Nothing like waiting until the very last minute, right? These are due tomorrow, and I promise it wasn’t my intention to wait so long. In fact, I had been working on something for quite a while now, but it didn’t feel quite right. I mean, their scholarship offering is so amazingly generous, my entry needs to be pretty amazing too, right? But it felt so ordinary, and I was struggling. But that all changed this past weekend my friends, and now I have The Best Story to share with you.
I have to admit that when I first read about the contest I wasn’t sure I even owned anything from Label Daddy, so I mentally disqualified myself. Then several days later, when mentioning it to a friend, she laughed and said, ‘Well…I have something for you!’ Turns out she had bought me some labels for an upcoming gift swap, so she gave them to me early. Score! So now I’m back in the game, and waiting for inspiration to strike.
First, I thought of all the things I like about them. I have the clothing labels, and I was immediately impressed that they actually do work. Sounds like a given, I know. But I am a seamstress and I am quite familiar with all the different styles and varieties of tags out there, and many (most) of the sticky labels do not stay stuck for long. Take my word on this. So the Label Daddy labels stick (and wash) well, they are bright and cute and fun and functional. All true, but not exactly a groundbreaking or revolutionary entry for me to write. I was stumped. Until a few short days ago, when we quite unintentionally had a huge, wonderful, lifesaving (in the mind of a 3-year-old, at least) encounter with our Label Daddy labels. So here it is:
My middle daughter, Catie, was born with a hole in her heart. Lest you think this is a sob story, let me assure you that as heart defects go, hers is fairly minor. It has thus far been non-surgical which is an answer to prayer, and Catie leads a very normal 3-year-old life. However, because of her condition she requires a lot of monitoring, and her illnesses are more frequent and harder on her little body than they are for other kids. One way we try to keep her healthy is to keep her away from stuffed animals and things that can’t be easily washed, which as a baby meant that traditional loveys were out. No teddy bear for Catiebug. Instead, we encouraged the use of blankets, and her favorite quickly became one that my sister had made for her.
In that sweet toddler way, she gave it the moniker of ‘balay’, and balay went everywhere with her. Everywhere. Moms, I’m sure you know what I mean. She sleeps with balay, sure. In fact, my favorite picture of the girls together is this one of Annie and Catie, holding hands and snoozing away:
But their love affair goes way beyond nap time. When she had a diaper change, balay was in her hand. When she learned to use the potty, balay was laying on the floor nearby. Balay is on her lap when she eats, reads a book, rides in the car, flies high on the swings. Balay was there when Catie learned to ride a bike, when Annie lost her first tooth, when Lilly was born. Loving sister that she is, Catie even (very briefly) loaned balay to newborn baby Lilly, trying to teach her how it’s done. Lilly was delighted.
When balay needs a bath, Catie dutifully sits beside the washing machine and waits for him to be done. Balay is a girl she tells us, but she also refers to balay as ‘him,’ so maybe balay is confused. Either way, he is a member of the family. We never leave the house without him, and he gets buckled into the car seat right along with her. When Catie is tired or sick, you’ll find her laying down, with the corner of balay clutched tight in one hand, and the thumb of the other hand planted firmly in her little mouth.
Quite honestly, I have very few memories of Catie that do not include balay. When I began writing this I knew I wanted visuals, and far more challenging than finding accompanying pictures was narrowing down the vast field of possibilities. I have literally hundreds of pictures of Catie and her best friend.
The real secret to balay’s magic lies in the corners, where he is especially soft and comforting. Whatever ails you, a gentle rub of balay’s corner is sure to sooth it. Catie holds him so that the corner pokes out of her chubby little hand, and she gently traces her face with his soft, furry goodness. Across the forehead, under the chin, along her cheek, over her eyelids. You can almost see the pleasure on her face as she does this; the cares of her world just melt away.
As you might imagine, the fabulousness that is balay hasn’t always worn very well. I knew that this would happen and I tried desperately to find the same fabric so I could make another, but no such luck. At first I thought maybe she needed the brown color, so I tried making another with something similar, but that was rejected as well. The corners weren’t quite right. We went through many incarnations of balay, many experiments, in order to find just the right combination. Few of them have survived the years, and even the few that remain are rather ragged:
We are fortunate in that Catie is willing to accept more than just her ‘original’ balay – provided it meets her discriminating corner standards. This has made vacations much easier! In balay’s early days he was full sized, and had to be tied in a big knot so he didn’t drag the ground. Later I made her small ‘travel balays,’ which is what she now carries everywhere.
She had four of them initially, but one by one they have vanished as well. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disney World can lay claim to one of them. The Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, KY is where the second wandered off. The third was left in a shopping cart, and the cart boy threw it away. The store was very nice, and even offered to go through the garbage, but I declined since we still had a balay at home, and I now knew Catie would accept a substitute. Or so I thought.
Turns out Catie is quite attached to these balays, and now knows the difference, and no, another one will not do. Uh-oh. We knew this was trouble, which is why my dear friend was thoughtful enough to give us the Label Daddy labels. Quite honestly I almost didn’t use them, since my friend had mis-spelled Catie’s name, but at that point we were too desperate to be discriminating. Our one-balay situation was precarious, and that balay needed to be marked as Catie’s! So we found just the right place to tag him (so that the label wouldn’t throw off that famed corner magic), and all was well. For about a week. I never realized that a quick trip to the Goodwill store could go so terribly wrong, but on Saturday it did.
My girls love to shop at Goodwill. The stuff is cheap, our store is nice and new and clean, and you never know what you will find there – a kiddie jackpot. So I caved to the chorus of ‘pleeeease’s that I was hearing from the back of the minivan, and we ran in for a quick stop. Which is where balay got left, of course. Can you imagine a worse place to leave something?
Catie was inconsolable over his loss, and I was filled with dread as I went back to the store to look. I searched and searched, tearing the store apart, and came up empty handed. The employees were so nice and helped me look, and since there were only 3 other customers in there at the time, they helped look too. Nothing.
I didn’t know what to do, and I couldn’t bear to go home and tell Catie that her beloved balay was gone. My heart hurt. I thanked them, and went out to the car where I locked the doors and laid my head down and cried. Possibly bawled. Her heart would be broken. I finally managed to collect myself and was just getting ready to back out of the parking space when a lady came flying out the door waving wildly.
Balay, it seems, was tucked in with the laundry. He had been left in a spot where the cleaning lady had been, and they thought he was one of her dust rags. And he very well may have become one, had it not been for that beautiful Label Daddy brand on him, proudly proclaiming that he belongs to my little girl. The stars were aligned for us that day, and the woman who does the laundry noticed the name tag as she was sorting. She said later that it seemed a shame that someone donated a child’s blanket.
The cashier who had helped me search for balay took a break after I left, and she sat in the back room eating her lunch and telling the lady doing laundry about the woman looking for her little girl’s lovey. She said that she couldn’t stop thinking about how disappointed my daughter would be, and she felt just awful. Her comment then was that, ‘A little scrap of polka dot material is like gold to that poor kid, and whoever took it from here will never know the damage they did. Poor Catie.’ Polka dots? Catie? That rang a bell with the blessed laundry lady, who promptly pulled it out of a waiting pile and asked, ‘Is this the one?’ And the rest, as they say, is history.
At the sight of balay I cried again, and hugged them, and cried some more…and sped home to my Catiebug. She had been hysterical, and at the sight of her beloved balay she burst into tears. Happy tears! It was one of the most beautiful reunions I have ever witnessed in my life, and a parenting moment I will never forget. And it was all made possible by Label Daddy. Talk about a loyal customer – we’re their biggest fans now! And I will definitely be ordering more labels.
So thank you, Label Daddy. Thank you for this sponsorship opportunity, for your great product that works like its advertised, and for making my daughter’s world a joyful place once again. You’ll never know how grateful we are.
This is my official entry into the Label Daddy BlogHer ’09 Sponsorship contest. Thank you to Label Daddy for this very generous scholarship opportunity!