Just recently, I witnessed two tantrums in our neighborhood—both thrown by small boys, toddler age, and both having to do with the loss of a precious object of affection, devotion and solace, like a teddy bear or blankie (not a binkie……..moms always carry immediately-available extras of these.) The boys were screeching, hysterical to the point of gasping for breath. Mothers frantically tried to comfort and look for the loved object at the same time.
I concluded that soft stuffed animals or other cuddly sources of soothing and comfort were just as important to boys as to girls, and I wondered why so many assume otherwise and how, and why, our culture trained boys that they don’t or shouldn’t have such needs.
Bella Bond, a two year old girl was found in June, dead in a trash bag, washed up on one of the Boston islands. The tragedy broke my heart. It took a long time, and much diligence, for investigators to discover the little girl’s identity. Those who were supposed to love Bella did not. Children are too often innocent victims of adult insanity. They, over and over, offer, and long for, love, and they sometimes get abuse, which too many assume won’t hurt them because they are so little.
One article reporting on the case of Bella Bond opened this way: “Like so many little girls, (italics mine) Bella clutched her favorite stuffed animals in her tiny two-year old hands.”
The reporter’s natural inclination to identify the need for stuffed toys with girls struck me. I’m not at all critical of this natural identification. I am sad that it came so naturally—an assumption, easier perhaps to make about a little girl than about a little boy.
One of our grandsons has a small bear named Teddy. Teddy is a member of the family and goes everywhere, although for some trips Teddy has been too fragile to travel—aging you know. One Pentecost in our parish we invited people to write their particular prayers on cards which would then be put on prayer flags and hung suspended over the altar in the sanctuary. Children were encouraged to pen or illustrate their prayers to God. I invited all our grandchildren to do a prayer card if they wished.
Our grandson, when he was about six, proud owner of Teddy, wrote this prayer: “Please God, don’t let Teddy collapse. He is my best friend. I tell him everything.” It is one of the most honest and beautiful prayers I’ve ever read, nothing presumptive or assumptive about it. Children, small mystics that they are, know how to pray their hearts with consistent spontaneity, as if God and Teddy were one. I loved the choice of the word “collapse”. Teddy and his best-friend-from-the start are now 14. Over the years Teddy has collapsed many times and has been sewed and mended by many loving hands with many delicate stitches—every one a small resurrection for Teddy. Do they bronze teddies?
When I was a child I learned how to pray, in part by talking to my imaginary friends and to my stuffies, particularly a favorite a cat I named Pussy-P-Sandra. No idea why the name.
How ever could I have assumed, as I once did, that men were strong and brave and John Wayne-ish when they are flesh and blood just like me? Sometimes strong, sometimes weak, sometimes both together. What have we done to this primary need for this kind of comfort in men? It doesn’t go away when we grow up. Our culture has conditioned the genders differently, and we wonder why we have gender struggles. Little girls clutch stuffed animals for comfort. So do little boys, and maybe some big ones.
This night I will hug my flesh and blood husband—and one or two of our 18 stuffed animals who live in our bedroom, some on our bed to sleep with us.