Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I am not often given to over-sentimentality about things.
Don’t get me wrong, I derive a great deal of pleasure from my stuff. My X-Box, a few cherished and well-read books, my modest vegetable plot, even (a long time ago) my guitars. I’ve invested who-knows-how-long into all of the above: significantly less than the 10,000 hours it takes to become a genius at something, but enough to know that they make me happy. They are by-and-large things I’m lucky enough to have been given, or that I’ve been able to earn or afford, and I appreciate them, and wish I had more time to spend using them.
They are, however, just things. Things can get broken, or taken from you, and for one reason or another in life I’ve become a bit fatalistic where things are concerned. Enjoy it while it lasts. Even the Big Picture stuff that society tells us we need, like a house of your own, strikes me as illusory or fleeting. It’s a thing I enjoy having, but I don’t let it define me.
This spills over into relationships, too. I don’t know about you, but I meet a lot of people and for the most part, I enjoy all of them. I’d love to have more time to spend enjoying company. But you can’t get too attached, because people don’t exist at our convenience. People come and go in your life. They can let you down without meaning to.
(Much as I’d like to believe everyone is a supporting character in the summer blockbuster that is my life, I know you’ve all got your own narratives to live. Mine is the one about the guy with delusions of adequacy. Yours may be about being the plucky single mother of two, or the new assistant call centre manager, or the person who wants to see a sunset on every continent, or the person who is sick of the guy with delusions of adequacy.)
There are, as always, exceptions to the rule. I’ve got a good group of very dear (and very forgiving) friends for whom I’d do anything, and whom I’d do almost anything to keep close. Similarly, there are a few things to which I’ve become sentimentally, irrationally attached. As in “you can pry it from my cold, dead hands” attached.
One is a mouse.
Not the mouse in the Ploughman Poet’s verse above. Not a real mouse at all. In the interest of accuracy, it’s a TJM Snuggz mouse comforter in baby blue.
His formal title is Mr. Moose.
When my little boy was new to the world, we were inundated with an embarrassment of gifts. I feel we missed a trick at the time, as we could have created some kind of game-show based around the number of stuffed toys he received. “Who will The Rookie pick? The plush dinosaur? The talking bear? Tune in after the break!”
We didn’t do that, nor did we keep a 100% accurate log of who gifted what. As a consequence, we don’t know with any accuracy where Moose came from. I like to imagine this lends him a Mary Poppins quality: he has come to us when we need him most, and may yet leave us when his work is done.
I don’t know when or why Moose became the Chosen One among the toys, but he quickly acquired a fifth Beatle status in our home. We started to give him his own idiosyncrasies. He is a house mouse, and must always be left in the same spot on the arm of the couch facing the front door (so that he’s the first thing The Rookie sees when he gets home). He is not allowed at the dinner table. He does not go on the Naughty Step when The Rookie has misbehaved.
It was my son who started referring to him as ‘Moose’, despite his ability to clearly say ‘house’: so far it’s his only Scottish dialect word. He is the first thing the boy calls for when he’s hurt himself, and he was the first person my son ever referred to as his friend. I realise I just typed “person” instead of “thing”.
For both of his first two birthdays, our son got Moose themed cakes. In short, he’s kind of a big deal.
Recently, with some reluctance, I had to acknowledge that our old pal Moose was looking a little bit shabby. One corner forever showing the grey and fray of use. The stitching of his perpetual grin has come away. He looks like a mouse who has seen some things.
My brother-from-another-mother, Spanish Andrew, has a little boy the same age who went nowhere without a similar rabbit comforter, and he admonished me for not having a back-up. A substitute, if Mr. Moose should ever be lost or hopelessly damaged. I looked over at Moose, elegantly slumped over his roost on the couch, and thought my brother was right: a world without Moose did not bear thinking about.
I sourced a new Moose with the help of Google, and upon unwrapping it I immediately became overcome with self-loathing. This new Moose was bright blue, not the faded characterful blue-grey I see every day. Its fur was so soft, a deep pile with a sheen. It still smiled eternally, stitching intact.
This was not Mr. Moose. This was some shiny imposter, some pod person, some flash dandy, some painted harlot trying to insinuate itself into my home.
I felt like I had betrayed Mr. Moose.
I know this is not rational.
I did not tell my wife I had received the new mouse. I felt the same stab of shame and revulsion you get if you click on a dodgy link and are panicking in case someone sees what you are watching. I threw it in the back of a deep cupboard, and tried to forget it like that hitch-hiker my friends and I buried in the summer of 1998.
If horror movies have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes the truth won’t stay hidden. Sometimes, the buried bodies? They come back.
The purchase of Not Moose showed somewhat prescient timing. A scant few weeks later, The Rookie was seriously ill for the first time in his brief existence. Some form of vomiting bug got a hold of him, and given that he and Moose are a dynamic duo it was only a matter of time before his little sidekick got caught in some of the fallout.
I was at work, and my wife texted me to let me know that she had dealt with the vomit and that Moose had had to take a spin in the washing machine. Obviously, this conjured in my mind the scenes from Calvin & Hobbes where Hobbes takes a ride in the dryer and comes out all disoriented. Apparently The Rookie, bouncing back from his illness, had staged several rescue attempts to get Moose back from the washing line outside.
Stupidly, I made a reference to Not Moose as a back-up.
The following exchange occurred:
The screenshot doesn’t do my feelings justice.
I tried to articulate my feelings to my workmates and was roundly ridiculed. They didn’t get it. Neither did my wife.
Mr. Moose was who my little boy chose above all others. When he was teething, or struggling to settle in his new room, or any other situation that required a late night vigil from me as a parent, it was just me, him and Moose. My wee boy’s love of that little blue comforter had anthropomorphised him, and that love was contagious.
He comforts my son when we cannot.
That has to count for something, right?
I know that one day – just as the toys in the Toy Story franchise realised – my son will grow out of his attachment to Mr. Moose. He’ll be forgotten and cast aside. He’ll end up under the bed, mouldering away, discovered after years of neglect.
We’ll try to explain to The Rookie how he used to be his little friend, and he’ll look at us blankly. It will feel, to him, like something that happened to someone else. He won’t be fit for a charity shop, so one day Mr. Moose will be retired and just . . . done.
Or maybe, just maybe, when my little boy grows out of Mr. Moose, he’ll just go somewhere else. Somewhere that only his daddy knows, kept safe.
Because while my little boy will grow up and grow out of childish things, I am thirty-seven years old as of this writing and only heading for a hole in the ground and a blank tombstone, chisel poised. I am not growing out of anything.
Some people have earned better than to be forgotten.
As my son says: Mr. Moose is my friend.
Post Scriptum: When I got home after my wife texted me, I rescued Mr. Moose. I distracted my son, snatched away Not Moose, and was delighted to see my kid scoop up his pal with a big hug and a cry of “Moose!” He wasn’t fooled.
As for Not Moose? He’s around. Because sometimes they come back.