Elly the Elephant (for when you’re experiencing stress from work)

Benjamin was thrilled when I opened my Christmas present from him this year. It was a tiny stuffed animal — a Squeezamal, to be exact. This five-inch round children’s toy is some kind of denim elephant, with pink-and-silver polka dot ears, and sparkly eyes, flappy little feet and a curly denim tale. It squeezes softly like a memory-foam stress ball. It emits a faint scent like raspberry rainbows. Its name is Elly.

Ben was jumping up and and down as I ripped the wrapping paper off and exclaimed, “It’s for when you’re experiencing stress from work!!”

Kendra and I burst out laughing, at this six-year-old’s precocious vocabulary. His thoughtfulness was adorable, trying to think of something practical for his dad. And the fact that I don’t tend to have a job with a lot stress in it.

Today, I had a couple of different conversations at work that I really wanted to bring my best to. They were on matters I really cared about, and I wanted to be able to make a clear point, while staying open and sensitive to what other possibilities might need to be heard. It was the type of moment that would constitute my version of stress — enough for me to make some space to clear my head before the day started, to work on letting go of my insistence, and on getting ready to listen well.

When the conversation was finally happening, my hands reached out to find something to fidget with off-screen, and they clutched around that denim-covered polka-dotted Squeezamal.

I compressed it and let it reinflate. The scent wafted up, of some strange chemical mix of fantastical fruits. The elephant stayed off-screen and helped anchor me into intentional presence until it was all over — and it had gone even better than I had hoped.

During my next meeting for the day, I heard a scuffing and knocking at my door as the meeting was going on, which was a little distracting. It was one of my kids — eventually I realized it was Ben. He was trying to whisper something under the door to me, but this was in the middle of a client-facing video call. I muted my end and said, “Ben, I can’t help you right now, I’m in a meeting!”

When the call ended, I went to the door and was surprised to find Benjamin lying face-down on the floor outside my office. He had fallen asleep waiting for me.

In his hands was the elephant. He jerked awake at the sound of the door.

“You forgot your Squeezamal,” he mumbled.

He tossed it into my office and flopped his face back down on the carpet. I could see from his face that he had been sad.

I knelt down and apologized that I’d had to shush him. I thanked him for the Squeezamal, and explained how helpful it had been for me. He asked me if I had named it yet, or if I was going to keep the original name.

“What’s the name it came with?” I asked.

“Elly,” he said. “Elly the elephant.”

“I think I’ll keep that one,” I said.