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Emma Grey: How one teddy bear can change everything

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I’m currently doing Julia Cameron’s course, The Artist’s Way.

It’s completely changing my life (more on that another time), but one of the simple questions she asks is to remember your favourite childhood toy.

I recalled my golden Teddy, with whom I’d been inseparable. I dragged him around the house by one arm or leg, despite him being almost as big as me, as soon as I could walk.

That was until the fateful day when my younger sister threw up all over the bed, and Teddy, and I was unable to respond to this crisis in a resilient fashion (for a preschooler) and REJECTED my beloved bear henceforth, even after he was thoroughly washed!

Looking back, this was probably my first real loss, along with the death of our grandmother when I was three, though I only have a faint memory of her, and strong memories of Teddy.

One of the things I’m working on this year is paying close attention to intuition, and the second I wrote in my journal about Teddy’s unfortunate demise, I knew what to do for that week’s ‘Artist’s Date’.

This is a feature of the program, where you take your ‘inner artist’ somewhere or do something, once a week—anything that delights you creatively or feeds your soul, so long as you’re alone.

I took myself to the Teddy Bear Shop and, at the age of 47, picked out a new bear.

He’s not the fluffiest or cuddliest or prettiest bear in the shop, and not the one with the most symmetrical features or the cutest costume. He’s the one most like my first.

I love him so much it brings tears to my eyes, and he’s assisted me on more than one anxious night already.

But this story isn’t really about my bear. When I posted a photo of him on Facebook and asked my friends to share photos and stories of their own favourite childhood bear, the post was inundated with scruffy, ragged cuteness!

Not only were people posting photos of their bears (which they seemed to have very conveniently to hand, for a pack of adults), they were sharing stories of what their soft toys mean to them to this day, and that’s when the real gold surfaced:

I had a rag doll called Loopy Lou (after the ragdoll on Play School I think). Mum even made her a school uniform to come to kindergarten with me… I must remember to thank her for that. Age and motherhood makes you realise how special these little things you took for granted as a kid actually were!! Mum still has her at her place! 

I had a big panda called Panda. Loved it so much and so long until the fur was gone and the eyes came out. I still remember hugging it and carting it around…

It was my third birthday. A parcel had arrived in the mail from an aunt. It was squishy and soft. I just KNEW it was clothes and I was disappointed before, and while opening it. Then there he was—not clothes at all! A teddy bear! Perfect to cuddle and half as tall as me! “What are you going to call it?” Mummy asked. “Bear”. He’s a little worse for wear now…

I don’t have any photos but I have a lamb aptly named Lamby from when I was born and a bear called Emma that mum brought me after she’d been away for work when I was 5. Unfortunately, they’re both too fragile to snuggle now. I do have this guy called Bob who Eliza gave to me a few years back when I was having a bad pain day. I sleep with him every night and he comes to the hospital with me as helps with my medical anxiety. He even came into surgery with me a few years back and when I woke up he was tucked in with me and he had a surgical hat on. 

This is Gracie. She lives in my bed and gets squeezed, battered and loved during my nightmares every night. She had an accident in the washing machine a year or so ago and Mum had to mend her. Now Gracie has scars right where my self harming scars are the worst. I love her to death.

This is Bunny. Bunny lives in my handbag and comes everywhere with me. She gets squeezed, stroked, touched and gets me through periods of intense anxiety when I am out of the house.

I have a teddy, cuddles, that my little sister gave me on my 10th birthday. The only birthday I had with her. I remember my mum changing her nappy and she got hold of cuddles. Slobbered all over the ears and I was so upset. But 30 years later and this teddy is my favourite item I’ve ever had. Still has hardened fur from my sister’s slobber. It has not and will not ever be washed. It has followed me on school trips, to each of my c-sections and across Australia. No one is allowed to touch it. It is my link to my sister.

Meet Teddy and his smart 70s jumpsuit. I’ve had him since I was a toddler. He’s survived many voyages and adventures. My grandma and I used to knit clothes for him.

This is Edward….a bit battered but he is rather old….like me!

I had large yellow teddy I loved but someone left him out in the rain and he got the flu or pneumonia. So I put Vicks on his chest and his hair fell out.

Meet Ted. He is actually much happier than he looks. I’ve had him since I was a baby so that places him at more than 60 years old! He’s a classy character being fully jointed and having fur attached to a leather base so he is a little worn in places where he has been vigorously cuddled! He used to sport a fine hand knitted stripped cardigan in shades of green and brown, but that went by the wayside somewhere along the line. He now lives at the top of a bookshelf watching over proceedings, keeping my son’s 30-year-old teddy company.

My Teddy died an unnatural death that’s still too painful to discuss. I do have my husband’s childhood stuffed animal, which I hope to cherish for the rest of my life.

That last one was from a widowed friend in America whose husband died last year. I have a beautiful story about my own late husband’s childhood bear, but it’s too personal to share here.

Of course by this stage, and swamped with all the bedraggled bear photos and tears, I shot HerCanberra a heads-up and begged to open up the stage to the ancient teddies of Canberra!

We would LOVE to be introduced to your childhood bear, and to hear what it means to you, decades on…

Wonder if we can find the oldest bear in Canberra?

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