Every single night before Brayden drifts off to sleep he has to snuggle up in bed with one of his two favorite stuffed animals, leaving the other one to have a "sleepover" in the bottom bunk bed with Gage, who is more than happy to have a cuddle buddy for the night.
Brayden made Sunshine during a family vacation to Va Beach in the summer of 2006. I was five months pregnant with Gage at the time and one evening after spending the day at the ocean we all went to the local mall in an effort for me to beat the heat by still be out and enjoying myself with my family rather than be cooped up in a hotel room. It was there that we saw it, Kid Heaven. $50.00 later Sunshine the beach bear was born courtesy of the Build a Bear Workshop. He came home with us complete with swimming trunks, a tank top, a Hawaiian print over shirt, sandals, and a bucket hat, most of which has been removed and since lost. It was love from the time that Brayden stuck that plush red heart into his new best friend. The two have been inseparable ever since.
Brayden got his next buddy on yet another vacation to Va Beach in 2007, this time from the gift shop of the local zoo there. Back then, when he was younger and still enamored by pre-k television spending his "pocket money" at the zoo shop was the highlight of Brayden's vacation, courtesy of Charlie and Lola. It was there that Brayden picked out a super soft and super cuddly stuffed leopard. For a little over two years now, in addition to Sunshine, Brayden and that plush leopard have been the best of friends, sleeping together, watching cartoons together, sitting at the table for dinner together, and so forth.
The one thing that Brayden never did to that stuffed animal was give him a proper name. No Cuddles, No Lenny the Leopard, or any other cute and catchy names in which a small child might give to a stuffed animal. Brayden simply refers to him as his Son.
This is where my life gets heavy. In the total normal act of a child bonding with a toy I see how my son watches his father and I and comprehends our own parenting skills, transforming them into a daily routine of this very own between him and his Son. Brayden wants to be a parent as a direct result of the examples he has been given.
Brayden is watching me and I act now, with even the simplest of things, will directly influence the rest of his life, and his children's lives, and so on down the line. I have a responsibility to that little boy and to the future generations of my family to be the best mom that I can be. And as the direct example, I have a responsibility to that leopard as well.