Friday, November 04, 2005

Stuffed Animals

My children have always had a propensity for stuffed animals. I do believe as a parent, honoring their attachments to inanimate objects fosters their ability to bond with real live pets. When children learn to love their dogs and cats or frogs or salamanders or geckos, they in turn learn how to care for other human beings.

My son is now supposedly studying at the University of Rennes in France but last weekend he took off by himself to Brussels, Belgium and had quite an adventure. He is keeping a Live Journal about his escapades which I read with my hands over my face and peeking through my fingers. He is having the time of his life but it is a little hard on MOM thousands of miles away. When he was two, I had trouble with him running off to explore because of his insatiable curiosity so I bought one of those kid leashes--you know--the kind that velcroed onto my wrist with a twisty bright colored telephone cord hooked to a ribbon velcroed onto his little wrist. I believed it was essential at the Honolulu airport and at Sea-Tac. I was certain he would have run onto an airplane headed for Tokyo had I not hooked him to me. Needless to say, the general public looked at me aghast and I guess now Lucas is paying me back for putting him on a leash.

The link to his journal:

Anyway, back to stuffed animals. Lucas's pictures of Brussels reminded me of our sabbatical trip to Europe ten years ago when he was 10 and Kaley was 7. You see, Kaley had a major meltdown on the steps of one of those cathedrals in Brussels over "Marmot". We were living in Lyon at the time but we traveled on the weekends for fun and we spent a week traveling in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium where my husband did a guest scientist lecture tour. One of our earlier weekend trips took us to Chamonix in the French Alps. For a souvenir, Kaley found a cute hand-sized stuffed marmot with a ski hat and scarf. Immediately, she became attached to Marmot and carried him with us wherever we went.

From the moment Kaley was born, she instantly would become attracted to doll-like objects. As a toddler, she always had something tucked under her arm. When she was a year old, as I unpacked the groceries, she grabbed the plastic yellow mustard sqeeze bottle. I do not know how many days she packed around the mustard bottle as her baby but as long as the seal remained intact, it was her doll. Likewise, when she was two, Lucas brought home a tiny pumpkin from a preschool pumpkin patch trip and Kaley adopted that pumpkin. Everywhere we went, along came Pumpkin. She still loves minaiture pumpkins. Her devotion to these objects is passionate indeed.

As I was exploring Brussels with my children while Dave was in meetings, Kaley suddenly remembered she had put Marmot to bed in a drawer in the hotel in Basel, Switzerland the night before. Oh my, an upset and crying Kaley wanted only one thing and that was Marmot, her darling Marmot. Europeans tend to be soft spoken in public places and their children are quiet. There I was, an American Mom in the middle of Brussels with a not quiet American child who had lost her favorite souvenir. Unfortunately, the souvenir shops in Brussels did not have marmots but we managed to find a Euro bear who sported a sweater with the new proposed European Union logo. She was somewhat happier but Euro bear just was not the same as Marmot. Not again, I thought, because first it was Lucas.

The first three weeks of this sabbatical trip, we had spent in Scotland and England. Lucas was attached to stuffed animals as well and he had brought along a small stuffed beaver. He didn't put his animals in drawers to sleep because he would fall asleep with the fuzzy creature in his hand--even at age 10. Lucas never adopted mustard bottles or pumpkins but he did have a large white stuffed bear named Binky that slept with him each night. Binky is still in his closet at this moment. Obviously, we could not take Binky to Europe so Beaver, the size of a coffee mug, was the substitute. Lucas left Beaver in London. He disappeared when the maids changed the sheets. Lucas was devastated so I called housekeeping before we left and tried to explain with my American accent to a woman with the strongest Cockney accent I had ever heard.

I can still hear the helpful woman yelling at the others in the laundry, "Has anyone seen a beavuh in the washing sheets?" It didn't take long for my children to copy the accent of the Cockney maid and "Has anyone seen a beavuh in the washing sheets?" has become family lore.

Off we went to Scotland with Beaver left behind in London. One of the first touristy things we did was to visit a castle and lo and behold, they had a gift shop. They did not have beavers but they did have badgers so we replaced Beaver with Badger who was about the same size but black instead of brown. Lucas was somewhat happier but Badger was not Beaver. And Kaley was miffed her brother got a new animal and she didn't. It did not seem to matter at that moment that Badger was a replacement. As a parent, it seemed like I could never win with these situations.

And yes, I realize that Dr. Phil would say I should not have made any attempt to replace the animals in order to teach my kids to be responsible about their possessions. But, Dr. Phil, we had to put our beloved Golden Retriever to sleep two months before we left on this trip. My children were grieving this huge loss which probably fueled their reactions to their forgotten toy animals and their attachements to them. Nope, Dr. Phil---I was going to replace those little fake creatures no matter what.

Meanwhile, jump ahead a couple of months to another weekend of travel away from Lyon. Kaley had her Euro bear and Lucas had his badger. We traveled to Lake Annecy in France which is in the foothills of the Alps. Our memories of that fairy tale place are nothing less than euphoric. Amazingly, the souvenir shops were populated with marmots. We were thrilled. I was thrilled. Kaley had a new Marmot though his hat and scarf had different colored stripes than Marmot I's hat and scarf, if I recall. Funny how it did not seem to bother her that she was up two new stuffed animals and Lucas was only up one. No, I am certain that we managed to equalize the souvenirs in some fashion.

And believe me when I say, I never check out of a hotel now without checking the beds and the drawers--not once but two or three times. Because..because though Lucas doesn't carry a stuffed animal anymore when we travel, Kaley still does and his name is Gorilla.