The build-a-bear experience

Not many people are aware of the fact that I can, in fact, sew. I don’t do it very often, for I don’t have the time, patience, or passion normally. I have several clothing patterns selected for clothes I’d love to make myself, but I still haven’t gotten around to it. Once, I tried to make my ex-boyfriend a kilt, but we broke up before I finished it. I did start and complete two huge (like 2 feet long) pillow dog stuffed animals for my godson and his brother several years ago. That was a great project–the kids slept with those things for a long time. But I never really got that ambitious again.

With all these baby showers on the horizon, I’ve intended over and over again to make these small stuffed animals for which I have a pattern. I’ve always had a soft spot for stuffed animals; I still have a teddy bear my Grandma H gave my mom at the baby shower when she was pregnant with me. I still sleep with that teddy bear, occasionally, when I’m lonely. Even if I don’t sleep with it, it’s usually by my bedside, on the nightstand or in my bed. I’ve taken it on trips with me so that I wouldn’t get homesick. I know it sounds stupid for a 33 year old woman to find comfort in a tattered old teddy bear from her youth, but I can’t help it–I really do find comfort in that old thing. It has a music box that plays a lullaby. Whenever I’m feel especially down, there’s something comforting in that tune rolling from the tummy of my teddy bear. It reminds me of being a kid, of feeling lonely and confused, and finding solace in something as simple as a lifeless stuffed animal bear. To me, though, the teddy bear is not lifeless–he has a soul of his own that speaks in a language only I can hear. It’s going to be all right, Mars Girl, he says, Do not fear.

For this reason, it always seems to me that I have this urge to give new babies a teddy bear protector. I can never find the right stuffed animal in stores. There’s no stuffed animal quite like my teddy bear. None of them feel right when I hug them. I have wanted to sew my own for these future children, but, again, I just don’t have the time to sit around sewing. Plus, I am still a novice and I need my mom’s help to start these projects. We’re both busy.

So yesterday, I did the next best thing: I went to the Build-A-Bear Workshop. There’s one at the Summit Mall, and I’ve always wanted to walk into one. Mostly, I’ve wanted to make a bear for myself. There’s so many beautiful options–all different kinds of animals and clothing and sounds to add to it. I’ve had to restrain myself from going in. You don’t need any more stuffed animals, I try to tell myself.

Well, now with two baby showers this weekend, I had the perfect excuse. I went in and carefully selected the bears I wanted to give Arianna (my friend Debbie’s daughter-to-be) and Grayson (my cousin Angy’s son-to-be). For Grayson, I tried to selected this beautiful fuzzy black bear because it looked like a “boy’s bear” to me. For Arianna, I selected a less fuzzy, but soft and matted brown bear. It just seemed right.

Before stuffing the bears, the Build-A-Bear specialist has you select a heart for the bear from a basket of sewn fabric hearts. She then proceeds to lead you through this ritual in which you rub the heart on various areas of your body to give the bear certain attributes, such as your tummy so the bear never goes hungry. The ritual ends with closing your eyes and making a wish on the heart, and then kissing the heart to seal the creation with love. I wished for happiness and long life–something every kid needs and something I always wish on people anyway.

The heart is then placed inside the bear. You then step on the lever to initiate the stuffing from the big “stuffing blowing” machine and the Build-A-Bear specialist fluffs the bear out in all the right places to make a lovable, hugable bear. I was really touched by the gesture of the heart inside the bear–what a sweet touch and something I would never have thought of doing for my own homemade stuffed animals.

I also had a music box that plays a lullaby (not the same one as my teddy bear plays) put inside of the bears. I don’t think these music boxes are as sturdy as the one in my teddy bear. I think the one in mine is one of those real ones that have the rolling metal tubes with the music indented on them that, when hit by a little metal tab, plays the tune. There’s a knob on the back of my teddy bear that you have to wind so that the music plays. The ones used in the bears I made were electronic–you simply press a button on them. I don’t expect the music box to last 33 years, as mine has, which is actually the only thing I’m disappointed about in this experience. I’m not sure if “real” music boxes are still anywhere anymore.

After the bear is stuffed and sewn shut, you can select clothes for the bear. I just selected simple “It’s a Boy!” and “It’s a Girl!” t-shirts. Kids lose the clothing anyway. My teddy bear came with a bow that I lost decades ago and replaced with a red bandanna sometime during the teenage years because the bear’s neck had an awkward indentation from years of having the bow.

The real pressure in this experience came with the birth certificates that you get to create for the bears. I hadn’t realized that I would have to come up with a name for the bears and the pressure–as a writer who feels names are very significant–was crushing. So, without much thought, I used the names that came to me first (perhaps it was the bears themselves telling me what their names were, like the characters to my stories often do)–Joey for Grayson’s bear and Lila for Arianna’s bear. In retrospect, I realized that I should have given each kid’s middle name for the name of their respective bears–Martin and Marjorie–but I suppose the names I gave them will work out just fine. The kids will probably rename them anyway. Though, I could have used a prompt for my bear–he never had a name, I just called him Teddy my whole life. Most of the time, I just refer to him as “my teddy bear.” And he’s always seemed to me a boy bear.

The last step to this entire process, for me, was to hug each of the bears when I got them home. I couldn’t resist as I looked at them. They were exactly the right fit–soft, plushy, and filled with enough stuffing to make them “feel” right when you held them. Finally, I’d found a stuffed animal that suited my high standards for lovability to a child.

I know it’s kind of a commercial cop-out for me to have used Build-A-Bear instead of my own homemade stuffed animals. Still, I think the fact that I personally picked out the stuffed animal and placed a little heart that I kissed within them gives me “it’s the thought that counts” points. After all, the real reason I’m giving the gift is because my bear has given me years of happiness. I don’t expect these kids to hang onto their bears as long. Maybe it won’t even be their favorite toy. But, hey, if they get even a little pleasure out of the bear for a little while in their lives, then the gift has served its purpose. I have no delusions of grandeur here–Aunt Mars Girl is not the one to bring a child The Gift that is out-loved by all others. I just thought that I could connect with my friends by giving them something that is symbolic of my own warmer feelings of childhood. It’s more thoughtful than buying something off the registry, which I absolutely hate doing for friends. I want to give them something more meaningful than the items they specifically asked for. Call me an old crank, but I just think the spirit of gift-giving–in any situation–is finding that one thing the person needs or desires without ever having to ask for it. The Gift of the Magi has always been one of my favorite stories as it symbolizes a true understanding between two people and their desire to give their loved one the best gift, even if it means sacrificing something important to them. I usually don’t go that far in my gift-giving efforts, but I still strive to provide something special.

I got an $8 off coupon for Build-A-Bear in August with my purchase yesterday. I’ve got my eye on this limited edition purple bear they have there (I want to call her Vivian for some reason). I think I want to go back and make another bear for myself. Not, of course, to replace my beloved Teddy. No, maybe it’s time to give Teddy a friend. My stuffed animal harbor seal, Sandy, which I got at Sea Lion’s Cove in Oregon when my husband I were there on vacation in 2000, sits on my living room couch watching TV. So he’s not much company at all.

Yeah, I know. I’m very silly. But, you know, at this age, if you can hang onto anything that reminds you of your youth, you should go for it. Like I said, I still have a soft spot for stuffed animals. I don’t have a ton of them, but the ones I do keep around are special to me. The good thing about stuffed animals is they never die.

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15 thoughts on “The build-a-bear experience

  1. Are you by any chance planning to make Michael a kilt? It might be cooling if he wears it on his tandem.

  2. <>Are you by any chance planning to make Michael a kilt? It might be cooling if he wears it on his tandem.<>Ha ha! Somehow, I think that I couldn’t get Michael to wear a kilt even if he was 100% Scottish… The ex-bf was into medieval re-enactment stuff and always rented kilts… ;) I didn’t mind one bit!! (Remember, I’m the leg-looker!)

  3. <>Awww. I remember you buying that seal and how much you liked it :)<>I love real-life seals. Just cant have them in my backyard. So Sandy was the next best thing! As a funny side note, my cousin Gary also has a seal stuffed animal who enjoys watching TV. On sci-fi nights, I some time took Sandy so that the two of them could watch TV together and chat!

  4. PS, I also have a small cat stuffed animal that looks like my real cat Nicki. My husband and I used to take it on road trips with us so that the spirit of Nicki would be with us. Since, as a cat, Nicki hates riding in cars…

  5. Awwwe, sentimental Mars Girl! I’m the last one to make fun, though, since the teddy bear I’ve had for what will be 33 years on Monday (Theodore Edward, Teddy for short) is in much, much worse shape than yours – and this is AFTER my mother completely rebuilt him for me when I was about 9 years old because after a mere 9 years he was falling apart. What did my Uncle Dave always call him – my one-eyed, no-nosed Freddy Bear.

  6. Diane,That is a loved Teddy Bear, like in the story <>The Velvetine Rabbit<>, which is a story that makes me cry because they have to burn the kid’s stuffed bunny after he recovers from a contageous illness. You’re supposed to be happy at the end of the book because the bunny fulfilled its usefulness to the kid–it was loved during the roughest time in the kid’s life. But the book makes me BAWL. The thought of someone burning <>my<> teddy bear makes me sick to my stomach!! It’s the most sentimental piece of my past that I own… I think if given the choice between throwing out my teddy and my box of Mike stuff, I’d select the Mike stuff… (And I’m not about to get rid of the box of Mike stuff!)My how we are attached to physical items in this physical life! ;) Although, it’s not so bad because the stuff I never want to let go of is worthless to anyone else but me.And Mars Girl has certainly become more sentimental of the late… I’m actually kind of liking and being nice to kids. Well, some of them anyway.

  7. <>You’re supposed to be happy at the end of the book because the bunny fulfilled its usefulness to the kid–it was loved during the roughest time in the kid’s life. But the book makes me BAWL. The thought of someone burning my teddy bear makes me sick to my stomach!!<>Me too!!!! I remember after seeing a movie version of the story when I was about 6 and making my mother promise that no matter what, she would NEVER EVER burn my teddy bear like that, I didn’t care how contaminated he became.

  8. Sure… I’m betting there’s ways to sterilize stuffed animals now… I mean, you can probably spray them with something.Man, a movie version of that book would not sit well with me at all. I’d be like watching <>Old Yeller<>. I cant watch movies about killing animals or burning stuffed animals…

  9. <>Sure… I’m betting there’s ways to sterilize stuffed animals now…<>I bet a minute in the microwave would do the trick, as long as he holds together!

  10. <>I bet a minute in the microwave would do the trick, as long as he holds together!<>Hmmm… that might not do so well with my teddy’s eyes. My teddy, unlike Diane’s, still has his eyes. ;)And not so sure it would be good for the microwave as that winder for the music box is made of metal (and probably the music box for that matter).Maybe I’d have to throw him in the dryer on high…

  11. The sad thing is that wouldn’t the bear just naturally have gotten clean from the infectious germs if you just let it sit out in the sun for a couple days?

  12. Well, the story <>was<> written in 1922, so I suspect that people back then got overly frightened about these things since they didn’t really understand from where germs came… The kid, according to wikipedia since my memory’s so bad, had scarlet fever. It sounds like a wilder form of strep throat (caused by a bacteria). Since a stuffed animal is not alive, I assume that the bacteria wouldn’t stick around too long on something on which they couldnt grow… However, bacteria also have the nasty habit of turning to spores when the conditions arent right for them to thrive.Um, essentially, not having a medical degree or anything, I don’t really know if a pathogen can cling to inanimate objects and infect or reinfect people…

  13. Most microbes die pretty quick outside of the body, but you’re right–I imagine some have a way of hibernating until the right time comes along. Dammit Jim, I’m a theologian, not a doctor!

  14. <>My teddy, unlike Diane’s, still has his eyes. ;)<>*Ahem* My teddy still has ONE eye, thank you very much ;)There have been a few movie versions of the story made, as well as a few animated versions. Every one I’ve ever seen leaves me sniffling…

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