Thought Catalog

In Defense Of Childhood Stuffed Animals

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I sleep with a plush rabbit called Tubby, although to describe him as plush is a stretch; he is more worn, like an overused dishtowel, or a well-loved sweater — thin, transparent, and drooping from its owner’s shoulders. His eyes, once solid black, are now chipped plastic white discs looking out from a head that hangs limp off a turtle-like neck. He is really more an exercise in negative space than a rabbit, having now formed to the curves and contours of my torso where he spends his nights, folded into my abdomen. I am 31-years old.

My father gave me Tubby as an Easter gift in 1982 when I was one. Too young to remember the day I like to imagine my father walking into my mother’s house without knocking [Hello?], keys to his Lincoln Continental in one hand, fresh toy in the other, unwrapped because where would a man realistically obtain paper to wrap a gift for his illegitimate child. His wife? I’m sure my father gave me other gifts and toys before he started simply slipping me folded 20-dollar bills, but Tubby is the only item I attach to the memory of his handouts.

According to his original tag Tubby is of an ilk called “Playful Pets” made by “Dan Dee Imports” out of Jersey City (U.S. Copyright Reg. No. VA38 – 217, 1980). The front of the tag features a photo of a robust stuffed toy with full white cheeks, a bulbous pink nose, and taught limbs that protrude from its round belly — a likeness virtually unrecognizable from Tubby’s present state. The tag folds out into a two-page booklet that informs me my purchase was designed to give me years of joy and pleasure (which it has), and also that its materials meet or exceed all government safety requirements. On the opposite side there are cleaning instructions, but I am fairly certain the rabbit has never been cleaned.

I had many toys and stuffed animals growing up, but Tubby reigned without question over the others — my confidant, my right-hand man, the only one worthy of sleeping beside me. Over time our relationship inspired within me a kinship with all rabbits. I deplored the animated children in the Trix commercials for depriving the cartoon rabbit of his sugary cereal. I read and re-read Margery Williams’ devastating book, The Velveteen Rabbit, feeling perhaps my first empathy with the young boy forced to part with his germ-infested toy and fearing I would one day have to part with an equally infected Tubby. I am convinced that book also prompted a series of re-occurring nightmares in which my entire family was in a spaceship spiraling uncontrollably toward the sun; the only thing that would save us was sacrificing Tubby by throwing him out the window into the fiery flames. I always refused and we would begin to burn right before I awoke in a sweaty mess of sheets.

My family treated Tubby like an ordinary member, speaking directly to him, asking how he was feeling, how his days went. I don’t recall dubbing in a voice for his response; we simply accepted his placid expression as contentment. Every Easter until I was about 11 or 12, the entire family celebrated Tubby’s birthday by dressing him in a custom-tailored suit jacket and singing Happy Birthday around a pair of homemade cakes in the shape of two rabbits—one chocolate, one vanilla—nestled in a bed of coconut shreds food-dyed to resemble green grass. No one present considered this ritual abnormal or emotionally counterproductive. Even my older brothers in their cynical mid-teens offered Tubby birthday wishes and shared in the celebration. Tubby, silent and docile, watched from a chair as we sat around the dining room table eating cake in his honor.

Other than Easter Tubby didn’t do much. I never dragged him around the house or brought him out in public like some other children did with their coveted animals and dolls and blankies. Tubby remained mostly in the privacy of my bed. Ours was arguably the most intimate relationship I had growing up. Tubby has spent more nights by my side than any other creature. He has seen me piss myself, vomit all over myself, cry myself to sleep, wake myself up laughing, stay up all night reading; he remained through the chicken pox, several cases of strep throat, and later a blood clot in my lung; he was there the night my mother tried to kill herself and the night my eighth grade crush succeeded; he saw me discover my first period, find my first orgasm, lose my virginity. When I showed (introduced?) him to my current boyfriend I warned: this is what you will look like after you sleep with me for thirty years.

I realize sleeping with a cherished childhood toy after the age of fourteen might raise a red flag. There has to be some identifiable stunt in my emotional growth that allows such an attachment to persist. I have met other adults who hold onto such comforts—withered blankets or similar animals whose innards have long ago clumped into tumor-like stuffing clusters under their frail faux fur coats. One of my friends has a 4′ x 5′ wall portrait of her teddy bear (Huggy) constructed entirely of little metallic stars. We all seem like functional members of society, but I have little perception of how we appear to others — naïve? sentimental? callow? I don’t see much difference between Tubby and an orthopedic pillow; we have a history, yes, but his purpose in my bed is now primarily to support my body.

There is a bit of anthropomorphizing occurring, of course. As a rational human being I know Tubby has no actual feelings at stake, but a superstitious sliver of me believes some of my excess childhood emotion and sentiment seeped into his polyester pores and burrowed there, sort of like a poltergeist. When I stare hard into those scratched out eye-buttons I see something alive, even if it’s just my own blurry reflection.

If I wanted an easy explanation for my affection I would say the rabbit filled some absence in my life where a father should have been, but I want to give Tubby more credit than that Freudian shortcut. I’d rather see Tubby as a symbol for how I don’t give a f-ck, and how I can choose to hold onto something just because it feels good. We are taught to let go of things at certain times, move on, grow up, but when I look at Tubby I am reminded of the unselfconsciousness of childhood, a careless disregard that fades with maturity. I suppose I see some merit in holding onto that uninhibited joy, even if only in the nocturnal curve of my torso. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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    • Anonymous

      This is a beautiful post. I know you have probably heard this 20,000 times already, but have you read Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones?

    • LivingAbroad

      I see nothing wrong with that. I do have a blanket that sleeps with me every night. It has traveled the world with me as well. I guess these transitional objects are in our lives for one reason or another. Mine, because I have been traveling constantly since I was 16, so for me the word home was been a bit deconstructed. Sleeping with my blanket makes me feel like I am at home no matter where in the world I am. My boyfriend and I are spending six months apart due to work-related reasons. He gave me his childhood stuffed animal to take with me. That probably means more to me than any other gift he can get me. 

    • Guest

      You have no idea how much this post IS me. I have a stuffed bunny Ive had since I was 3 and am now 23. She fills EXACTLY the same purpose for me as Tubby does for you.

    • Cangersola

      i love this/you/tubby

    • Mojo Jojo

      That was beautiful, thank you for sharing. 

    • Christina

      There is nothing, nothing, absolutely never nothing wrong with loving a stuffed animal, no matter how old you get. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Liah Paterson

      Beautiful.  I have been at school for six months now and have noticed something missing, but have been unsure of what it could have been.  But now, after reading this, I’ve realized that my notion to leave my childhood blanket at home was a terrible one.  I’m calling my mother straight away to have it sent to me.

    • http://twitter.com/cream_dreamz Stephanie Jones

      My sentiments exactly about my love-worn Simba that is nestled between my arm and body as I type this. 

    • Dylan

      “I’d rather see Tubby as a symbol for how I don’t give a f-ck, and how I
      can choose to hold onto something just because it feels good. We are
      taught to let go of things at certain times, move on, grow up, but when I
      look at Tubby I am reminded of the unselfconsciousness of childhood, a
      careless disregard that fades with maturity. I suppose I see some merit
      in holding onto that uninhibited joy, even if only in the nocturnal
      curve of my torso.”

      Love times a million. I’m reading this with Scraggles, my little stuffed bunny rabbit, on my shoulder. I am 18 and I’ve had him for at least 16 years. He is salt and pepper, with a pink nose and checkered bow tie. I love him and there’s no shame in that.

    • Kmodek

      My Teddy is 34 years old & is missing his eyes, has been sewed up several times, but he still sleeps with me. He was with me when I was 5 & had my appendix taken out. He had his out too, cause when I woke up, he had a surgical cap, a mask, and a band aid on his side, just like me.
      He’s been through every stage of my life & even survived being hung by his neck from a ceiling fan by an ex boyfriend. Apparently, guys feel threatened by him. I don’t sleep with him now because he’s too old & fragile, so he sits on my bed against the wall and watches over me.
      When I die, my Teddy will be by my side.

    • Amphx

      Awesome story! I have stuffed duck named Claudio that I happen to be holding at this moment.

    • Bealtaine

      Love this, it made me inexplicably happy .Mine is Basanda , daddy returned home with him one day for no apparent reason. My dad isn’t good at saying I love you but that  snuggly tiger said it all.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kelsey-Lang/719053563 Kelsey Lang

      I actually have a stuffed bear named Tuberson (who I call Tubby for short). I didn’t get him until a few years ago, but I sleep with him by my side every night. I have a much older stuffed animal, a doggy named Wuzzy, as well, who has retired to the bedside at the moment because he is starting to get fragile. Tuberson hasn’t replaced him, though, far from it.

    • PiratesLife4Me

      This post was very sweet and heartwarming.  It also makes me feel like less of a dork that I still have my childhood stuffed doll, and occasionally sleep with it.  It’s from the Jammie Pies line in the 80’s that most people have never heard of, but I got it for Christmas when I was 1.  Now she mostly stays in the closet, but when I’m feeling especially run down, stressed, or in need of comfort, she sleeps beside me and brings back the innocent nostalgia you described so beautifully.

      • http://fb.com/flexiblehair alize ng

        Yes i totally agree :’)

    • http://www.facebook.com/discobiscuits93 Kayla Ann Stockman

      Mine is Brownie Brown, my creatively named brown teddy bear. He’s been with my since I was one, and I am not afraid to say that he is my best friend. If he could talk, he would have so many stories, but he wouldn’t tell them to anyone because he loves me.

    • baaaruisers

      This inspired me to give Juan Carlos, my red octopus (only acquired a few years ago, but a good friend all the same) a big old hug. 

    • Inkling

      This is love. I had essentially the same dreams as a child: sacrificing my teddy or a cherished family member. All that guilt, when I clung to my teddy. Thank you for sharing that. 

    • beatrice

      I think you would enjoy this brilliant kids book called “The miraculous journey of Edward Tulane” :), it’s about a rabbit as well

    • Aishvarya

      i love the way you have written this. thank you  :)

    • Keltydennis

      Everytime I see my boyfriend next to Albert, my bear, I think “Albert is the first and will be the last man in my life.”

    • Candace

      Thanks for all the thoughtful comments, guys. One of my favorite things about storytelling is getting to hear everyone else’s inspired tales. Long live crusty stuffed animals. I’ve attached an image of my beloved Tubby, still many lightyears from the sun’s surface.

    • becky

      I had a childhood stuffed animal named Dizzy that stayed with me since I was eight and then when I turned 17 and graduated high school I gave her to my little sister who needed Dizzy more than I did. I now have Ellie my girlfriend (or the bear she gave me when I graduated High School)… But I miss Dizzy like I miss someone who died…when I think about her I feel as if there is a whole in me that no one will ever replace like Dizzy could…

    • Baby's Rep

      Mine is baby(named because she’s clearly the youngest member of my family). Given to me when I was 6 months, has been through ups and downs with me. No eyes, nose, and an interesting pattern on her back from when I decided she needed to be ironed once(why did I have an iron at 6..). My absolute best friend and I’m 25. I definitely file this article under “Whoa-This Person Thinks Like Me”.

      Long live the stuffies!

    • Sar

      I feel just like you. I am nearly 20 and I still sleep with my stuffed animal, called “Baquita”.
      She is a deer, but when I was small I thought it was a cow, so I called her “Baquita”. The correct world would be “vaquita” with V, because that’s how you say “little cow” in Spanish (vaca – vaquita) but for me it will always be with a B. She didn’t have a voice either, I understood her “mentally.” It’s hard for me not to sleep without her, I feel save when I sleep with her. Her eyes are almost blurred out and now she only has one antler…

    • Baroness1703

      This was awesome.  Suddenly, I don’t feel like such a weirdo.  I’m 32 and have a stuffed fox named Sammy I’ve been best pals with since I was 14.  My family used to have birthday cake for him, too.  As an “adult,” my friends, former co-workers, and even my boyfriend all talk to him. He goes on vacation with me and has been present for every major life moment. I even have a tattoo of him to be sure he’s with me forever.  I would seriously be lost if something ever happened to him.  He’s sitting with me right now reading this story.   Thank you for writing this and making a whole bunch of us feel like we’re not alone.

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