Here’s something I wrote for The Guardian.
The lost teddy
It was 8.10pm and I was running through the dark streets, desperately searching. Just as I was about to concede defeat, I spotted him. He was near the corner pub, lying lifelessly on the nature strip. I looked upward to thank the heavens, then messaged my partner: I’ve found Teddy.
Teddy was my child’s, well, teddy. The two were inseparable. He did all that a good ‘transitional object’ should do – helped Holly get to sleep and soothed her when she was upset. But Teddy was much more than that; he was her confidante, cub, dance partner, hanky, sunshade, plate, mop and weapon.
Just a couple of years in the job had taken its toll on Teddy. A once handsome, light-brown bear, he’d become matted and filthy. He looked, as my partner cruelly observed, like a rag with a head. But Holly adored him and that made him priceless. If we couldn’t find him, Holly wouldn’t sleep. If Holly didn’t sleep, neither could we. And thus it was that a ragged bear became the central figure of our family.
Understanding the precariousness of our situation, we bought back-up bears – a gaggle of understudies if we lost the main man. None fooled Holly. They were too fluffy, too odourless or their eyes were too close together. And although we tried to age them (rolling them in the dirt and squishing them under mattresses), she knew.
Holly was our only child then, though it was like we had two. When we hired a babysitter, we emphasised that, while Holly was important, so was Teddy and he should be included in any head count. When the babysitter returned from taking Holly to the park one day, she burst through the door: ‘Is Teddy here?’ she asked frantically. We assured her that he was, and relief washed over her.
Unhelpfully, Teddy was the master of camouflage – especially at bedtime – his nondescript ratty colour ensuring that he blended perfectly into bathmats, carpets and upholstered dining chairs.
It also didn’t help that Holly would habitually fling him out of the pram – maybe she was practising the adage ‘if you love them, set them free’. More likely she was testing us. We found him in the library, the café, the gutter and even on the road – clearly a hit-and-run victim as he was even flatter than before and had a tyre mark down his front.
Somehow Teddy always found his way back to us.
Except that one day he didn’t.
One wintry day, Teddy wasn’t in the pram. Or at home or the park. After so many false alarms, I was confident he’d show up. We just had to look harder. We retraced our steps, looked in bushes and posted a LOST BEAR sign in the local neighbourhood Facebook group (all we got was twenty-two sad face reactions).
But this time he didn’t show up. He was definitely gone.
Holly was inconsolable, and so were we. In desperation we pulled out the back-up bears. That failed. We tried other, similar soft toys. But she wouldn’t have it.
A few weeks later, something odd happened. She chanced on one of the spare bears in her toy box.
‘It’s Teddy!’ she cried. ‘He’s back.’
He clearly wasn’t, and I studied her, trying to work out what was happening.
‘Er, yes… he’s back!’ I said, playing along. ‘And he’s so fluffy as he’s been… out in the rain?!’
OK, so I wouldn’t have won an Oscar for that dialogue, but I didn’t need to. I padded out the story, adding in bits about where he’d been and not having a hairdryer to tame his wild fur.
With Teddy’s ‘return’, I thought we would slip back into the swing of things, but it was never quite the same. Our enthusiasm for the new guy was a little forced. Holly knew that we knew but perhaps she was just trying to create an alternative and comforting reality; or finding a way to leave Teddy on her own terms as she gradually shifted her attention to a little mauve unicorn.
Now we have a second child, and her choice cuddly toy is an owl. We’ve learnt our lesson and bought five birds, diligently rotating them so that each is worn down equally and infused with the home scent. Already we’ve lost three.
I think I’d better sew a GPS tracker into each of the last two.