I am a late forties, American male who is fairly normal in most respects. I have a career. I help my daughter with her homework. I wash dishes. I do lawnwork on the weekends. Like many people though, I have a number of peculiarities. One of these is my attachment to my daughter's stuffed tiger.
About six years ago we visited a large mall during the Christmas season. This mall was beautifully done up for the holiday with tinsel and blinking colored lights everywhere, a skinny, cotton-bearded Santa seated at a Santa Station, and a couple of curvy, teenage female elves as assistants. There was a general feeling of goodwill everywhere. All in all, like most holidays, it was just a good time to be alive. I ambled behind Ann and Mary, hands in pockets, whistling Holly Jolly Christmas (my favorite) and stopped suddenly in front of a store window. I peered into the store. Hmm. Build-A-Bear, Inc.
This mall had a Build-A-Bear shop in it, and that's really where this story starts. Build-A-Bear is a children's store where kids can go in, select a stuffed animal they'd like to have, and actually make it themselves. I stood in front of the gaily-decorated window looking at the display of stuffed animals to be had. My daughter Mary was about five at the time, and I thought this would be a great experience for her.
"Hey Ann, come back for a second." They were standing in front of a fudge shop admiring the chocolate goodies displayed in the window. "Take a look at this" I watched Mary's eyes get big as she examined the stuffed toys in the window. "Honey, do you want to go inside and look around?" She nodded, never taking her eyes off the window display.
We walked into the store where a helpful young clerk explained how the process worked. There were a couple of dozen animals to choose from -- lions, tigers, bears, giraffes -- you name it. The child took an empty animal skin to a machine and filled it with stuffing, then to an air bath where it was bathed and dressed, then to a computer station where it was given a birth certificate and a miniature cardboard house.
Mary deliberated carefully as she went from one empty animal skin to another stroking and holding them. She finally settled on a cream-colored tiger with light orange stripes and shiny black-button eyes. We walked to the stuffing machine where she filled her tiger, then to the air machine for its first bath. We bought her (there was no doubt in Mary's mind that this was a little girl tiger) a pink dress, pink shoes with little pink shoelaces and hair-bows. Mary sat at a computer screen and filled out all the pertinent information -- birthday, parent's name (Mary) and the baby's name -- Fluffy. When Mary walked out with Fluffy clutched to her chest, I knew we had something different here.
From the beginning, Fluffy was special. Mary had a room full of stuffed toys, but Fluffy was the beloved one. During the day while Mary was away at school, Fluffy sat solemnly on Mary's pillow waiting for her to return. At tea parties, Fluffy had the seat of honor formerly reserved for me. At night, Fluffy was the one toy she chose to sleep with. Whenever Mary spent the night away from home, Fluffy traveled with her. Two trips to Jekyll Island, three to Atlanta, one to the mountains, one to New Orleans, numerous overnighters at friends houses -- Fluffy became a well-traveled little creature indeed.
Life for Fluffy was not without its hazards. Our crazy old tom-cat, Piss-Head (everyone else calls him Boy-Kittie, I call him Piss-Head) had some strange attraction to Fluffy, and twice peed all over her. Who knows why he did it? Maybe with Mary's scent all over her, Piss-Head peed on Fluffy to mark Mary as his. Then again, I've always been convinced that he is plain nuts and did it just for the hell of it.
One day Mary's pet dachshund Daisy got hold of Fluffy and nearly chewed her nose off. Mary cried like a baby over that incident, and even though I assured her that Fluffy's nose would not fall off, I was a little worried. There was no way to glue or sew it, so we've had to trust in divine providence that it would stay attached, which it has so far.
In spite of such hazards, Fluffy survives, and today, six years later, Mary still loves the little tiger. She sleeps with her every night, although lately she's left Fluffy home with us when she has a sleep-over. Mary always gives Fluffy to me with the stern directive to "sleep with her and don't let her get lonely." This is a sign that my little girl is growing up -- and rapidly at that. On the nights Mary is gone I sleep with Fluffy tucked under one arm, and the presence of the stuffed tiger is comforting somehow. Fluffy smells like my daughter -- that clean, fresh little-girl-just-out-of-the-shower scent, a smell of soap and raspberry shampoo and freshly-washed-girl skin.
One day soon Fluffy will probably be consigned to a shelf somewhere, a sure sign that my little girl is becoming a big girl. For the moment, however, Fluffy is a boon companion to my daughter, and on those nights when Mary is away, Fluffy is a warm, cuddly little presence in my bed that reminds me my baby girl hasn't quite grown up yet.