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On stuffed animals and cell phones

By Shelah Miner

My rising sixth grader, Maren, has a stuffed koala named Kutie that has been her constant companion for many years. When I scroll through my photostream, Kutie looks like a member of the family. There are dozens of selfies with Kutie. There she is on our beach vacation. She pops up in our family Easter picture.

For the last few years, Kutie has gone to elementary school every day, tucked away in Maren’s backpack. She attends Primary every Sunday. Right now she’s taking a nap in Maren’s bag at the dance studio. If it were up to Maren, Kutie would be her best friend forever, looking a little more threadbare and a little more loved each year.

***

“Maren, Kutie cannot go to junior high with you,” my older daughter, a high school junior, says. “You can’t put her in your backpack. You can’t keep her in your locker. Kutie has to stay home or it will be social suicide for you.”

The room is quiet. “I know,” she finally whispers.

***

Maren is skinny and long-legged. She loves to paint her nails and wear lip gloss. This morning, she remembered to brush her hair, and I caught a glimpse of her expertly scrolling through Instagram on her cell phone, and even with Kutie tucked in the crook of her arm, it was to see that she’s poised on the cusp of adolescence.

But she’s not there yet.

***

“Mom, can I call Ellie to come over and play?” she calls out to me.

“Maren, kids in junior high do not play,” her older brother, a senior, says as he passes through the kitchen, “they ‘hang out.'”

Maybe I’m getting hung up in the semantics here, but when Maren and Ellie are holed up in her room for hours rearranging the Barbie dream house, I would call that playing. I’m pretty sure that my older kids would say that now that Maren and Ellie are going to junior high, they shouldn’t even be playing with Barbies any more, even if they love it.

***

“Would anyone notice if I put Kutie in my locker during the day at school?” Maren asks, the two of us alone in the family room. I’m teacher at the very same junior high where she’ll be a student in a few weeks, so I’m quiet for a few minutes, thinking over the question.

My second son, just a grade older than Maren, pipes in from the other room: “If you had a stuffed animal that you carried around ironically, I think that would be fine, or cool, or whatever. But that’s not what Kutie is.”

***

But I’m not so sure. Which vestiges of childhood do we forcibly throw off, and which ones do we allow to burn out on their own? What do you think– is there a place for Kutie at the junior high?

 

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

8 thoughts on “On stuffed animals and cell phones”

  1. I feel you! My daughter is very similar. For her (also in junior high) we got a mini stuffed animal keychain that hangs on her backpack that is the substitute–don't know if that's an option? My sister had a hard time leaving her special blanket behind when she went on her mission 😉

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  2. My daughter is still very young (3.5 yrs old), but I can see a lot of your daughter in her, despite their age difference.

    There is this sweet innocence, that, as a father, is both precious and something that terrifies me. The preciousness is obvious, but the terror doesn't come from her, but from everything around her, especially middle school / junior high. I wasn't the … kindest … in middle school / junior high, and I think we all know how brutal that environment can be, but … I don't want to think about the next 10 years at this point.

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  3. Oh that's a tough call. Do you let her take her precious friend to school and risk all the ridicule, followed by heartache? Or do you sit her down and have a heart to heart and force her to leave her friend home. Either way there will be hurt and growth. I don't know how strong her trust in you is, but this may be a good opportunity to build that trust. Good luck! And God bless you with wisdom and patience.

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  4. Ultimately, it needs to be her choice whether to leave Kutie or take Kutie. Perhaps odd compared to most of the advice solicited, but I would considern suggesting to her to have a heart-to-heart with the Lord in the subject of Kutie's school attendance. Perhaps she can find the comfort she needs through Him, or perhaps Kutie will lead her to find the other people in school who still has a spark of magic in them.

    It amazes me that even in my thirties how hugging my old baby blanklet warms a little corner of my heart even if it has spent the last half.of it's life in storage. My husband has been told to bury me with that worn bit of pink.

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  5. Just because it hasn't been done before, doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be done. It's a teen-hive-mind problem – "they" think it shouldn't be done, even if every singular person wouldn't have a problem with it (and wish they could do it).

    Unless there is legitimate risk of Kutie being damaged/stolen at the high school, I'd suggest Maren's needs (as assessed by Maren) come first. (Kutie being damaged/stolen obviously NOT being what Maren needs or wants!)

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  6. I know that getting along socially can be so problematic. But I hate the idea of feeling the need to change who you are to go along with the crowd. I think if you someone has confidence they can pull off almost anything. It has taken me 40 years to find that confidence but it has brought with it so much freedom and contentment. Some kids naturally have confidence. I think if your daughter is confident then she can do it.

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  7. If the issue was keeping Kutie at all or throwing her away, I'd probably be more compassionate. However, as for taking Kutie to junior high, I'm with Maren's older siblings on this one. Kutie can keep a special place on Maren's bed (or wherever she decides at home), but I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect her to go to school without a stuffed animal.

    I'm not very indulgent with taking toys to school (or to classes at church) or wearing costumes outside of our home. I guess I see more potential problems than benefits, and even with just one year of kindergarten, I've seen so many issues on the bus about toys or Pokemon cards or other things that really have no business being at school. In general, if my kids don't need an item for class or the activity they are going to, it stays at home or in the car. I see no problem with strict limits on what kids can take around, though I think I base the rule around the activity more than the age of my children.

    I think forcing Maren to throw away Kutie or barbies or other vestiges of childhood is a totally different situation than teaching her what is
    age appropriate for certain settings.

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