Soft toys. Such a source of comfort and joy (clearly I have heard so many carols, it is seeping into my writing!) for children (and adults) of all ages. For some children there is one soft toy that stands out above all others as the ‘Beloved’: it travels everywhere; becomes ingrained with dirt, tears and snot (requiring cunning solutions to enable its removal for periodic washing); and is the first port of call in situations where reassurance is required (starting nursery; going to a birthday party; staying away overnight.)
Now for my children, this never really seemed to be the case. Don’t get me wrong, they LOVE soft toys; their rooms are full to bursting with them and yet it is the thing they want to buy with their pocket money each and every time we visit a charity shop, car boot sale or tourist destination. In fact, having momentarily panicked that Ana may have been lost forever under the mountain of teddies on her bed one morning recently, I have introduced a new soft toy quota whereby they may have a maximum of 25 soft toys each at any one time meaning that old toys must be passed on to new homes (via car booty or the recent school Christmas fayre where our old soft toys made up approximately 30% of the purchases on the pre-loved stall) in order to make way for new additions. Yet, even I have found it impossible to stick to this rule and found myself siphoning off cherished giraffes and donkeys and a gorgeous round hedgehog from their baby days that held more nostalgic memories for me than they ever could for them. These fellas did not make it to the pre-loved stall, but have instead, found a home in the bottom draws of my wardrobe, jostling for space with all manner of curios and keepsakes from my own childhood.
So given their love of all things cuddly, it always surprised me that both of my children seemed so lacking in loyalty when it came to their toys. A bear highly favoured one day, would find itself discarded the next and replaced by a rabbit, which – in its turn – would soon find itself languishing forgotten and unloved under the bed.
A few toys however, managed to survive the gauntlet a little longer than the others and hold on to their place at the top long enough to create a slightly more lasting impression. And much as I was pleased to see this new evidence that my children were capable of forming lasting(ish) attachments, I soon discovered that this brings with it its own problems: namely the realisation that I needed to worry that we might lose this now cherished cuddly toy and cause untold damage to our children’s emotional well-being.
And, of course, that is just what happened….
The first incident, whilst notably traumatic at the time, proved to be merely a dummy run to glimpse the enormous potential for distress in this situation. After a trip to Asda with Ana in the buggy, I realised on my return home that we had lost the imaginatively named ‘Bear’ who had, at this point, managed a fair few months at the top of the tree in Ana’s world of soft toys. Being pregnant and slightly prone to emotional outpourings (although this is really not a far stretch from my non-pregnant state of being), I was distraught as I thought back over all the times Ana had shown her love for Bear (It was one of her first words which may have skewed the data on this as she called for him frequently, but – on reflection – this may have been due to a lack of viable alternative shout outs) and my eyes welled up with tears at the thought that my careless parenting may have deprived her of her furry soul mate. A call to Asda later and all my fears were dispelled when I learnt that Bear had been rescued from aisles and handed in to Customer Service by a kind shopper. ‘Phew!’ I thought to myself ‘Let that be a lesson to me.’
But of course, it wasn’t…
The next time a loved cuddly was lost, it proved to be considerably more distressing for all parties. We had been visiting my brother in Wimbledon and spent the day ambling around contentedly, ending up a reasonable distance from his flat where we had left our car. Jumping on a bus to head back at the end of a long day, we took advantage of the unusual event of being on board a double decker and headed to the top floor. As a consequence, when we arrived at our destination it was a bit of a mad scramble to get off the bus and (you may have already guessed this next bit) it was only after the bus had zoomed off into the distance that we realised that ‘Bumble Bee Baby’ had not made it to the exit on time and was headed off on a tour of South London. Now Bumble Bee Baby (a baby, dressed as a bumble bee, naturally) was a reasonably new addition to the family, having been a gift for Faith’s recent third birthday, but he had proved an immediate hit and had accompanied Faith on all journeys ever since. Unsurprisingly therefore, she was very upset to find he was gone and cried all the way back to my brother’s flat. But it was when we left there and set off in our car that the enormity of the situation finally struck her and she realised that Bumble Bee Baby was really gone for good. As we headed down the A3 and away from the scene of the incident, Faith’s unremitting flood of tears and increasingly mournful cries of ‘BUMBLE BEE BABY!’ tore at our heartstrings and by the time we reached home, it was as if we had lost a much loved pet. Every one of us in that car, including 5 year old Ana, wished we could wave a wand and magic Bumble Bee Baby back into the arms of its owner, but this time, calls to the bus depot yielded no leads and Bumble Bee Baby was pronounced missing in action.
Soft toys. A source of comfort and joy, yes, but also, at times, a starter lesson in loss.
Faith recovered pretty quickly from this incident, but the rest of us still bear the scars and often refer to the ‘day we lost Bumble Bee Baby’ as a measure of how traumatic an event might be.