On paper, we’re a family of five, but in our hearts, we’re a family of eight. The three extra members have a few handicaps – stuffing for brains, for example, and the inability to move unless clutched fiercely by the neck and dragged with an armful of other toys from room to room. But they really make up for it with superior softness, a certain indescribable cuddly factor, and a surprising amount of personality.
Big Wheel is my son’s blue monkey, with a rattle inside that sometimes stops rattling for indeterminate periods of time after a trip through the washing machine. Big Wheel’s black, embroidered mouth requires replacing about once a year, a delicate surgery involving much pacing and stress in the waiting room, even though the teen years for both monkey and boy are looming in the near future.
Shearly is my middle daughter’s sheep, more grey now than yellow, with one favourite ear in tatters. Shearly has had a few outright holes patched with fabric transplants, and strongly resists trips to the laundry room, as her distinctive smell – not exactly pleasant to the untrained nose, but not repulsive, either – is essential to her charm.
Hero is my youngest daughter’s brown bear, with a crooked smile that hints at a mischievous personality and rounded ears that, mandated by His Girl, must always be folded in, not turned out. He has a tag near his tail that has been worried into a stub and his neck isn’t quite able to hold his head up anymore, but he’s still up for tea parties, even if that means being squeezed into a pink velvet doll dress.
The Special Friends are, of course, firmly loyal to their respective children, but they do allow us to co-opt them from time to time. Hilariously bad ventriloquism is used to call tired children to bed or to assure the sick that their friend isn’t feeling well, either. They sometimes squeak out requests for cookies. We can’t really claim to know anything about that.
Long ago, in fear of losing the beloved stuffies, I bought a backup version of each. A perfectly intact monkey, sheep, and bear sit in a box in my closet, shocking in their cleanliness, ready to be called into duty if such a catastrophe should arise. But now I see that these new versions, while cute, would never be the same. The tatters and tears are essential to who they are; the little hurts have made them truly special. Those who seem less than are actually more than; it’s the history of living and loving, written on their faces, that makes them part of the family.
We can only hope to look as good.