My rising sixth grader, Maren, has a stuffed koala named Kutie that has been her constant companion for many years. When I scroll through my photostream, Kutie looks like a member of the family. There are dozens of selfies with Kutie. There she is on our beach vacation. She pops up in our family Easter picture.
For the last few years, Kutie has gone to elementary school every day, tucked away in Maren’s backpack. She attends Primary every Sunday. Right now she’s taking a nap in Maren’s bag at the dance studio. If it were up to Maren, Kutie would be her best friend forever, looking a little more threadbare and a little more loved each year.
“Maren, Kutie cannot go to junior high with you,” my older daughter, a high school junior, says. “You can’t put her in your backpack. You can’t keep her in your locker. Kutie has to stay home or it will be social suicide for you.”
The room is quiet. “I know,” she finally whispers.
Maren is skinny and long-legged. She loves to paint her nails and wear lip gloss. This morning, she remembered to brush her hair, and I caught a glimpse of her expertly scrolling through Instagram on her cell phone, and even with Kutie tucked in the crook of her arm, it was to see that she’s poised on the cusp of adolescence.
But she’s not there yet.
“Mom, can I call Ellie to come over and play?” she calls out to me.
“Maren, kids in junior high do not play,” her older brother, a senior, says as he passes through the kitchen, “they ‘hang out.'”
Maybe I’m getting hung up in the semantics here, but when Maren and Ellie are holed up in her room for hours rearranging the Barbie dream house, I would call that playing. I’m pretty sure that my older kids would say that now that Maren and Ellie are going to junior high, they shouldn’t even be playing with Barbies any more, even if they love it.
“Would anyone notice if I put Kutie in my locker during the day at school?” Maren asks, the two of us alone in the family room. I’m teacher at the very same junior high where she’ll be a student in a few weeks, so I’m quiet for a few minutes, thinking over the question.
My second son, just a grade older than Maren, pipes in from the other room: “If you had a stuffed animal that you carried around ironically, I think that would be fine, or cool, or whatever. But that’s not what Kutie is.”
But I’m not so sure. Which vestiges of childhood do we forcibly throw off, and which ones do we allow to burn out on their own? What do you think– is there a place for Kutie at the junior high?