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