jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

The Big, Stupid Stuffed Panda

My seven-year-old daughter wants a stupid, stuffed panda for Christmas.

Not just a stupid, stuffed panda, but a big, stupid stuffed panda, big enough to be bigger than her, for her to gesture over her head when describing what she wants.

kid's writing

Stuffed panda
Five-year-old’s Christmas list
Christmas 2015

Her sister also wants one. So that’s two big stuffed pandas. And no, we’ve never been to China. Or to a zoo for that matter. We have next to no experience with pandas. There might be a panda in a random photo bingo game we have. Maybe we have a panda Beanie Baby somewhere in the house. Otherwise, no panda.

And it’s a gift request that makes me itch. A panda?! A stuffed panda?

Wouldn’t you rather dress something up, I think. Or wouldn’t you rather solve something? Paint something? I mean, I’d rather get a new bike (she also wants one of those, which I’m looking into) or a lacrosse stick (also that.)

But a stuffed panda that will sit on their rumpled sheets and bedspreads and collect dust and dander and then be dumped into a donation bin where some well-meaning do-gooder entrepreneur shreds fabrics and attempts to recycle some tiny part of the crap we needlessly manufacture, like old sneakers and pillows and, well, stuffed pandas. Sigh.

And as she was telling my husband about the panda at dinner tonight, and as her five-year-old sister piped in about the stuffed panda she wants, too, and then her seven-year-old brother piped in about the huge stuffed monkey he wants (and we have more of a history with monkeys, but still… stuffed garbage), I looked across the table at my husband’s face, and his eyes asked my eyes, “Where do they get these stupid ideas?!”

old christmas photo

Please note the huge Mickey
Christmas 1974

Then I had a vision. Two visions actually. One of a huge Mickey Mouse. The other of a gigantic teddy bear. And by gigantic, I mean about four feet tall. And by huge I mean also about four feet tall. Because I had both growing up. The one was a treasure I dragged around with me forever, that uncomfortably stiff Mickey Mouse with the bean bag filling and the weird felt gloves and the deliciously soft ears. The other was a bear that I saved up $20 cash money to buy. It was a zipped up teddy bear body with a blown up interior, and so it always sort of smelled like a swimming pool float. But I’d sit on it sometimes, cuddle into it and read. Like my daughter does.

I remember standing at the checkout counter at our local Clover Store, and the cashier pointing to the teddy bear hanging from the ceiling that they had to unhook and bring down to hand me. It already smelled like dust but still felt magical. It felt larger than life. Literally. I had dreamed about that teddy bear and that Mickey Mouse, and now they were mine.

I met my husband’s asking eyes across the dinner table with a guilty look. How had I forgotten this illustrious past life of mine? (Like I always do.)

After all the stuffed panda hatred I’ve been harboring all month, the attempts at trying to talk my daughter out of this big, stupid, wasteful, space-hogging thing, I remembered that I had been that very same seven-year-old.

She catches me like that more and more these days. With these moments of awkward seven-year-old desire, or pride, or frustration.

And it creeps under my skin and hits a nerve. And it is only if I’m sitting very still and listening very hard that I eventually get the whole picture.

A little bit, she is me. And a little bit, vice versa. And she will learn someday that a bike is more useful than a stuffed panda, and a lacrosse stick will bring you decades of joy.

But for now, she will likely curl up with a stuffed panda on December 25th, whether we get it, or Santa does (he was the one who brought me the Mickey Mouse, after all) or a loving, doting Auntie or Uncle who will fold to the un-bear-able panda pressure.

And she will read her books sprawled across his white belly, and she will dream her dreams of who knows what, and for a moment, she will feel perfectly satisfied with this small part of her plush-ly stuffed universe that she wished into existence all on her own.

two girls

Because you could deny these faces?!
December 2015

19 comments on “The Big, Stupid Stuffed Panda

  1. dutchmomamericandad
    December 17, 2015

    Glad it is not just us. Sometimes you just simply forget it is the ‘simple’ things. And these scenarios also remind us of what our parents had to go through haha. And hey atleast its a Panda and Monkey there is scarier out there haha

    • jgroeber
      January 2, 2016

      Right? At least it’s not a Red Ryder BB gun. Sigh. And yes, all three got some seriously large stuffed animals they drag all around the house.

  2. Burns the Fire
    December 17, 2015

    I can smell the dust NOW. And that’s all we really have.

    Happy holidays, my dear bloggy friend! Here’s to meet you in the flesh this year. xo

    • jgroeber
      January 2, 2016

      YES to meeting up in 2016 face to face (or panda to monkey.) Cheers!

  3. Matt
    December 17, 2015

    I like to play with my 7-year-old. That’s true.

    But what’s not true is: I ALWAYS like to play with my 7-year-old.

    Sometimes, he wants to play things that require more energy than I feel at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. Sometimes, he wants to play DURING the show or movie we agreed to watch together. Sometimes, he wants to play something that just doesn’t sound fun (to me).

    And here you are with this nice (big) stuffed panda story to give me a nudging reminder that I was the very same kid using the very same techniques to get play time with the only people I had around (adults).

    You might not have intended this to be that. But it’s totally that. A friendly little nudge to practice empathy with a 7-year-old boy who can only know what he can. And to do so joyfully because I have a son who wants me to be part of his world.

    Thank you.

    • jgroeber
      January 2, 2016

      Ah, you’ve given me so much more credit than I deserve… And I will gladly take it and tuck it away for the days I think I’m a fairly lousy writer and a lousier mother.
      (And may I recommend some games that are actually fun to play with seven-year-old sons? Qwerkel and Qwixx (please excuse the continual misuse of the letter ‘Q’, by the qway.)) 😉

  4. lafriday
    December 17, 2015

    I am so glad this ended with resigned capitulation. I was ready to buy a panda myself. My then nine-year-old daughter asked for an American Girl “Kit” doll one Christmas. She already owned Samantha and Molly and NO ONE needs THREE American Girl dolls. But that’s all she really wanted. So, my mother went in with me and we bought the Kit “starter” kit (which was really an indulgence). It was worth every penny for the look of delighted surprise on her face (I kept telling her that she didn’t “need” another AG doll). The heart wants what the heart wants. Enjoy your zoo next week. Merry Christmas!

    • jgroeber
      January 2, 2016

      Oh, how I love that. Yes, the heart wants what the heart wants. And they literally jumped for joy when their huge stuffed things were opened and right now, in the midst of a road trip, they are taking up more room in the backseats of my car than my actual children.
      As for AGD, as DutchMomAmericanDad commented, there are way worse things lurking just beyond in their tweens. Ha!

  5. Dawn Quyle Landau
    December 17, 2015

    Oh darlin’… the webs we weave! I have a GIANT stuffed bear, that I begged for… when I was WAY too old to want it, and now… it’s sitting in my storage bin, after spending years on my daughter, and then my youngest son’s beds. * Sigh* But how I loved that bear. Just sayin’. Give in to the dark side dear friend. xox

    • jgroeber
      January 2, 2016

      If only you could see all the bears my father surrounded himself with during the last years of his life. Suffices to say, we buried him with two and every couple years my mother mails me a huge box of dusty cat-dandered bears. He talked to them, and I think they answered him back. xo

      • Dawn Quyle Landau
        January 3, 2016

        What a lovely link to bears! No wonder your kids feel a connection. xox

  6. Jesska
    December 17, 2015

    I think there are worse things to want than a panda that can double up as a beanbag. One of the first things I bought myself when I finally got my first unshared flat was a [huge] beanbag… Hours of great reading to be had from a beanbag, and presumably from a panda too 🙂

    • jgroeber
      January 2, 2016

      So true! And they cuddle up with them every night.
      (Don’t even get me started on our Yogibo, an enormous four-person beanbag. It’s so gross… and so awesome.)

  7. kellylmckenzie
    December 18, 2015

    Photos in January, please.

    • jgroeber
      January 2, 2016

      Ha! May have to snap one just for you. 😉

  8. Jennifer Berney
    December 19, 2015

    For Christmas I want a new house that has space for all of my son’s Legos. Maybe you just need to build new room for the panda.

    • jgroeber
      January 2, 2016

      We have a dedicated closet for the Legos, thank you very much. Ha! Perhaps the kids can sleep on the floor while the Beanie Babies and pandas and teddy bears take over their beds.

  9. drawandshoot
    December 21, 2015

    Who could deny those faces, really.
    This is all so relatable, Jen!

    • jgroeber
      January 4, 2016

      Ha! And yes, they could not be denied. We are currently housing two large pandas and a large monkey. Sigh.

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