Part 1 of a story about a deep love for stuffed animals that has bloomed into something bigger.
Stuffed animals are very often our first friends. These cuddly soft creations are perfect for children: they embody innocence and comfort, a warm way to protect the heart from the cold, hard world outside.
Adults love them too: In the UK, 51% of men and 39% of women still have their childhood stuffed animals. 28% of men sleep with them every night.
Whether you call them stuffed animals, soft toys, or plushies: we love and cherish them in a unique way.
I have a deeply personal story about stuffed animals that I’ve been wanting to write for decades, and it begins here…
My best friend Wuggie is a gray teddy bear who has been by my side since the moment I was born. I’ve hugged Wuggie nearly every day of my 34 years of life. She has kept me company when I was sad, or when I had no other friends on the playground at school. She listens, she comforts me, she understands me.
A family legacy
I inherited my love for stuffed animals from my mother: she has been obsessed with stuffed animals since she was a 4 year old girl growing up in San Francisco. Her family was dirt poor, with very little food to eat: most nights, dinner was a bowl of plain rice. The only toy she had was an orange teddy bear - her most prized possession. She loved it so much that she promised herself that, when she grew up, she would have as many stuffed animals as she wanted.
And my mother really made her childhood wish come true: She has collected many stuffed animals in her adulthood, and spread a deep passion for stuffed animals to my whole family.
Since I could remember, my sister, brother, cousins, aunts, and uncles were constantly surrounded by stuffed animals. And my father used to sew and repair stuffed animal puppets at a puppet shop when he was younger. If we had a family crest, stuffed animals would be on it.
What do stuffed animals symbolize?
Stuffed animals teach compassion, how to love, how to be gentle with one another. Because stuffed animals are often gifted to us by people we love, they are the ultimate symbol of love. Stuffed animals are naturally loving and giving creatures.
Yet there is much more beyond the outer surface of stuffed animals. In my family, stuffed animals are more than toys or friends:they are storytelling mechanisms. They have individual names, personalities, voices, and roles within our imaginary stuffed animal land.
None of my family members were formally trained as storytellers, but we dug really deep into our imaginations to come up with all sorts of story plots and pretend inventions such as imaginary firetrucks and teleportation devices. We didn’t know it then, but we followed some of the same storytelling processes that movie directors use.
When my family and I acted out different stories with the stuffed animals, we also learned moral lessons in compassion and character: How it feels to be bullied, why we should share things with others, what is right or wrong, and how to embrace the differences in others.
Stuffed animals taught me how to be a moral human being.
I couldn’t imagine any invention that was better than stuffed animals: they were so cute, and you could hug them, tell stories with them, and cuddle with them to sleep at night!
A big problem
In elementary school, my classmates and I would introduce our stuffed animals to each other — stuffed animals were our first friends. We would play with them all day, getting lost in our imaginary story worlds.
But as the years wore on, my classmates would often grow out of their stuffed animals, eventually moving them to the garage, or donating them. This broke my heart. How could they abandon these soft, cuddly friends they once breathed so much life and imagination into?
Was it that their stuffed animals weren’t cute enough, or that they didn’t have enough features? I was perplexed.
But I was determined to do something about it. I’ve noodled on the problem of kids outgrowing stuffed animals for most of my life.
Starting in 5th grade, I studied the inventory of local toy stores, hoping to one day sell stuffed animals of my own. For months, I noted which styles sold well, and which styles didn’t. I even drew pamphlets and logos for my future business. I decided that, when I was older, I would try to sell cute, high quality stuffed animals that kids actually wanted.
I believed that, since stuffed animals are ambassadors of peace and love, this would help solve a lot of the problems in the world.