"Best Boy is getting pretty old," Charlie said this morning. He held his favorite blanket in the world up lovingly and looked at the frayed edges and bare spots. Somewhere there used to be a design of a giraffe on it. The blanket that once wrapped him safely doesn't even take a full Charlie arm span to display anymore. When Charlie was little, my wife and I would tuck him into his crib with that blanket. "Here's a blanket for my best boy," his mommy would say. That's how he (yes he, Best Boy is a he not an "it") got his name.
He was putting some clothes into a bag this morning to take to his grandmother's house after school. He hugged Best Boy again before putting him in the bag. He picked up Jack and hugged him too. Jack, or Jack the Bulldog Mascot of the Mighty Georgetown Hoyas, has been with Charlie since he was about three years old. My wife visited her alma mater with Charlie and Jack has been in his spot in the crook of Charlie's left arm ever since.
Jack is not the same shape as he used to be. He is a little lopsided and one of his eyes is kind of off to the side. Charlie cares about that as much as he cares that Best Boy isn't as bright or plush as he used to be, which is to say not very much at all. Each wear spot on Best Boy and Jack's lumpiness came directly from a little boy's unconditional and, at times, fierce love.
Charlie, Best Boy and Jack have had too many adventures to count. Until kindergarten they were inseparable. At one point, I think Jack even got his own plate at dinner time. They fought pirates, sailed ships, climbed mountains and flew in rocket ships together. There were some misadventures as well. Jack and Best Boy have been lost under covers, stolen by dogs and drooled on by a little brother. Overall there was nothing that a bath in the washing machine couldn't fix. It has only been in the last few years that Charlie stopped sitting in front of the washing machine and waiting for them.
There have been other, more serious, adventures as well. Jack was once left in a hotel room in Virginia when Charlie and his mother were back east. Several phone calls and a few tense days later, Jack showed up in a FEDEX box at our home. I was leaving for Florida that night so he was just in time to get in my suitcase and go see his boy. Jack was accidentally left at the civic center where my oldest son, Parker, had his graduation. We got home about 9:30 p.m. and realized that Jack was missing. I drove back and found Jack sitting on a bench waiting for me. I was a hero when I came back home.
Jack and Best Boy have magic powers. After my last cardiac event Charlie brought me Jack and Best Boy. "Here Daddy," Charlie said as he tucked Jack under my covers. "Jack and Best Boy will make you feel better." He was right. When I had surgery on both ankles a while back, Jack and Best Boy found their way into my bed again. This time Eli, my youngest, brought his favorite blanket "Night Night" as well. There is impressive magic in those things.
Jack and Best Boy have always been there for Charlie. Routine is important to him and those two objects are huge part of his routine. They have always been there. Even for a very brief moment when he wasn't sure anybody else was there for him, Jack and Best Boy were there. That's why my heart broke when he approached me before we left for school this morning. Earlier he asked me what he was going to do with his overnight bag at school. I suggested he put it in his cubby or hang it next to his coat. He nodded and walked away.
"I think I will leave Jack and Best Boy here tonight," he told me while we prepared to leave. "I don't need them at Granny's house." His mouth said the words, but his face told another story.
"Are you sure?" I asked. Charlie nodded, but he wouldn't look at me. "Are you concerned that people might give you a hard time about Jack and Best Boy?"
He looked at me. "Maybe."
I smiled. If he was concerned, I was concerned. Charlie has been dealing with some typical kid stuff at school for the last few weeks. I hesitate to call it bullying, but that's what we call it today. It is more like evil button pushing. Charlie's processing issues make it hard for him to express himself in tense situations and other kids find that hilarious. If Charlie isn't comfortable putting Jack and Best Boy buttons out there for kids to push then I am not either. The last thing we need is for somebody to grab Jack...
"How about you put Jack and Best Boy back in the bag and I take it over to Granny's house this morning before I go to the University?" I asked. "I'll drop it all off for you."
He smiled brightly and told me that was a good idea. He took his backpack and overnight bag, with Jack and Best Boy, and went down to the garage. I wonder sometimes when a kid is too old to have a Best Boy and a Jack. I think that is totally up to the kid involved. If you think about it, it is normally the world at large that decides when it is time to put blankets and stuffed animals in the closet. Kids put these things away when the world tells them it is no longer acceptable. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I see a time coming soon when Jack and Best Boy and Night Night will all be tucked away. Sometime between now and graduate school, Charlie will hug Jack and Best Boy for the last time and put them away just as Eli will put away Night Night. Their mother and I will keep them. hey will always be with us because they are important family members. They have entire childhoods wrapped up in them. They will always have a place with us.