It was o’ dark thirty. I was asleep. Or I would’ve been if I hadn’t felt a presence. As I turned over, my face bumped into something soft. I opened my eyes. Two big white eyes stared back at me. Big black nose. 1 red bow.
“Hi Minnie.” I muttered.
“Mommy,” said a voice behind Minnie, “I have a problem”
“It’s 4am,” I mumbled, “Go back to bed.”
“But mommy, I… have… a… problem.”
I pulled myself awake, “What’s wrong, love?”
“Mommy, Minnie’s not talking to me. I tried talking to her, but she’s not talking back.”
I sighed a big, tired mom-sigh. “Well, kiddo, I think Minnie isn’t talking because she’s sleeping, and you should be too. Go back to bed and Minnie will talk to you when she wakes up.”
As the two of them headed back to bed, I thought to myself: so …DOES Minnie talk to her when she’s awake?”
Of course, my rational brain knows Minnie does not talk, but my kid heart knows just as fully that she certainly does. It’s not hard for the imaginative parts of my brain to believe that Minnie and Pete (my daughter and son’s favorite stuffies) come alive when I’m not around. They did in Pixar’s Toy Story, in Jim Henson’s The Christmas Toy, in Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit, and in A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Those were real, right? (Don’t you dare tell me they weren’t). So why not the Jaremko’s Minnie the Mouse and Pete the Cat? So many stories exist about favorite stuffed friends coming to life because these “toys” are more than “child’s play things.” They have a special power that is beyond reason and explanation. It’s simply this: Our children see them as real and so they are.
Special stuffed friends (or stuffies as we call them) are our children’s first friends. They were, in fact, our first friends. They are our protectors. Our comforters. Our adventure partners. Our snugglers. Our secret keepers. Our bestest of friends.
When I was a little girl, my best stuffy friend was a Cabbage Patch Kid named Martina Faye (classic 80’s kid, here). When I was 5, I asked for a baby Cabbage Patch for Christmas. Martina arrived under the tree and we were forever inseparable. My brother’s best stuffy friend was a teddy bear named Simon. (No relation to my son, who is named after the disciple). My brother was very young (1ish), when he latched onto the bear, who he called “my bear.” “My bear” had been given to me as a baby, but seeing his love, I gave the bear to him. From then on, he and Simon (the bear) were forever inseparable. My husband had many favorite stuffy friends during his childhood: Alf (another classic 80’s kid), G.I. Joe, Little Green Army Men, and various sock monkeys.
I am intrigued by how children choose their favorite stuffy. For some, the attachment is made by choice. For some, the attachment is made by being drawn toward one another. For some, the attachments change as he/she grows and finds new interests. I cannot say whether Minnie Mouse and Pete the Cat will be my children’s forever friends, but I can say that they were both drawn to their stuffies. When they found Minnie and Pete, they had eyes for no one else. At 4 years old and 18 months old, Susannah and Minnie, Simon and Pete are inseparable.
Minnie: A Mouse Story
We have many (and I mean too many) stuffed Minnie Mouses in this house, but Susannah is only interested in 1 – her Minnie with the red bow, polka dot dress, and well-loved dirty face. According to Susannah, she and Minnie were born together. One day not long after her brother was born, Susannah pointed to the marks on my belly and asked what they were. I said, “These are stretch marks from giving birth to two large babies.” She asked, “So me and Simon were in your belly?” “Yes,” I confirmed. After thinking about it for a minute, she confidently proclaimed: “Mommy, Minnie and me were in your belly together and then you pushed us out!”
Like many great legends, the origin stories of Minnie the Mouse are great and varied.
Susannah may believe that she and Minnie were born as twins. However, I have another truth, because I can tell you right now: I did not birth a mouse. BUT Minnie was mine before she was Susannah’s. I have had Minnie since my college days. About 20 years ago, I was walking through a mall in Ohio, when a friend and I passed a Disney Store. Seeing a large display of Minnie stuffies, I stopped, picked one up, hugged her, and said, “Oh my goodness! A big Minnie!” Then I put her down, feeling a bit foolish. My friend, seeing my joy, picked her back up and bought her for me. Since then, Minnie has since sat on many beds and shelves, mostly ignored … waiting to be loved. She sat on my bed in college. A shelf in seminary. A guest bed in Texas. A guest bed in New Jersey.
Then one fated night in January 2019, a 20-month-old Susannah wandered into the guest room before bedtime. I was at the church in a meeting when my husband texted: “So…she took that Minnie of yours from the guest room into her bed. She’s asleep snuggling it. Is that okay?” I texted back: “Sure, why not?” That night, their bond was sealed: Minnie hearts Susannah forever.
Pete: A Cat Story
We have one other Pete the Cat stuffy in this house, but Simon is only interested in 1 – his “Beat” with the blue and white striped pajamas and the red slippers. PJ Pete came into our lives this past Christmas, but Simon’s love for Pete the Cat began with a book. For Halloween, Susannah received Pete the Cat and the Five Little Pumpkins from her GM. Simon might not have been gifted the book, but he was sure drawn to it. He asked to read it over and over and over and over and over and over again. After a while, we finally convinced him to read other Pete the Cat books – he devoured those also. (Read more about Simon’s love for Pete the Cate: I Love my White Shoes here). One day, Simon found his sister’s Pete the Cat in the stuffy bin. He hugged him and played with him for a bit but went back to the books. That is, until Christmas morning 2020. For under the tree was 1 year old Simon’s very own Pete the Cat stuffy. He opened the box and fell in love at first Pete. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
Our Friend Stories
Simon is not interested in that other “Shoes Pete” – that is not his best friend. Susannah is not interested in those other Minnie stuffies – those are not her best friend. Minnie and Pete are special above the rest. They are real. In a way, they feel real to me too. Kyle and I like to joke that we are Jaremko, party of 6: Mommy, Daddy, Susannah, Simon, Minnie, and Pete. The two stuffy members of our family are very important and very real to us – because they are our children’s most special, most beloved friends.
I wonder what feels that “real” to us as adults. Where do we find that most special, most beloved friend? This difficult past year (years? how long has it been anyway?) has really made us adults in need of some good stuffy-type love: comforters, protectors, snugglers, adventurers, listeners. Living in very close proximity to some and much too far away from others, we’ve seen our relationships be stretched in ways that we never thought possible before the COVID-19 crisis. In some ways, it’s allowed us to see the ways that we form attachments to each other (whether with family, friends, co-workers, church family, etc). It’s given light to the relationships that help us weather the storms.
In many ways, our relationships are comparable to those first stuffy friends we make as very small children. Some are friends we choose. Some are friends we are drawn to. Some are friends who walk with us for a season. Some are friends who get lost along the way. Some are friends who break, never to be repaired. Some are friends who are lifelong support systems.
In truth, we have relationships in all these spaces – those who listen to us, those who cry with us, those who laugh with us, those who keep us safe, those who adventure with us, those who hug us tight, those who weather the storm with us, those who know us better than we know ourselves. Proverbs tells us, “while oil and incense make the heart glad, the sweetness of a friend is better than one’s own counsel” (27:9). It doesn’t get more “real” than the love and counsel of a dear, dear friend.
In some ways, our first stuffy friends prepare us for our real-life human friends. In other ways, our real-life human friends mean we inevitably leave behind those first best friends made of cloth and fuzz.
But perhaps … they too will find new life. Recently, my children discovered Martina Faye and took her down from her place on a shelf. Simon hugged her gently and then, much to my horror, threw her on the floor. Susannah, though, played baby with her, rocking her, changing her diaper, pushing her in the stroller, and tucking her into her own bed alongside Minnie. That night when I went in to kiss her goodnight, I found Martina in Susannah’s arms. I can’t be quite sure, but I believe I saw Martina’s arms move just slightly, hugging my daughter back.