The Life and Times of Stuffed Animals
My 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, has accumulated a family of stuffed animals. If I counted them, I’d miss my writing deadline, so let’s just go with more than 100.
They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are great for cuddling, others are puppets and one can even be ridden. Simply put, Jessie’s room represents the animal kingdom quite well. Stuffed animals, almost all of them with names, sleep with Jessie in her bed or watch over her from their home on her bedroom dresser. The largest ones — an elephant, a dog and a penguin — take up floor space.
My wife, Mattie, and I have found Jessie’s tween years to be interesting. At times, we watch a grown-up Jessie with “teenage” mannerisms. Occasionally though, we get to see the little girl who still finds joy and comfort with her stuffed animal friends. If the animals could talk, I wonder what they would say. They’ve seen and heard a lot during Jessie’s first 12 years.
For sure, they’d share happy stories. Often, they starred in Jessie’s plays, puppet shows and dance performances. Many of the lucky ones were “animal of the day,” which entitled the honoree to a spot at the kitchen table for breakfast and a front row seat on the sofa while Jessie read books to it.
Of course, the animals got to watch lots of daddy-daughter fun times on her bedroom floor as we played cards and board games, had picnics and dressed Barbie dolls. I’m not sure if the animals would consider Jessie dressing up our real dog in all kinds of outfits as a happy time (it was for Jessie) or an unhappy time (probably the dog’s perspective).
Speaking of unhappy times, the animals would have witnessed a few of those, too, as life has its challenges. I’m not referring to falling out of the crowded bed due to Jessie’s tossing and turning, or cleaning day when they spun in the washing machine. Unfortunately, they witnessed sad moments and felt the moisture of Jessie’s tears during her difficult days, like the death of her first dog and leaving her friends to move to another state.
There have also been learning times — for everyone. The animals witnessed a dad crouched behind Elle, the floor elephant, as Jessie learned to sit up on her own. Abby, the stuffed dog with floppy ears, went to preschool to learn about veterinarians and won an award. Many animals attended class in the bedroom as Jessie and I held syllabus day at home while Mattie, a professor, held class at her college.
Sometimes the animals took part in family vacations and wagon rides around the neighborhood. Some of them came with Jessie to our bed when she had bad dreams or the electricity went out. And even though a few animals fell on the ground, they always made it safely back home to Jessie’s room.
Then, there were the extra special family times, like when we squeezed Dad, Mom, Jessie, our dog and 14 stuffed animals into her child’s play tent. Eeyore hasn’t forgiven me yet for sitting on him, and he’s a lot flatter than he used to be. Mattie and the dog squish the stuffed animals, too, when they lie on opposite sides of Jessie for bedtime prayers, while Dad kneels at the foot of the bed.
“OK, Dad, I’m ready to go.”
I look up from the morning newspaper. No stuffed animals are in sight. Neither is my little girl. Instead, I spot a young lady in a pretty red dress, pulling her book bag toward the front door.
“Mattie, I’m taking Jessie to school now. I’m going to stay with her all day as she’s way too pretty.”
OK, I realize a 6-foot-5-inch father won’t blend in with sixth-graders. Maybe it’s good that I have an army of stuffed animals at my disposal. A protective dad can’t have too many lions, tigers and bears. Her skunk might come in handy, too.
Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and author of “MoMENts: A Dad Holds On,” available at amazon.com. Follow him at facebook.com/patricklhempfing and on Twitter @patrickhempfing.