aah, the teddy bear dance. There’s nothing quite like that sinking feeling you get when you’ve spent a long day at the cousins’ house, you finally get the kids packed up into the car, finally finish the 30 mile drive home arriving an hour after bed time, the baby is melting down, your nerves are shot, you dash through the house and throw pajamas on the kid, whip a toothbrush across their teeth, skip the bath, skip stories, tuck them under the covers only to realize… “Wait a minute. Where’s Bobo?”
BoBo is the ragged stuffed teddy bear that your daughter has slept with every night of her life – the one that she sucks on all night so it smells like the high school boys’ locker room – the one she drags around everywhere and refuses to sleep without. Now the baby’s crying because she’s overtired and she thinks you’re trying to get her to go to sleep without Bobo. Mad-dash around the house! Where did she leave it? What drawer did she tuck it into? What tree did she leave it in? What cushion did she stuff it under? Now you and your wife are screaming at each other. “Did you look in the bathroom?!”
“Yes, I looked in the bathroom! I looked there when we first got home, and I looked there the last time you told me to look in the bathroom!”
“Don’t get mad at me, I didn’t put it there!”
“Nobody put it there! It isn’t in the freakin’ bathroom! Go look in the backyard!”
“Where in the backyard?!”
“Are you serious?!”
“It’s dark out there!”
“Get a freakin’ flashlight!”
“I would if you would put it away in the right place after you use it!”
Where’s Bobo? Where’s Bobo? You wrack your brain, trying to remember the last place you saw him. Then it hits you, and suddenly you realize the evening is about to descend from the 6th level of hell to the 7th. The last place you saw Bobo… was at the cousins’ house.
Most of us in our day had a “Bobo”, so we afford a little more tolerance to Bobo-related calamities. Everyone has a different “Bobo”, but our stories are all vaguely similar. Eventually they lose their grip on us, but our relationship with them is always very real. Some of us dragged them everywhere we went, some of us were happy just to keep them on the nightstand. Some of us finish with them early, some of us keep them around as long as we can. (For my part, I brought my “Daddy Bear” with me to college – not because I needed him for security. I thought that if a hot chick happened to walk by my dorm room when the door was open, she might notice Daddy Bear sitting there and think I was a sensitive guy.)
When my daughter was born, among the mountains of gifts she accumulated were two identical pink, stuffed bears, one of which became her Bobo. To this day she sleeps every night with him smashed up against her face, sucking his little bow tie. You can imagine how yucky Bobo gets over time, so every once in a while we have to throw him in the washer/drier. The first time we did this and presented her with the warm, dry, fresh-smelling Bobo she burst into tears saying “But I want him yucky!” When the potential for thermo-nuclear Armageddon became clear should Bobo ever be lost, we made a point of setting aside the identical twin he arrived with just in case a replacement was ever needed.
Like twins separated at birth and reunited decades later, looking at them it is clear that they have led very different lives. One is bright, pink and robust, as if it was always well-nourished, was legacied into an Ivy League school, spent a year abroad in Europe after college, interned for a congressman for a few years, and is now an upwardly-mobile, young executive in a Wall Street investment firm. The other is dim, gray and emaciated, as if it bounced from foster home to foster home, dropped out of high school, hitchhiked up and down California coast for years, and is teetering on the edge of falling back into a full-fledged methamphetamine habit. If you looked at them now it would never even cross your mind that they were actually identical twins. If Bobo was ever lost, there’s no way “backup-Bobo” could fill the role. If that day comes, we’re all done for.
My son’s “Bobo” turned out a little different. He’s got “Jellycat”, which is actually the name of the company that made the thing. They make all sorts of animals, from aardvarks to zebras, each with a “Jellycat” tag, much like the Beanie Babies of yester-year. Where my daughter only really needs Bobo to sleep, my son drags Jellycat around with him everywhere. We have a strict rule that Jellycat never goes outside the car if he leaves the house, but otherwise wherever my son goes Jellycat goes too. In fact, looking at my little tussled, blonde haired, rough and tumble, highly imaginative moppet of a son dragging around a mangy, well-loved, striped, stuffed cat around wherever he goes, it conjures up images of another well known character from American literature. Additionally, instead of sucking on the stuffed animal itself, my son sucks on his finger while holding the animal. After countless hours of finger sucking amassed over crucial developmental years, my son’s upper dental arch is pretty jacked-up. Thankfully I refer enough business to our local orthodontist that I don’t think we’ll have a problem getting him treated.
On the subject of transitional objects, if you’re ever looking for bedtime storybooks for the young person in your life, I strongly suggest the Knuffle Bunny series by Mo Willems. Based in large part on the author’s daughter, they tell the story of Trixie and her Knuffle Bunny (Kuh-nuffle? Nuffle?) as Trixie grows up. There are three books in the series, and in them we see Trixie (and Knuffle Bunny) grow from toddler, to school girl, to big girl. They’re hilarious in a way that most parents totally understand, they’re masterfully illustrated, and if it was possible for a picture book to have comedic timing, these would be the gold standard. If you’ve got your own “Trixie” at home, who seems to be growing up faster than you’re comfortable, the third book in particular will be particularly poignant. I defy you to read it without getting choked-up.
Now that we’re mere weeks away from the third installment of our own little story, I have to wonder what transitional object will work its way into his life. As much fun as it is getting to know a new child, it isn’t just the child that you have to get to know. As every parent who has children with transitional objects knows, the Bobo’s and Jellycats are every bit as much a part of the family as the children are themselves.
P.S. In the comment section below please feel free to share your own Bobo/Jellycat/Knuffle Bunny stories. We’ve all got them, and each one is as ridiculous as the last.