As children, both my brother and I had a favourite cuddly toy. You know the toy I mean. The one that has to come absolutely everywhere with you, the one that shares your bed and the one you sneak into your bag when you go off to uni and hide under your pillow so that fellow undergrads don’t spot you with it.

My brother’s was “Nijlpaardje” (Little Hippo). He started off looking healthy and plump, but after years of love he ended up being pretty much invisible from sideways on.

Nijlpaardje, looking plump, a long full life still ahead of him

Nijlpaardje, looking plump, a long full life still ahead of him

My comfort object was Mauw. This was a peculiar animal, knitted in bulk by my grandmother and distributed to all her many grandchildren. In some houses the Mauws lived on the shelf, but mine became The Toy and I carried mine around everywhere I went by its long ear. Mauw was originally intended to be a slightly elongated rabbit, but I decided that Mauw was actually a totally unique species. I invented a Mauw country with a Mauw society and drew maps, wrote guide books and published magazines for young Mauws, complete with advertisements for Mauw hair gel.

Mint condition Mauws

Mint condition Mauws

Mauw is quite disgusting now and mostly unravelled. He is spending his final days in a bag in my knitting drawer, waiting to go to the Great Mauw Meadow in the sky where he will be reunited with Baby Mauw, who was tragically lost on the way to the library during a school trip when I was 6.

I even drew portraits of mauw. Such was my devotion.

I even drew portraits of mauw. Such was my devotion.

Now I have children of my own and I can cuddle them and take them everywhere – and it is their turn to have comfort objects. Almost from the moment The Boy could crawl and interact with his cuddly toys, I was eagerly waiting to see which one would become his favourite. He eventually decided on Teddy – not what I was expecting, but it made sense. It was his very first bear, given to him at birth by Gran. On the rare occasion that he wakes up in the night, it is because he can’t find Teddy.

Then my daughter came along and we looked on with interest to see what she would fix on. She seems pretty keen on hugging and carrying around almost anything furry or squishy and has been particularly excited about “wabbits” of late. But there does appear to be one constant companion, the only one she actually asks for early in the morning if it has not come downstairs with her.

It is Pop, her doll.

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Just in case you were impressed with the imaginative name, it isn’t. “Pop” is just Dutch for “doll”.

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Pop being force fed grapes

Pop gets carried around everywhere, pushed around in a buggy, hugged in bed at night and kissed gently on the head in the same way that I kiss The Girl’s. She gets put down for a nap, coerced into drinking juice through a straw and occasionally gets her head lovingly bashed in with a foam fire axe.

The Girl is very protective of Pop (axe attacks aside). The other day Pop was in the car with us and the Girl played Horsey Horsey with her on her knee. I thought this was adorable, and later on at home I took Pop and bounced her on my knee in the same way. The doll got snatched off me and I was told sternly by The Girl: “No. Not mama horsey Pop.” Then she sat down and did it herself.

There is one small issue with Pop. A ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

Pop is not actually hers.

Pop actually belongs to the Boy.

The doll was bought for The Boy by Opa and Oma when his little sister was born, in the hope of encouraging gentle, nurturing feelings in him that he could transfer to his new baby sister.

I have quietly made the shift as Pop became more and more beloved. To begin with I referred to her as “the doll”. Then slowly as her popularity grew, I started to talk about “The Girl’s doll”. The Boy has not objected to this. But there may come a moment when he remembers the doll was originally his – and what will we do then?

I hope I will be just as wise as my mother was about Hippo.

You see, Little Hippo was originally mine. Bought for me in Hamley’s on a holiday to the UK.

I had forgotten about this for years. Then one morning I woke up and suddenly remembered. I remembered the day that the little hippo was bought for me, and that it was actually mine. Aflame with a fire of righteous indignation, I marched up to my little brother and took the toy off him. I can’t remember how old I was, but I was definitely old enough to know better, and my brother definitely not old enough to shrug it off. Hippo himself was already greatly slimmed down through years of devoted cuddling. My little brother cried and cried, and my mother came to see what the fuss was about.

I explained that Hippo was rightfully mine, and I wanted him back.

My mother was quiet for a moment. Then she said: “You’re right. Hippo is actually yours. If you really want him back, then you should have him.” Then she pointedly turned to look at my little brother. He was in floods of desperate tears, inconsolable at the thought of losing his favourite toy for ever. I looked too, and realised that I couldn’t do this. Yes, perhaps Hippo had been bought for me, but he really and truly belonged to my brother. I couldn’t take him away.

So I gave him back.

I still look back on this as my mother’s finest parenting moment. She was strictly fair, but let me discover for myself that sometimes there were more important things in life than what was ‘fair’. It was a very valuable lesson in empathy. Let’s hope that when the moment comes and The Boy demands to have Pop back, I can do the same for him and his sister.

Until then, Pop is enjoying being read to and fussed over and snuggling on the Girl’s lap in much the same way that the Girl and her brother love to cuddle up with me – always welcome visitors now Mauw’s glory days are over.

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15 responses

  1. Prachtig, goed! En herkenbaar, een knuffel die zelfs meegaat naar school en ..uni. Ik denk dat een naam zelden goed genoeg is, vandaar dat de lievelingen eindigen met namen als beer, hondje, pop.
    Groeten van Barbara uit Leiden

    • Een heel goed punt, “echte” namen kunnen gewoon niet precies uitdrukken hoe universeel deze ideale knuffels zijn. Te beperkend.

  2. I love this post! Let’s hope the Boy never remembers Pop is his. My boys were always very good at sharing their toys (because they shared a room) and would often forget what belonged to who. My daughter’s beloved Teddy didn’t come into our lives until she was 4. I bought him as a souvenir for the three of them to share to commemorate their first trip on an aeroplane (he wears a very classy Easyjet Tshirt), but it soon became apparent that he was way more important to my daughter than to the boys.

    • So they accepted that quite calmly? I suppose they were that bit older by then. Funny how the Chosen Toy is often not the one we would have chosen. I’m sure you’d had hopes for other adorable teddies, not one with an EasyJet logo on his belly!

  3. What a lovely post!! Glad they’ve agreed! Made me laugh that Pop initially was his! My girl has a big pink blanket and a monkey toy which she picked out herself at age 1 in a shop. She’s loved him ever since. He’s got a bunny after he got it for Easter. Pretty standard but nonetheless very very loved!!!!!

    • It’s just great to see them pour their love and care on a special toy. Been enjoying reading your blog, btw. 🙂

  4. I loved this post what a wise and quick thinking Mum to help you to learn SUCH a valuable lesson in empathy that you have never forgotten. Those special companions are a great way of playing out all the love and nurture which are experienced daily. Those special silent companions never answer back and always do the right things!! Very satisfying playmates.

    • Very insightful, I suppose that is the appeal of these little friends: they are the perfect playmates who always do as they’re told! (Unlike siblings or mummy or daddy who annoyingly keep having their own ideas on how to play)

  5. This is so lovely – I really love how traditions continue in a family. I had a blanket called a bobo and had it until I was 12 and Grace now has her bobo too 🙂 Goodness knows what would happen if we ever lost it! Thank you for linking to PoCoLo 🙂 x

  6. What a fascinating story Judith, told so well as always. And what an incredibly astute mother you have, I would never have thought on my feet like that. I’m also not so sure that all of mine would have returned the toy, so well done you! Loving pics of The Girl with her beloved pop. So cute 🙂

  7. Wow! Your mum is one clever parent, I shall remember that lesson for future parenting issues! I never had a favourite toy or comforter and felt a bit left out when everyone reminisced about theirs, then we had our own kids and L still has Super Doudou that we gave her at her birth (she’s now 7.5). We got excited about what doudou (French comforter) to get C when she was born, and age nearly 20 months she still shows no interest in any of them….obviously takes after her mother!

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