There’s a bear in there… somewhere.

My friend F is suffering tonight. Her son has lost his teddy. Cue tears, tantrums and complete lack of sleep. I understand the horror. I’ve been through it. To understand the trauma, however, it’s important to understand Mr6’s relationship with Bronte Bear.

Mr3 has Alla Hoo Hoo, the imaginary mother of 98 who fights fires, goes to high school, drives trucks, and has done all the things that Mr3 badly wants to be big enough to do. All while wearing high heels (or ‘big shoes’ as he calls them).

Mr6 has Bronte Bear.

A few years ago (when Mr6 was three years old), I wrote a story for Sunday magazine in the Sunday Telegraph about Bronte’s trip to the Sydney Doll Hospital to have reconstructive surgery on her face (the pic, left, is her in Belgium, pre-surgery). This is how I described her:

“Bronte Bear has been a fixture in my son’s life since birth. Over three years, the relationship has developed into a full-blown love affair. The obsessive kind that poets write sonnets about. He goes nowhere without her, can’t sleep without her and worries if he thinks she is too cold/hot/tired/bored. (You haven’t lived until you’ve been informed that you need to come up with a new plan for the day because a teddy doesn’t find the current activity exciting.)

Bronte is a bear with personality plus. She has her own voice (a squeakier, infinitely more irritating version of his), her own favourite colour (pink), her own special seat in the pram at his feet, even her own passport. Yes, passport. Made by a loving – some might say insane – mother to help her son prepare for an overseas holiday, and stamped by bemused passport-control people around the world.”

Bronte’s hospital visit cost me six weeks of sleep and $200. For a bear that initially cost around $14. For a bear that was exactly the same as two other bears in his collection except for one thing – they weren’t Bronte. (They became known as Bronte Bear’s Sisters and Mr3 now occasionally takes one to bed. Loose, that Bear family.)

Some months after Bronte returned from hospital, she went missing. We had been out strolling around the bike path near our home in the Big Smoke and she’d fallen from the pram. A fact that remained unnoticed until two hours later when it was time for bed. It was summer, but the light was fading fast as The Builder hopped on his trusty, rusty old bike, complete with rapidly flattening tyres, and embarked upon a rescue mission. Faced with screaming pre-schooler and a sleepless night ahead, I could do nothing but pray.

He came back empty-handed. Four hours later, the tear-stained, sodden scrap of misery that was Mr6 (then three – must keep reminding you of this, in case you think he’s, um, immature) finally fell asleep and The Builder and I set about hatching a plan. First, we prepared a ‘Have you seen This Bear?” poster, full-colour, bright red headline, appealing Bronte picture and all. Then, we planned the route upon which we would distribute our posters, working through his collection of gaffer tapes to work out which would have the best hold.

Early the next morning, Mr3 (then a newborn) and I dropped a still-wailing pre-schooler off and set off on our mission. I followed our loop of the previous evening, dotting posters on every available space, eyes glued to the ground for a glimpse of manky brown fur. Nothing. As we got closer and closer to home, my despair grew, my gaze never leaving the path and its environs for a second. Surely she couldn’t have gone too far from the path?

It was sheer coincidence that, passing the park shaped like a pirate ship, I happened to look up. I’m still not sure what caught my eye – a bird? a plane overhead (highly likely in our inner-west location)? Superman? Whatever it was, I still thank my lucky stars for it. For there she was, dangling from a branch.

And it was then that I remembered one of the main Commandments of parenting in the inner city – if you find something on the ground – a hat, a shirt, a bear – thou shalt put it on a fence post or gate, out of the way of marauding pets and humans, and at eye-height for a harried mum to spot on her way home.

Someone – another mum, I’d like to bet – had hung Bronte high, out of the way of passing traffic. You only had to look at her to know she was a much-loved bear, and someone had recognised that fact. I was so excited I rang The Builder on the spot, high on excitement. “I found her! I found her!”

His relief was palpable. Then he suggested I retrace my steps back around the path, taking down all the posters so that we didn’t get any ‘weird’ phone calls. It was a busy morning.

So Bronte is still with us. He sleeps with her each night, dresses her up as a Jedi knight when the mood takes him, and still holds long-and-involved conversations with her. Unfortunately, her voice is not getting any less irritating as she ages.

Admittedly the relationship is not as intense as it once was. These days they’re more like a married couple, reading each other’s minds, relaxed in each other’s company, happy to lie on the sofa and watch television.

I confess I’m relieved. I hope that she will one day be a faithful memory of his childhood, tucked on a shelf, becoming less and less relevant. He’s growing up and away from her. That’s healthy.

But I’ll never be able to let her go. Even after he leaves home, there’ll be room here for Bronte. To me, she is a symbol of his childhood and I want to keep her with me forever. Just as long as she’s quiet.

Comments 20

  1. I still have Felix’s Max, tied to the mast in my bedroom (in reality it’s a branch of worm-carved driftwood, but I channel Hornblower). I am more sentimental about him than Felix is now… they grow up!

  2. Our version of Bronte is named Blue Cow – yep, he’s a blue cow, and he must be present in my daughter’s bed at all times. He even sports a bear-sized sweater that says, “Best Friend”. Luckily, Blue Cow is the silent type!

  3. Oh I loved that! All of it. So sweet. And so true. Especially the bit about the gaffer tape collection!! You were so lucky to find him. Only another parent would put them up high like that. That’s what parents do isn’t it? In our case, it’s a rabbit. Honest to god I hope we never lose it. Having said that, she did forsake it for a chanel bag the other night (had only contained nail varnish) and was a bit worried about the handles so had to sneak in and remove it.

    I wonder if the Sydney Doll Hospital is still going. That cost you an arm and a leg as they say!!

  4. Mr6’s Bronte Bear is my son’s Maurice Mouse. We left him at the Grand Canyon last year and drove 30 minutes back to retrieve him. He doesn’t talk yet, but he does love to relax on the couch with some juice, a movie, and his favorite little boy. =>

  5. In our house it’s Milo… he is very well worn, and has what we like to refer to as hug spots, where his fur has rubbed away from the way he has ben tucked under Mr11’s arm for ever… but the time is coming when Milo now does not go to sleep overs… and lust last week when Hubby & I went in to say goodnight, I said, ‘Oh, look, milo’s at the bottom of the bed…’ and as I went to pick him up Mr11 replied, ‘nah, it’s Ok, he can stay down there now…’ I was gutted. I didn’t show it, either did Hubby… and that’s life after all. But Milo will stay with us forever. Even when our blue eyed boy has left the nest.

  6. Memories , My four all had their favourites, for Mr19 it was a stuffed wombat & a Mr Bean bear bought for him by my then 19 year old brother, Miss 16 had an enormous white teddy, Miss 14 a rumple bear but it was Miss 12 who had the kind of attachment that you describe. “Sally” is a large ragdoll bought in 1997 in Kmart for approximately $20.00. She is tall for a doll and very very soft. Sally has travelled far and wide & moved home every second weekend to Nan and Pops dairy farm, so of course Sally can milk cows and drive tractors as well as ride motorbikes – in short anything Miss 12 did Sally did too. My prying Sally away for a wash was torture for Miss 12, she would sit in the laundry in tears and wait while Sally had her “bath”. Sally like wombat, bean, whitey & rumple will stay with me long after their owners have grown and gone. Jo

  7. So glad to know that I’m not alone. When I wrote the story for the paper, I actually got a psychologist in to comment on the ‘healthiness’ of attachment. She was all for it and told me that most kids grow out of it in timely fashion. She was right. But don’t you love how they take on personalities these little extra members of the family?

  8. Sigh, this post takes me back. Remember when Bronte came home from her Extreme Makeover and we were all a bit coy around her. Those big eyes, those new cheekbones…

  9. I love this story – thank you so much for sharing. My gal goes through phases where she’ll love something to death – then move on. Often she revisits them, but there’s been no one, true, lasting love. There seem to be a few on high rotation at the moment – and I love seeing her, at 10 and a half, still snuggling up to a cuddly toy at night.

  10. No way! I vividly remember reading about Bronte. I loved that article, having fond memories of taking my own doll to the Hospital as a child. It’s so nice to know she’s still kicking it.

  11. My boys have never been particularly attached to anything in particular. However, I was surprised once when we went on holidays and the 8yo announced he couldn’t sleep without his fave toy bear. I had no idea he was so attached to it. He didn’t carry it around or anything – just slept with it every night! (He was about 4 at the time.) He was upset, but we talked him thru it and he was fine. Phew.

    I was in Kmart once though when a Mum approached me to ask if I’d seen a small blue blanket. It was her son’s and they had misplaced it. She was freaking out. It was obviously a big security for him, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the time it wasn’t me!

  12. Al, this resonates with me too. Cam (now 8) has had a blue bear much like Bronte since his first Christmas – Morris. When Cam turned 1, Morris was joined by a black and white cow – Boef (as in ‘Boef Wellington’ and pronounced ‘Boof’). When Cam was smaller, they went everywhere with Cam – we couldn’t walk out the door with them. Now he is content for them to spend their days at the top of his bed. But they still have to come on holidays….

  13. Oh gorgeous. You must have read Dougal the Garbage Dump Bear – if not, hurry up. I lost my teddy when I was around 3 or 4. Mum replaced with exact replica but I was obviously not as attached as I do not recall great trauma (or posters). Mr6 is my only child who has a love affair with his ted which only started in kindergarten after the class held a Teddy Bear’s Picnic. I really loved this tale… Michelle

  14. Oh sweet. I have so much empathy! In our house it’s Monkey – thankfully a friend had an identical one she gave us and I have managed to integrate him in so Bear swaps between the two of them. It’s very good to have a back up! We have the most wonderful book at home called “Eight” which is about a little boy named Timmy who goes on a picnic with his family and loses his beloved Eight – it’s the most wonderful book. Highly recommend it for all kids with special toys!

  15. Gosh I love this post. Soooo sweet!!

    My Mr 2 has ‘Boon’ … which is the name he gave to his (giant) blankie when he was less than a year old. I have no idea where ‘Boon’ came from (it’s not like we are Tasmanian) but Boon has since evolved to be called Boonie.

    Thankfully Mr 2 readily accepts replacement Boonies (same blanket, same fabric) should one go missing and there are three Boonies scattered between daycare and home.

  16. Your lovely sister sent me here after my daughter recently volunteered to throw her Teddy in the bin. She was in a full on love affair with hers too lol. Glad to hear Bronte survived and you found her – you’d want to after $200. I kept my Teddy until 2010 when he didn’t swim during the Queensland floods. They hold such memories, don’t they? Lovely post.

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