I must tell you a story.
Friday night, my 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, brought her fuzzy friend, Tashi, to the Tim Tebow Foundation‘s Night to Shine event at Riverbend Community Church in Allentown, PA. Both Hannah and I volunteered as makeup artists at this amazing prom for people with special needs, but I had no idea how deeply and in what ways the evening would impact her.
I would drive the 200 miles again. In a heartbeat.
Nine years ago, my sister, Krissie, had given a huggable, lovable Winnie-the-Pooh to Hannah on her second birthday. She had fallen in love with it instantly.
“Oh, Aunt KiKi, I just love her! I’m naming her Tashi.”
From that moment on, Tashi ate at our table and shared Hannah’s bed, rode in the backseat and sat alongside the bathtub. They were inseparable, these two.
Until one dreadful evening.
We’d gone to my in-laws’ for Chicken Scampi when, lo and behold, sweet Tashi slipped under the table and fell prey to their frisky Labrador Retriever named Bodi. Papa came to her rescue, but not before she lost her right arm from the shoulder down. Try as he may, Papa couldn’t repair the severed appendage. Sweet Hannah had to settle for a simple seam in place of the arm that once was.
And it was hard.
Hannah grieved the loss for her friend. No more dancing in the fall leaves like princesses do at a ball. No more patty-cake. No more two-armed hugs.
She asked for a new bear, one that could do all of those things. Aunt KiKi complied as did my mother-in-law. One of those new animals got lost on a grocery trip, so the remaining bear assumed the role of “Tashi” in Hannah’s life.
During our next basement spring cleaning as we thinned out all the toys and stuffed animals, Hannah found herself unable to part with her disabled friend and decided to rename the original Tashi “Boo Boo Bear”. It was a great segway into talking about how upset Hannah been when Boo Boo had gotten hurt. Hannah realized how much she’d missed Boo Boo and that she was still a really good friend because her heart mattered more than her arms ever did.
“I want to keep her forever, Mommy. I love her.”
Years passed with few ups and several drastic downs in Hannah’s life. One of the worst was when Aunt Ki Ki was in a terrible accident.
She lost her right arm above the shoulder. Just like Boo Boo Bear.
I’ll never forget telling Hannah and her siblings about Aunt KiKi’s arm. After everyone cried together, I brought out Boo Boo Bear. Hannah’s small smile spread through her tears.
“See how much we love Boo Boo Bear?” I asked. Everyone nodded. “Aunt Ki Ki is still the same wonderful amazing person inside. A missing arm can’t change that, right, Hannah?”
She nodded gently and reached for Boo Boo, hugging her fiercely.
Five years later, Hannah has remained sensitive to her aunt’s disabilities and asked to volunteer with me at Night to Shine. Right before we left for PA, she got the dreadful news that Tashi, the Second, who’d been MIA since a beachside hotel stay, had been discarded the previous month. We’d had trouble tracking her down, so by the time we connected with the person in-the-know, it was too late. The staff had held onto Tashi for a while, realizing she was special to someone, hoping she would be claimed but had finally given up.
Hannah’s heart broke.
She was inconsolable, and I ached for her. Dear God, what can I do?
He put it in my heart to go down to the bin in the basement and resurrect Boo Boo Bear, the original Tashi. I complied and then made my cautious approach.
“I thought you might like to hold her – Boo Boo Bear.” I held out the fluffy golden animal. Hannah refused to touch it.
“But, Mom,” she said, “I still miss the other Tashi!” Hannah’s defenses rose, and I felt the drawbridge of her heart begin its creaky rise above the moat.
“Of course you do,” I said, intentionally pausing long, hugging her close. “Tashi was and will always be a special friend.” I felt Hannah relax against me as I sat next to her.
After she cried a little, I reached over and placed Boo Boo Bear on her lap. Hannah gingerly grasped her torso and then carefully fingered the seam on the bear’s right shoulder.
“I think it’s amazing you still have this one,” I said. “She was your first friend, you know.”
Hannah stared for a long moment. Then, ever-so-slowly, she nodded as the corners of her mouth turned up. “That is neat.” She gave Boo Boo a warm embrace and spun around the room. “I’m going to call her Tashi again.” Hannah glanced at me.
“I think that’s a a wonderful idea, Sweetheart.”
“Can she come with us to Night to Shine?”
“Absolutely!” I smiled, elated and relieved. I checked my watch. “You’d better hustle upstairs and get Tashi ready – we need to leave soon.”
“That’s right!” Hannah beamed, staring with love at her dear friend. “Come on, Tashi! I’ve got just the dress for you. And wait until you see my new JoJo Siwa bows I got for my birthday!” The pair disappeared down the hallway.
My heart sang the rest of the night to see how my daughter had blossomed and grown through painful loss and challenging times. How she delighted to volunteer and be blessed by Night to Shine. How she was moved to tears many times throughout the night. She had been given the opportunity to not only apply the guests’ eye shadow and lip gloss but also experience the importance of making people with special needs feel valued, honored, and beautiful.
Because they are.
How fitting, how touching, how amazing, the timing of it all, these three precious ladies sharing this evening together, dancing the night away.
Aunt KiKi, Hannah, and Tashi.