You've Got a Friend in Me

Sunday, December 5, 2010 / 6:19 PM

I never hosted tea parties or taught classes to my army of stuffed animals. It seems like the traditional thing to do as a child, but I wasn't interested in these imaginary scenarios. Instead, I would go on adventures with my stuffed animals, take them camping in my sofa cushion forts and eat dinner with them. I would rotate my stuffed animals everyday so that everyone would have a chance to play. We'd watch TV, go to piano lessons together, hide under the covers during thunderstorms. He/she would wait in the car for me when Mom came to pick me up from school and we'd do homework together at the dining room table. One morning when I was in kindergarten, I refused to go to school until Mom let me take my stuffed animal dolphin (aptly named Dolphie) with me. She shoved Dolphie into my Spottie Dottie backpack and I was content. Even though Dolphie stayed in my backpack in the closet for the entire day, I was happy to know I had a friend at school with me.

All of this makes me sound like a very lonely child. When I used to share anecdotes in class about my childhood, Amy always said it sounded like I was an only child, which isn't true. Na and I are only 18 months apart and we always did everything together. Growing up, we were very close and we're even closer nowadays. But I still felt isolated and afraid of people as a child. When I first got sick and my friends stopped talking to me, it wasn't as terrible of a blow because I was fine with my collection of stuffed animals at home to be my friends. When I heard my friends talking about me behind my back, speculating over "what was wrong with me," I became spiteful of their fake demeanors as they pretended to still be nice. I replaced people and trust with bright, furry creatures and I didn't mind it at all.

You know that scene in Toy Story 3 when...okay, well it was really ALL of Toy Story 3 that got me. The movie hit home for me, from the beginning when Andy needs to decide who to bring to college with him to the end--no spoilers; if you saw it, you know what I'm talking about. Though I know that my stuffed animals don't come to life when I'm not around, I have an emotional connection to them that is generally absent from my life and, thus, makes it hard for me to imagine them gone forever.

Which is why Na's text message to me yesterday made me bawl: "Going through more stuffed animals. Found lamb chop, bobo bear, dolphin, sea otter...Any keepers? Picture of line up to follow..."

And then she sent a picture of them all lined up on a shelf, smiling and just as worn and fuzzy as I'd left them.

First: thanks Na, that was cruel. Second: I know I have no practical purpose for keeping them in my parents' house. I had no intention of taking all of my stuffed animals to college with me and I wouldn't be playing with them when I do go home to visit. They would be "sitting around and collecting dust," as my mom used to point out when she would donate our old toys. As I looked at the picture my sister sent me, I knew that there were plenty of other children in the world who would love those stuffed animals. But would they take as good care of them as I had? What if they just threw them away?

Me, age 3, with Rosie at my grandparents' house, pre-washing machine incident.
I thought about my various stuffed animals and the great pains my mother had taken to make sure they stayed intact. When I was five, my grandmother threw my stuffed bunny Rosie in the washing machine in protest of how dirty it was thanks to my romps in the backyard and other misadventures and Rosie was shredded to pieces. Mom told me that Rosie had to go to the hospital and took nearly a month sewing her back together and re-stuffing her the best she could. When Rosie was returned to me, she was wearing a Cabbage Patch Kids Hospital shirt and hospital slippers which hid the floral-patterned patches she sewed onto my bunny to hide the holes. She was obviously worn, but I didn't mind. She survived! She was a fighter. Then there was Bobo Bear (I don't know why we called her that) who was the victim of unfortunate timing during flu season. Yes, I Traci Lee-ed on Bobo Bear in our Mazda van one day on the way home from school. But Mom scrubbed her clean and hung her up to dry on our shower curtain rod, and then she was good as new. My "oddly-shaped stuffed animal tiger," Tiggy, whom I wrote about often in my Personal Essay workshop, also had his share of misfortunes, particularly hot chocolate stains from bumpy car rides. I managed to save Tiggy from my grandmother's washing machine though.

In the end, I told Na to donate the stuffed animals in the house to Maryhouse and I know I won't regret it. Whether they go to "better homes" or not, I had my years with them and now it's time to move on. Things aren't meant to be permanent, and so...farewell, old friends. And thanks for saving me all those years when I had nowhere else to turn.

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  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw more life in my stuffed animals than they really had. When I was younger, I wondered if they came to life when I left the room. And until maybe jr. high, I kept a list of my stuffed animals next to my bed and put checkmarks next to their names whenever I brought them to bed with me (since most of them lived in my bookshelf) to make sure they all got to sleep in my bed an equal number of times. My mom donated pretty much all of my stuffed animals, and it was sad for me to see them go. But I still have my Flounder with me (I had about six of them of various sizes), and (sshh...) I still sleep with it in my bed. Every time Matt sees it in my arms, he shoves it away. But since he usually falls asleep before I do, I usually get to fall asleep with Flounder back in my arms again. Not sure what this all says about me... :)