When I was a little boy I had 3 best friends: a llama, an elephant and a panda bear. These were three stuffed animal toys that I’m sure my mother found at a church rummage sale or, perhaps, were given to us by some friend or neighbor, as we were poor and could not generally afford such luxuries as stuffed animals or toys.
I slept with these animals, played with them, talked with them and held them close when I was hurt, scared or in pain, three conditions I seemed to find myself in a lot growing up. I was not particularly original with my naming of them, but they did have names none the less: Ellie the Elephant, Peter Panda and Larry Llama.
I loved these animals with all my heart, perhaps as much as I might have loved a living pet or human friend, and I protected them from harm to the best of my ability. If they fell off the bed or from my lap, I scooped them up, hugged them and apologized. I did not allow them to get wet or dirty and if there was even a hint of a thread pull, tear or damage in any way, I quickly handed them off to Dr. Mom to be repaired. I never threw or hit them in anger and truly felt responsible for their well-being.
Perhaps it was just a child’s wild imagination or need for unconditional love and attention that drew me to them and caused me to imbue them with living qualities in my mind. Perhaps it was the influence of my favorite cartoon characters, Raggedy Ann and Andy, which taught me toys came to life at night and were fully aware of how you treated them, capable of both loving you and hating you based on that treatment. Perhaps I was just a child who wanted very much to believe in magic and gods and fairy tales and animals that came to life or, at the very least, that I could have friends that I would love and protect that would love me back no matter what I did or who I was. Whatever the reason, I know they brought joy to my life and their well-being mattered to me, very much.
Eventually I outgrew those toys or, I assume I did, since I no longer have them and presume they were disposed of at some point in my life by my mother during one of our many moves.
Despite the revelations, rationalizations and realizations in my life, I have never fully lost that sense of wonderment for, and attraction to, stuffed animals. Whether it’s because they represent the real thing and tap into my general affinity for animals, or something deeper, tapping into my subconscious or memories of the comfort they once brought a scared and abused little boy, I still find myself getting warm fuzzies in toy stores or at various events when I see them stacked, arms outstretched, waiting for a hug and a chance to comfort me, or others, once again.
This all comes to mind because of something silly I did last night.
My dog, Harvey (you know, that insanely adorable puppy I may have mentioned and posted pics of a few scattered times since we adopted him 3 months ago) has a favorite pet toy. It is a small brown dog (referred to as “Puppy”) with a silly grin that squeaks when he is squeezed or chewed in the right spot. He was the first toy Harvey got and has been in Harvey’s crate every day since we brought both of them home. Harvey can often be seen dragging him around or cuddling with him and, although Harvey will often leave him behind on his initial darting from his crate when we arrive home to let him out, he eventually goes back to retrieve Puppy and bring him wherever we have all congregated for the evening. We used to bring him to bed with us, but Harvey would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and start playing with him, so we’ve had to put him away for the evening to discourage such sleep-disturbing shenanigans.
In the course of our nightly pre-bed rituals last night, locking doors, shutting off lights and picking up the toys and rawhides and various other things Harvey has strewn throughout the house during the course of the evening, Jeffrey must have scooped up Puppy and tossed him onto the dining room table, something I missed upon initially entering the bedroom for the evening. Just as I was getting settled, I realized I had forgotten my bed side water bottle and headed back into the kitchen. On my pass through to the kitchen and back, I noticed Puppy, lying on his back, tummy up, by himself, on the dining room table. I initially left him be and, as I re-entered the bedroom, commented to Jeffrey how sad he looked.
That comment triggered a wave of emotion and, despite my initial resistance to doing what was the silliest thing a grown, rational man could do at that moment, I was compelled to return to the dining room, get Puppy, and place him in the toy basked [beside the fireplace and Harvey’s day time bed] with the other toys – Foxy the fox and Mr. Giraffe, and a myriad of rawhides, chew toys and a ball – so that Puppy would not be alone throughout the night. Although I felt silly doing it, I also felt a sense of relief that he would not be lying on the cold table top all night, by himself, on his back.
I was slightly embarrassed doing it, and commented to Jeffrey that I knew I was being silly; he merely responded with a quiet chuckle and a “because you’re a goofball” grin. But I can’t help wondering why I felt the need to do it and why it felt good after I did. After all, I know toys don’t come to life and I know they are not living creatures that are impacted, emotionally, by how we treat them. I guess there’s still a little boy in my whispering “But what if you’re wrong…”
…or, maybe I just can’t help feeling and showing affection for something that brings joy to something or someone I love.