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Why having a stuffed toy is like having an additional family member

He was exactly the dog we needed at the time. Sandy-colored fur, soft and full of cotton. I’ll never forget the night I grabbed him off of the pile of stuffed animals we’d accumulated over the last month of newly parenting and threw him in Shane’s bassinet. It had been a trying night that had followed an equally horrific day. This was nothing new in those early days. Any parent who has dealt with colic knows what I’m talking about. I couldn’t console Shane anymore, I was losing my battle with sanity and I needed to get at least an hour nap. Please take care of him, I silently prayed to this stuffed dog.

Now I would love to say that Dog was the cure all to colic, or even that he made him stop crying that evening. Or even that I got in a nap. But no, none of that happened. I still haven’t taken that nap. But something else magical happened that day, something I’m sure has happened to many of you. A lovey was born. Shane grasped onto that plush toy with his sweaty little fist and he hasn’t let go ever since.  And if you know what a lovey is you know they become your second child. Vacations, grocery store trips, playgrounds, doctor’s visits, birthday parties. We don’t eat, sleep or bathe without Dog (he’s usually looking on from the toilet or sink to make sure I’m working that washcloth correctly).

When I say we don’t sleep without Dog, I mean it. NO one sleeps if we don’t have Dog. For whatever reason that may be – and unfortunately, that includes if he’s in the laundry. Dog has been thrown up on more times than a frat house toilet seat. One night, when Dog became victim of projectile vomiting, I became an ER doctor. I was yelling orders to no one in particular. “Get him to the washer! Put it on quick wash! Make sure nothing else is in the dryer when you put him in, he won’t dry as quickly! Hurry up, man! Damnit, I will NOT lose him!” My husband and I have it down to a science. 32 minutes. That’s exactly how long it takes for Dog to go through the quick wash cycle and dry just enough for us to be satisfied enough to give it back to Shane.

This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

There’ve been plenty of scares due to the fact that Dog never had a GPS tracker on him. Hand in hand, walking back to the car from the mall or grocery store, and suddenly like a bloodhound, my nose goes into the air. Something’s wrong! I look down at Shane’s other empty hand, the one not holding mine. Empty?! “Baby, where’s Dog?” (Shane looks around) “I don’t know!” and then….the bottom lip starts quivering. SH-T. My panic goes from fear to annoyance “Well, you just had him! This is why we can’t bring him shopping anymore!” and immediately, I feel guilty because I know Shane’s feeling just as panicked as I am. So, winging a silent prayer that the ice cream or popsicles don’t melt and that the meat I have doesn’t go bad enough to give my husband e-coli, I throw the bags in the car, leaving Shane there too, and I head back into the store on a search and rescue mission. Dog has been paged at Shop Rite in my home town 3 times. 3. That’s 3 times an amused-looking customer service person has gotten on the microphone and asked that the shoppers please keep an eye out for a stuffed dog. Needless to say all 3 times he was recovered. And that was just the grocery store; we’ve retraced our steps countless times from countless places to find Dog. By the grace of God, he always shows up.

Now, if you couldn’t tell by this point in the story, the stuffed dog is simply named “Dog”. I don’t remember how or when he was christened with this name, but it was easy for Shane and we just sort of went with it. And, after a few months of realizing that Dog was a permanent fixture in Shane’s life, we realized we needed a plan B. We knew there would be a time that, alas, we would not be able to track down Dog at Shop Rite or get the puke off in time, and wanted to be prepared. OH, I was proud of myself. I found out where Dog came from and ordered his twin brother. Tada! Decoy Dog is born. I tucked Decoy away in a drawer and decided that the next time Dog took a little washer spa day, I would simply make the switch; Shane never to be the wiser.

Selection Of Childrens Toy Teddies On FloorProbably about a month after Decoy arrived to the house and began his hibernation in the drawer we never open, he was needed for his big debut. Dog had taken a bath in a bowl of cheerios and needed to get cleaned up. I decided that now was as good a time as ever to wash him. Typically, I had waited until the evening when Shane was asleep to creep Grinch style into his room and steal Dog for the washer, but I figured since I’d been “oh so clever” as to purchase Decoy, I’d give him a test run. I pulled the old switcheroo and by the time I’d gotten back up from the washing room, Shane had easily figured out the difference. “Doh?” as he called him back then. “Yes, Dog!” I said cheerfully. I’m not buying this lady. “Doh?” he looked down at the imposter. “Say hi Doggie! That’s your Doggie! Can you say hi?” Can you say bullsh-t, Mom? “Doh?” By now, his lip was quivering and he’d thrown Decoy onto the kitchen floor. Crap balls, I’d been caught.   I raced down to the washer, but it was too late. Dog was covered in soap and soaked with water. Sigh. What’s 32 minutes of screaming anyway?

Authors note: 4 years after his debut, Decoy is doing well. Although he never made it big, he did earn the name “Decoy” and now has a spot on Shane’s bed with the rest of his stuffed animals. He went through a slight depression after his initial rejection, but after going through a 12 Step program and finding the light at the end of the tunnel, he’s now content with his spot as a C-Rated toy.

 This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

When Shane started school, my biggest fear was explaining to him that Dog simply couldn’t come. I’d mentally prepared myself for the meltdowns, the tantrums, the refusing to go in without Dog. I had nightmarish visions of Dog sitting in law school next to Shane, glasses down to his nose, as the years have affected his eyesight, soaking up the second tuition they made me pay for him. But I didn’t have that much to worry about. Shane (most days) was ok with letting Dog drive in the car with me to drop him off, giving him and I a kiss goodbye, and running into class with his other friends, sans Dog. Some days, I’d tearfully look at the empty car seat, with Dog haphazardly lying next to it – a forgotten best friend. These were the days I knew my baby; that screaming tomato in the bassinet that night, was turning into a boy. A boy who sometimes lay Dog down a little too long for my liking, so he could play with his legos. A boy who asked to leave Dog home for the first time a few weeks ago, because he said he didn’t want to accidentally leave him at the park. A boy who would one day be a man and wouldn’t need Dog, and when that time came I knew for sure he wouldn’t need me.

baby-623417Shane is a boy now. A wonderful, crazy, curious little boy, who more times than not has Dog by his side. Dog will forever represent the scary years when I was a new Mom, overwhelmed by love and fear of this little thing I created and knew nothing about. That night I winged a prayer into the bassinet that Dog would take care of him, I was only asking for sleep that night. I didn’t know that someone was listening and Dog really would take care of Shane in some strange form or another. He’s been a best friend, a protector, a confidant. He’s been there when I haven’t. When I had to go back to work as a new mom, Dog was right there. When I’ve taken the rare but needed Saturday day trip with a girlfriend, Dog was right there. When I couldn’t come back into the surgical room for Shane’s dental work and he was put under, Dog was right there. Yes, that night over the bassinet, someone was listening.

I know the times Shane wants to leave Dog home will come more and more often. Maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not even within the next year, but Dog will end up another toy on his bed. That’s hard to imagine, being as he’s still rarely without him. But let’s face it….Dog won’t be the best man. There will come a day. I just hope it’s not tomorrow.

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Until that time comes, we found another Dog for Shane. He’s exactly the dog we needed right now. Sandy-colored fur, soft and full of life. He’s an 8 year-old rescue named Sammie, who lights up our life. It’s Shane’s first pet and new best friend. I watch Shane’s eyes light up as he and Sammie run back and forth in the yard together, big smiles on both their faces. This is the transition time for me – I am watching life happen and it’s happening too fast. My son is no longer a baby, he’s a boy. And every boy needs a Dog.

And while he’s running with his new dog, Dog is in tow. And I honestly think I see him smiling.

Erin Bornmann
Erin works for a medical alarm company and lives in New Jersey with her crazy 4 year-old son and husband. At 33, she's still deciding what she wants to be when she grows up.  She can be found at The Stepford Wives' Guide to Falling From Grace, and keeps her sanity through humor.
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