"Parenthood is stressful. Everyone needs a little comic relief," (signed) Dr. Smith.
I stared blankly at the card and felt dozens of eyes on me. I looked up and smiled wide, gripping the blue-wrapped gift.
"I have no idea who this is from," I said between a teeth-gritting smile to my best friend Deanna who was seated next to me.
Don't blame me. Of the 30 people in the room at my baby shower last weekend, I knew maybe 20. So it was no surprise when a wild card was passed my way. Still, I was anxious to see what was inside and slowly made my way to the brown box below the paper. I looked up to find my cousins beaming from the back of the room. Surely, they must know of Dr. Smith.
When I reached the core of the box, I froze and a few flashes of light from cameras went off.
"It's the darn deer!" I shouted holding the brown-painted deer in the air.
Decked with baby rattles hanging from the antlers, my family erupted in laughter. They got me, and I should have known it was coming.
You see, weeks before the baby shower my family was so generously planning downstate, I filled out a baby registry with all the items I thought a first-time mom would need. I asked for 50 bottles of baby shampoos, lotions, creams and all the items I was sure to need when we bring our son home from the hospital. I took other mothers' advice and avoided filling my registry with baby clothes and things I already had. Seriously, by the time I even told my parents I was expecting, Mom had collected nearly 450 each of boys and girls clothes for babies aged 0 to 12 months, and we figured he would never have to wear anything twice.
So as I was sifting my way through gift after gift (people are very generous when they know you're having a baby; it's incredible), I noticed a balance between clothes, items from my registry and things first-time moms don't even know they need.
I should have known I would eventually come across the deer, but it still caught me off-guard.
The passing of the deer is a family tradition. And at any given moment, the deer is in someone's possession. When our family matriarch passed away in 1996, this decorative deer in a laying position about 12 inches in length was retrieved from her home. She, after all, owned a live deer for some time and was an avid hunter until the day she died.
The deer became a symbol for the Smith family - a constant reminder that she is always present wherever we may be. I like to think the deer is somewhere plopped on someone's shelf looking down at all times. This time around, the deer made its way back to our living room in the U.P., where it has sat so many times before. The rules are to pass the deer on when possible, usually for a special occasion or when that person least expects it. And somehow, the deer is always a surprise when someone opens it. The deer has been dressed up in a veil for bridal shower gifts, snuck in a bag across the S.S. Badger to a cousin in Wisconsin and mailed to Phoenix, among many other places.
Even as we are continuously emptying our home to make room for our impending arrival, I will always have a place for the deer on the very top of my shelf, looking down.
Among all of the gifts given to me at the baby shower guaranteed to make parenthood a little bit easier, the deer is by far the most comforting. I know for whatever I need, I will always have my family behind me. And in times of crisis, I just need to look up.
Stacey Kukkonen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.