I guess you better look around,” I said. "Maybe Oso just put the gifts in with fings we already have." The thing about magical thinking is you just never know how far this is going to go. I mean, Santa came just a few weeks ago, so why wouldn’t she think that Oso might have brought some gifts home just because she willed it to be so?

“No presents in here!” she said, opening the cabinet with the winter clothing. “Mama, do you see anyfing that’s different in the kitchen?”

Different. Ah. So she wasn't going to just pull out an old dish towel and be appeased. Oso apparently bought things that were new.

“Look if there’s anyfing for you and Pops!” Little L encouraged me. She sure does know how to motivate!

“They’re not in any room!” she announced after scouring the upstairs.

“Hmmm,” I said, beginning to regret Oso’s early morning adventure. “Maybe Oso just went to the store and got some ideas and now Oso needs to make the gifts?” I shook the breakfast placemats out over the sink and folded them.

“I don’t fink so,” she said. “I fink they’re bigger.” Had the Greed Monster gotten her even after all of our careful holiday guidelines that the grandparents had so graciously accommodated?

“Well, maybe Oso needed some help so they’re going to be delivered later,” I said, another huge mistake.

“I can make some gifts while we’re waiting for the bigger gifts to be delivered,” Little L informed me. “Oso says today is gift day. Oso wants gifts too!” and she headed over to her art center to start making Oso's gifts.

“Oso’s wishing he gets somefing to sleep on cause he’s very tired, he says, so it wants to sleep by the radio.” She got out an orange piece of felt and I gave her some paper bags to decorate for wrapping paper. I rinsed a plate and put it in the dishwasher.

"Oso says, 'a string of stars! Now I can decorate myself!'" narrated Little L. Oso is such a gracious gift-receiver.

I rinsed the peanut butter container and plopped it into the recycling. Little L scampered in from the other room. "Mama why do you fink the shopkeeper is so slow delivering the gifts?" Shopkeeper? Where does she get this stuff from? I'm not proud of it, but most of our gifts arrive from a shopkeeper called Amazon.

"Oso says the Shopkeeper lives in California," she chatters away. "Or a different world."

Next thing I knew, Oso was sitting in a silver bowl and Little L was fastening its seatbelt. I'm not sure where they were going. Maybe to California or a different world?

"We need somefing so that we magically go," Little L called from the other room. "How will we make magic?"

I'm telling you, she was playing with the wrong adult. If she'd been with a grandparent, they would have probably produced magic of sorts. But I was still wiping the counters, and after the pancake mess was cleaned up, I intended to make apple bars for our weekday breakfasts.

I understand that kids go through a magical thinking (magical finking?) stage. It's why the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are so powerful - they align with the way young kids understand the world. I guess reality and magic are blended? But like, Little L couldn't really think that Oso had gone to the store, right?

The way my mom, who taught preschool for many years, explains it, it's like Little L wishes so much for it to be true, that she really finks it is. So do I tell her, "There's no way your threadbare stuffed bear pulled itself in a wagon to the store and back at 7AM on a Sunday morning in the negative ten degree weather?" Or do I just play along?

Little L was now sitting on her new window seat by the large front window, cuddling with Oso. "Come here! I'm expecting you, Shopkeeper!" To me, she said, "What time do you fink the Shopkeeper will come?" She knocked on the window a few times for good measure.

"Uh, I don't know, honey..." My mind drifted. I had a few brand new toys downstairs in the closet. Should I just go get them and give them to her?

It was tempting, but I resisted. If I gave in now, I would be playing this game every day for the foreseeable future.

"Maybe the Shopkeeper's coming on the bus." Little L offered. "I'll just sit here and wait for the Shopkeeper."

It was going to be a long wait.

Eventually, I asked Little L if she wanted to help me with the apple bars. "It's sand!" she said as she poured in the oats. "Look at the snow!" she said as she added soy milk. Once we popped the pan of apple bars into the 350-degree preheated "sun" to bake, she transitioned to taking care of her nine babies, all of whom were sick.

I only heard about the Shopkeeper a few more times that day. When she wasn't looking, I put away the paper bags so that they wouldn't jog her memory. From what I can tell, Little L is high on the trait of persistence, and once she gets going on something, it can be very difficult to get her to stop.

A few days later, Little L was getting ready for school and holding Oso. "I'll miss Oso when I'm at school," she told me, holding it tight.

"Oso will miss you too!" I said. "Oso will be thinking about you all day."

"Oso can't fink, Mama," she told me, setting it in her chair. "It's just a stuffed aminal."