My kids have never really been stuffed animal people. Oh sure, the girls would go wild for some cute and cuddly chipmunk or lemur they’d spot at the gift shop at the zoo, beg and plead and carefully carry their new baby to the car. They’d name it Sarah, snuggle it for the majority of the ride home and then it would join the legions of Sarahs that had come before in the many stuffed-animal-laden wicker baskets in the playroom.
Mae, largely unsentimental, does have Doggie, a small beagle-like creature that she received before she was even born. That dog has traveled to Ethiopia, Alaska and New York City - where he was mauled by an overly playful Great Dane. Panicking, I swiftly sewed the pieces of Doggie back together, frantically assuring Mae – and myself - “He’ll be fine, this will be fine.” Somehow, through great will and fine sewing, he lived to see another day. His ears are crooked and his nose is in a different place but he’s the more adorable – and adored - for it.
A couple of months ago, shortly after Mihiretu got his cast off his very broken leg, he took up with a large white teddy bear. This bear had sat on the bunk above him for well over a year, it had been in our family for ten, but it wasn’t until recently that it was deemed important.
Shortly after he began toting the bear around the house, Ben asked Mihiretu if he had a name. Mihiretu gazed at Ben like he couldn’t quite believe his stupidity and replied, “Teddy.” The “duh” went unsaid.
Teddy is now a must at bedtime hours. He is tucked in alongside Mihiretu, he must be retucked if Mihiretu (and Teddy) wake in the night, he journeys in the crook of Mihiretu’s arm into our bed in the morning, where he must be tucked once more. If there’s a cuter thing than a sleepy, leggy, Ethiopian child hauling around a white fluffy teddy bear, I’d like to see it.
On a recent morning, Mihiretu, breakfasted and dressed, and Teddy, a captive witness to breakfast and dressing, ran into our bedroom at full speed. They wiped out dramatically. I dropped the mascara I was applying and ran to Mihiretu’s aid but he had bounced back up before I could reach him. Teddy, however, was still man-down.
“Oh, Teddy,” Mihiretu squeaked in an even higher voice than usual. “Are you okay?”
I returned to my eyelash grooming as Mihiretu cradled Teddy, crooning, “Teddy, did you bake yo’ weg? Oh, Teddy, it gonna be okay. Here come the ambu-ance –“ lots of Mihiretu-siren wail – “We gonna go ‘ospitle, Teddy. Don’ worry, Teddy, don’ worry.”
Now this is not unusual behavior for a child I realize, but it is unusual behavior for this child. This child who spent his first year with us angry and aggressive, a permanent scowl on his gorgeous face, swinging his fists at any opportunity, and his second year slightly less angry and slightly less aggressive, scowling and hitting perhaps only seventy-five percent of his waking hours. To see him, at the beginning of his fourth year here, show any form of empathy, to a fantasy creature no less, to see him have some understanding of his own trauma around his own broken leg and our parental reaction to it, well, that was really something.
By tending to Teddy as his does, Mihiretu is finally admitting how he wants to be cared for, admitting that he likes the cuddles, the kindness, the nurturing, that perhaps he even needs them. He is telling us that he is finally, fully, ready to love and be loved. He’s so filled up he’s got some to give. For now that love is being spent on a big ball of cotton batting and polyester fur but, hey, first Teddy and then the world.