Let me introduce you to two members of our family you may not have met before:
The one on the left is Sarah. Emma has been sleeping with her and hauling her around to various events ever since she (Emma) was about three. As you can see she is getting a bit grubby. She gets the occasional spin in the washer, which brightens her up and makes her fur fluffy again for awhile, but loosens up her innards. The other day I suggested she needed a wash and Emma protested. “Look how floppy her neck is getting!” she pointed out. It’s true — Sarah can’t handle too many more washes, but she’s only going to get grayer (as are we all). She’s also balding in patches.
On the right we have Teddy. Christopher bonded with Teddy when he was still in his crib, and they were inseparable till Chris was about 7. Teddy (who never got a name other than Teddy) was originally dressed in a lovely multicoloured sort of thermal-underwear type suit, but as he began to wear, holes wore through his suit and his stuffing began to come out. That was when we bought the T-shirt and overalls, which extended his lifespan a little. You can’t see it in this picture, but Teddy has also had brain surgery to repair a head injury, and once one of his eyes completely unravelled and was resewn (I think possibly by Aunt Bernice; that was certainly beyond my skills with a needle).
Both teddies are very well-travelled. Teddy accompanied Christopher to PEI, to Alabama and Tennessee, and on several camping trips. His greatest adventure, however, occurred no farther from home than the Avalon Mall movie theatre, where he was lost between two seats during a showing of Finding Nemo and, for a time, was believed lost forever. Fortunately he was recovered within 24 hours. Teddy’s travelling days ended a few years ago when Chris decided he was too old to take his teddy on trips, so now he is a stay-at-home-bear. Sarah has gone with Emma to England and to Washington, and she is expecting another, even longer, trip in the new year. Given that girls can get away with toting their teddies around much longer than boys can, I suppose it’s possible that Sarah (or what’s left of her) might well go off to college with Emma.
Christopher has more or less outgrown Teddy … almost. About the time he turned 8 he announced that he was too old for Teddy and he wanted to put Teddy away in a box in the basement. I said that would be OK if that was what he wanted. Half an hour later Chris came back, fighting back tears, and said he thought it would be better if Teddy came out of the box and stayed in his room. For a mom who bawls shamelessly at Toy Story II when Woody announced he’d rather enjoy the few years he has left with Andy rather than be preserved in perfect condition in a museum — let’s just say it was a tender moment.
Teddy never did go into formal retirement, but Chris no longer sleeps with him or brings him places. He is often not seen for weeks at a time, but will occasionally be called back into active service for some elaborate game that involves a large cast of stuffed animals. After such events Teddy will usually be found lounging between Chris’s bed and the wall, or at the bottom of the dress-up box. I prefer finding him in those places to seeing him preserved in a box or on a shelf; I’m glad he still sees a little action.
Emma, being two years younger and a girl, is nowhere close to severing her attachment to Sarah — if Sarah can’t be found at bedtime, it’s still a major emergency. I love watching her relationship with Sarah, especially when I can see that she is saying things to Sarah that I’ve said to her — and they’re good things, like “Mommy will always love you, no matter where you go or what you do.”
In fact, I see so many of the things I love about my children when I look at these battered old toys. I see the innocence they still have, which, in a world that conspires to make children into little teenagers as early as possible, is a precious gift. I see the good times when they play well together — Chris and Emma’s best mutual playtimes, these days, are when they haul out the bears and other stuffed toys and concoct an elaborate fantasy world for them. Note the cozy position the two teddies are in for this picture. When I said I wanted a picture of them both (and Teddy had been exhumed from the bottom of a pile of dress-up clothes), the two kids posed them for the picture, taking great care to arrange them. I choose to believe that the clear and steadfast affection Teddy and Sarah have for each other, as seen in this picture, represents a deep-seated affection Christopher and Emma actually have for each other, underneath all the quarrels. Maybe it’s easier for them to express it through their teddies than directly to each other. On days like today, when my parenting skills seem limited indeed and the fount of sibling rivalry seems endless, it’s nice to hold on to moments like those.
Most of all, seeing these teddies — as scarred and worn and surely every bit as real as the Velveteen Rabbit — reminds me that despite all their squibbling and disobedience and selfishness and, well, flaws, my children do have a tremendous capacity for love. And that means we must have done something at least a little bit right.