Friday, February 27, 2009

Stuffed Animals

Warning: this post contains explicit reference to stuffed animals, a known source of cuteness and even corniness, so go ahead and roll your eyes now

You never forget your stuffed animals.

We adults may not be able to remember most of the Christmas presents or birthday presents we received in our childhood, much less every toy we loved, but there seems to be a wrinkle in our brain reserved for our first-- and best? -- friends.

The queen of the nursery in my case was Red Baby Doll, so named for her red cotton braids and velvet red dress (with matching cap of course). She shared my cradle, my crib, and my bed for many years and naturally we did almost everything together. When I packed a tiny suitcase for my first trip away from home, she was with me. When I developed my bad habit of biting my nails, I chewed up her plastic fingers as well so we'd look alike.

While she was certainly the ruler of the roost, I had an entire collection of well-loved, well-used stuffed animals. My love for narrative surfaced at a very early age and the gallery of stuffed animals were characters in stories I made up for us to play. I remember once turning my entire room into a cave that was a secret hospital for wounded soldiers hiding from the Nazis. The animals, of course, were my soldiers and I was the brave army nurse, tending their wounds with the sound of German boots above my head.

My daughter, at two and half, plays more simple games with her animals-- trips to the cookie store or horse riding lessons on her toy pony-- but it's already clear they have her heart. There's Daddy Monkey, who is currently Head Animal and the one most likely to cause meltdown if he's absent come bedtime. Daddy Teddy is newer, a thrift store find we brought home for a quarter, but he's also popular on the pillow circuit. We have a whole slew of baby animals-- Baby Monkey, Baby Teddy, Baby Bear, Baby Lamb, and Baby Tiger. (Baby Tiger, she informs me, is often mean to Baby Monkey and has to go into time out). Some of the animals, such as Mama Lamb, were mine when I was her age and have been called out of attic retirement to serve a second generation. All are loved and all have a unique role. Daddy Monkey is an essential sleeping buddy, now often joinred by Daddy Teddy. The Babies are her story-making friends-- she can spend forty-five minutes enacting her made-up narratives, which often mimic her life. She nurses them, puts them to sleep, pushes them in her stroller, disciplines them when they fight. Often our errands are not complete unless one of them is with her, along with his or her "diaper bag" of essentials. Some of them don't look quite as plush as when they entered our home-- Daddy Monkey, for instance, has weathered at least one bout of stomach flu---- but even the smallest animal is missed when he's not in his place at the end of the day.

Tonight I was cleaning up her little family, noticing how one looked worn out from washing or another had managed to (yet again) lose his shirt and the thought occurred to me--- this is a lot like the family of God. Some of us are missing a bit of fluff or a button nose; some of us have been through the washer a time or two. Our stitches show, evidence of loving repair jobs on the rips and tears we've accumulated along the way. We do different things, have different purposes, but we are all very much loved. We are all part of the story God is telling, and He has specific roles for each of us to play. At the end of the day, when He gathers up his family to bring them home, we'll all be in our places around His table.

The thought, while not terribly original or profound, made me smile. Sometimes the best role models for our daily walk are right under our noses, or in this case, on my daughter's pillow.

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