Once upon a time, this pure white tiger had distinctive, black stripes. Clear whiskers sprouted forth on both sides of her furry maw. Oversized blue eyes shone with a high luster when the light hit them. What's more, she easily stood on four pebble-filled feet, legs stiff and tall with just the right amount of stuffing in just the right places.
That was three years ago on the twins' second birthday.
Today, well, one glimpse at the photo, and it's rather obvious "kitty" has withstood the trauma only twin two-year-olds can inflict on a well-loved toy. Those sad eyes no longer catch the light, beckoning for someone to love her. There is no sign of there ever having been whiskers. And even for a photo op, I couldn't force the legs to stand at attention.
She (yes...she) has been washed more times than I can count, dipped in a rainbow of water colors, soaked in spilled milk, dropped in an after-rainstorm puddle of mud, even drawn on with a marker at one point. She has been repeatedly stolen and hidden by mean-spirited brothers who want to make their sister scream, fought over in tug-of-wars, cried for when "missing," and packed in a suitcase for sleepovers at Grandmama's house.
I'm still not sure what to call her. Some days, it's "Gnocchi" from Curious George. Other times, my daughter has used white out on the birth certificate and kitty goes by a completely different name (that mommy is roll-your-eyes dumb, dumb, dumb for not remembering).
The day we brought kitty home, I think I was more impressed with the toy than my daughter was. As is evident from a photo taken at the party, the red glittered shoes, Cinderella crown, and beeping cell phone won top prize for 'best gift.' Still, the tiger was a close fourth, waiting patiently on the floor for her turn.
The Dorothy shoes are long since outgrown. The cell phone met its tearful demise beneath the wheels of Opa's gator. And the Cinderella crown is only taken out for the occasional romp in dress up clothes.
Only the kitty has remained a constant companion, so much so that earlier this year after another round in my washing machine and a few stitches to a gaping head wound, I told my daughter kitty was getting too old to play with each day. We needed to get her a new kitty.
One trip to Hobby Lobby later, and voila, a "grown-up" version of kitty was on the scene to take over as the much loved pet.
There was just one problem.
After a few days, the newness of a fresh toy wore off, and the "new kitty" was relegated to the sidelines deep down under the bed sheets while the old kitty surfaced once more by Amelia's side.
I tried everything--the baby needed to rest. This was a big sister (?) a mother (?) who wasn't sleepy.
At some point, I simply gave up hope and resigned myself to the day when I would open the washer and find kitty had just dissolved into a furry ball of lint inside the delicate's bag. Then, Grandmama bought a children's book about a huge, white Persian cat named Violet. Suddenly, the new kitty had a name (no longer Gnocchi 2)! This was Violet! And, of course, she had to go everywhere Amelia went!
As the weeks passed, Violet started to look more loved. Her tufted mane was more ragged. Her stripes were beginning to fade, and those tall legs were developing a permanent lean like the tower of Pisa. Before long, her whiskers were gone, too.
Yet, I noticed that instead of replacing one loved pet with another, now, Amelia was lovingly carting both kitties from room to room. In that moment, I held up the white flag of surrender.
If the Velveteen Rabbit story were only true, Gnocci or Violet--or whatever moniker she's going by these days-- could be found prowling around our backyard in a few years' time, a childhood toy turned real because of a little girl's love proven genuine...despite her mother's best efforts to replace that love with another.