What if her stuffed bear gets lost?
They never told me you were supposed to get an extra – they being The Experienced Mothers, the ones who insisted I needed a Maclaren stroller and made sure I knew about the healing powers of cabbage leaves and Aquaphor. They didn’t mention this extra business until years later, when they heard that my 3-year-old daughter was bringing her teddy bear, Bearie, on a family camping trip from which he might never return.
“You must have a second bear,” the Experienced Mothers then said. “Just in case.” Just in case the first Bearie got dragged through poison ivy or got caught by the current of the Shenandoah River, just in case he was carried off by a real bear, along with the hot dogs and s’mores.
Having a back-up bear had never occurred to me.
“Is there a second Lambie?” I asked one of the moms.
“Another Sparkles?” I asked another.
Bearie was the only one without a double, a doppelganger who spent his life in the closet behind the clean sheets, waiting for the moment when he would be called forward to assume the life of the original, should the original meet an early demise.
“See Magoo?” my friend Alison whispered, nodding her head toward a fish bowl. The blue beta nibbled at a piece of seaweed, then spat it out like a wad of spent chewing tobacco. “That’s Magoo the second.”
“But you didn’t tell me,” I said. “Nobody told me!”
“Oh,” she said. “I thought we had.”
I had to remedy this maternal failing – and quick. Bearie, you see, was no longer pristine. He had a dollop of fire-engine-red paint on his left armpit. When I found Bearie No. 2, I would need to paint his left armpit, too. I would also need to leave him on the floor when the washing machine overflowed and put his face in a bowl of milky cereal one morning.
I started scanning stores for a small, oatmeal-colored bear with a sweet face and black eyes. There wasn’t one. I called my dad who had given Bearie to my daughter as a gift, only to learn he’d been a last-minute purchase at a Cracker Barrel somewhere along I-95.
Lucky for me, my mother-in-law often traveled I-95. A doting grandmother, she stopped every time she saw a Cracker Barrel. Still no Bearie.
My daughter, meanwhile, continued bringing the original Bearie, the only Bearie, to the grocery store, the bagel shop, and to preschool. Then, one October day when I unloaded her backpack, all I found was a paper plate decorated with orange paint and pumpkin seeds.
“Sweetheart,” I said. “Where’s Bearie?”
She shrieked, a long, end-of-the-world shriek. We hurried back to school where we found Bearie perched on a windowsill with that sweet, perpetually lost look on his fuzzy face. We strapped him in and drove home.
But we were going to have to do something to cut our risks. What if it had been a Friday and Bearie was lost to us for a whole weekend? What if another child had decided to take him home for a permanent visit?
“But Bearie has to come to school,” my daughter said. “He misses me.”
“I’m sure he does,” I said. “But maybe he should stay here with your other animals. He could go to school on your bed.”
She looked skeptical.
“We could take his picture,” I said. “And put it in a wallet. I carry your picture in my wallet, so I can see you when you’re not with me.”
My daughter had been through my wallet a thousand times, but we opened it up so she could see the pictures again: a shot of her on the day she got new glasses, a picture of her brother packed in a suitcase, a photo of the two of them wearing underwear and capes.
“Okay,” she said. “We can take a picture.”
We took two. One close-up of Bearie alone. The other of Bearie in my daughter’s arms. In that one, she is deadly serious. “This is how you hold him,” she explained.
I put the photos in an old wallet and handed it to her. One of our problems was solved. But if Bearie was safe during school hours, he was still at risk when he attended family gatherings, went hiking, or shopped for peanut butter.
I studied Bearie’s label, which was almost too worn to read: AnimalAdventure. The Internet led me to Hopkins, Minnesota. (As my daughter is the only one who’s ever heard Bearie speak, I’d never picked up on his Midwestern accent.) I dialed the company and spoke to a nice woman named Emily.
“Help,” I said.
I explained the situation and sent her an e-mail with Bearie’s picture. The next day, I got an e-mail back.
“I found your bear,” she said. “Almost.”
The bear Emily found looked like the real Bearie, only he was a little smaller and his nose was black instead of brown.
I could pull out the stitching and redo the nose, I reasoned, but I wouldn’t be able to stretch six inches. My daughter would know.
“Call us back in a few months,” Emily offered. “Maybe we’ll make him again.”
I thanked her and told her I would. Meanwhile, every time I passed a toy store, I checked for a bearie – just in case.
Then, in the winter, my father-in-law died suddenly of a heart attack. My mother-in-law called from the hospital, barely believing he was gone.
Bearie came with us to the funeral home, shepherding my daughter through her first exposure to death.
The next time my mother-in-law came to visit, she was, of course, alone. The message seemed clear: there was not a second Grandpa Mike, stowed behind the sheets.
A few months after the funeral, I was shopping for tablecloths when I came across a bear that looked almost like Bearie. This one was about the same size with the same close-set eyes, oatmeal-colored fur and gingham ribbon around his neck. His nose was black instead of brown, but I remembered I could give him a nose job.
I lifted him off the shelf and held him a minute. He smelled of flowers and tea. I squeezed him. And then?
I put him back.
I arranged him sitting upright, with his paw propped up in a wave, so some other little girl would be sure to notice him. There was only one Bearie and, for today at least, I knew where he was: home, waiting patiently for 8 o’clock when my daughter would come to bed.