Animals have long had a special place in my heart but it wasn’t until adulthood that I can remember having an actual favorite in this world. Traveling will do that to you, though, and I definitely came home from my semester abroad in Africa in 2002 with a new love that’s stayed with me ever since for giraffes, also known in Swahili as twiga. I find them to be both beautiful and majestic and I could watch them for hours because their unique shape and movements captivate my attention.
Since giraffe viewing isn’t an option in Nebraska, I’ve found ways to incorporate them into my style instead. When we got married, I managed to find a giraffe cake topper of a bride and groom giraffe couple, their entwined necks in a heart shape; ridiculous and fantastic, all the same. As a new mom, it was giraffe baby toys (by the handful) and baby clothes, and even I had a pair of giraffe-print TOMS shoes at one point. But I didn’t stop there with the animal connections in motherhood, as over time, each one of my babies took on animal characteristics of their own that, well, stuck.
For Harrison, it was the monkey. He was a busy, busy toddler, all over and into everything, so it was pretty easy to give him the nickname “monkey” while he was still a singleton little Welschie. He had a plush monkey that he loved to snuggle back in the day, too, and while that particular toy never became an icon in family lore, he did have a monkey-themed first birthday because of it. Mr. Monkey, HD – not the stuffie – remains a curious kid always wanting to know more, so the quick-wit and occasional cheekiness of the monkey still fits him well.
Raegan earned her animal assignment as an infant when she did the opposite of sleeping at night. Instead of going to bed when the sun went down, her eyes got big and her sleep was a struggle, thereby making it an obvious choice to crown her as the owl of the family. Thankfully she grew out of that nightmare non-sleeping phase, but we kept the owl association in part because she has always been one full of wisdom who also keeps an “bird’s eye view” on things. She has collected various owl lovies, art pieces, and gear over the years and lists it as one of her favorite animals alongside the cheetah (more on that soon).
Thanks to some awfully kicky legs in utero, Lincoln had an animal association before he even had a name! That baby kicked my ribs and stomach so much for so long during that pregnancy, he was going to be the frog, no matter who he turned out to be as a person. It was totally the right choice and like the others, this animal still fits LT to a “T” as he never seems to stop moving for very long and is always quick to jump from activity to activity, especially if sports are involved. As of this writing, LT claims basically the opposite of a frog as his favorite (the lion) but he will always have those great frog vibes to me.
Truman’s animal was more of a slow-roll for development, which in hindsight, makes perfect sense for a bear…fast when they want to be, and not-so-much when they don’t-so-want. The bear was a good fit for baby TJ because he was soooo snuggly and cozy those first few months of life, but it also fit the cranky side-eye look he perfected as a new baby, too. “Don’t poke the bear” was totally a thing in his infancy (a saying stolen from my family in relation to my brother who is in part, one of Truman’s namesakes), even though his eyebrows were often more mad than the rest of him. As Truman’s gotten older, he’s got a pretty fierce growl when he’s playing, but is still soft and cuddly at times, too, so the bear he remains, even if he says “tiger” when asked his favorite animal these days.
I thought I had Wilson’s animal determined during pregnancy, too, because I kept seeing feathers everywhere during those months, so I assumed she (or he) would be a bird like big sis Raegan. However, Wilson rewrote that story with her very unique start to earth-side life and our 22-day stay in the NICU. During that time, a friend sent me a written piece about how elephants circle together around a newborn elephant and the mama elephant right after birth to protect them; that was so spot-on for what our village did for us while Wilson was in the hospital that she quickly became (and has remained) our little elephant girl. Always named as one of her favorite animals, she loves them in stuffie form, as jewelry, in pictures, or in any other way she can see them.
While I still claim the giraffe as a favorite for myself, in 2020, I latched on to my own new animal connection courtesy of a story and metaphor about Tabitha the cheetah from Glennon Doyle’s third book, Untamed. The entire book is about a returning to one’s own self, be it wild in the traditional sense or not. I’ve been on a cheetah kick since my first read and have been slowly adding to the collection of visuals, clothes, shoes, art, what-have-you, to keep that gorgeous animal and all her strength front and center in my life. I love that my kids know this well enough about me to also name the cheetah amongst their list of current faves, too.
And no, it’s not lost on me that both of my favorites have a native home in Africa – just another example of how those travels have touched my heart and continue to impact the way I move in the world.