Once upon a time, there was a stuffed bear. It was a very soft bear, with shaggy white fur and a pink nose. It held a pink plush heart with a stiff taffeta ruffle around the edges, and on the heart was embroidered, Hug Me. The bear could never let go of that heart, for the heart was stitched onto its paws.
The bear was clearance-priced, just after Valentine’s Day. A lady bought it for her friend whose elderly father had just died. “You can hug the bear whenever you feel sad,” she said.
Her friend graciously thanked her for the gift, and she did set the bear on her couch for a time. But she didn’t really feel a need to hug a bear. This fine bear should not go unhugged, so she gave it to her two-year-old grandson.
The boy loved the bear. It was so soft and huggable. It lay next to him in bed and listened to the stories. In time, the boy understood that the bear could not hug with its paws attached to that heart. His father carefully cut the stitches and released the bear from begging for a hug, into the freedom of hugging whomever it chose. There were many other animals in the house, and the bear became quite sociable.
The boy grew, and he played crawling games on the preschool playground and tore the knees of all his pants, which were getting too short anyway. His mother transformed pants into shorts. The boy grew, but he was only getting taller and not wider, so he wore some of those shorts for three summers. But the navy-blue sweatpants with an emerald-green stripe down each side came apart at the center seam, creating a tail-hole. The boy put the shorts on the bear, and they became long pants again, for the bear’s legs were now much shorter than the boy’s.
The boy grew, and one day he learned that he would soon have a baby sister. His mother went in excitement to the thrift shop and selected baby-girl clothes. She ended up also buying a shirt in size 2T, for she could not resist its rainbow stripes and soft cotton waffle-knit, although it seemed so ridiculous to buy such a big shirt for someone who was currently the size of an apricot. The mother tucked away the shirt, saving it for later.
Mother and baby would be sleeping in the dining room, so the boy really needed to keep his stuff in his room, not scattered all over downstairs; his parents were really serious this time. And so it came to pass that his father built a loft. It was a fine, sturdy platform of wood, creating three rooms in one: the sleeping loft, the dressing/play room under the loft, and the space by the window with the full-height ceiling. The white bear enjoyed its new lofty residence.
The baby girl discovered that she had an excellent big brother, very generous with sharing the animals and other wonderful things in the house. The baby and the white bear soon met. But the bear was shaggy and squishy and had bead eyes; it knew it might not be entirely trusted around babies, so it kept its distance until the little girl let it know that the time for hugging had come.
The girl grew, and by fifteen months old she was able to wear the rainbow-waffle shirt, though it slipped off her shoulder Flashdance-style and the cuffs dragged through her applesauce. It went to the back of the drawer and was used only when all other shirts had failed, until she grew into it several months later.
The shirt still fit the two-year-old girl. It still fit the three-year-old girl–it must have been stretching. It still fit the four-year-old girl–no, wait, didn’t it have long sleeves? Now they appeared to be three-quarter sleeves. The girl still loved the shirt, especially to wear with the pants that had a different rainbow of stripes.
Her mother watched the colorfully-dressed girl cavort through her life, growing and changing, wearing this shirt chosen for her before she was born, this shirt that someone she might never know had worn before her, this shirt that cost four minutes of her mother’s salary yet brought both of them three years of recurring joy.
The bear played tolerantly with the little girl, even allowing her to pull off its pants and toss them carelessly aside. Much later, the pants were found under the bookcase in a deplorably dusty condition and were discarded.
The boy grew, and he became too tall to walk under the loft. The girl grew, and she could still stay asleep when her parents walked through the dining room, but how long could that possibly last? The family improved the house, creating a bedroom in the basement, and the boy moved into his new room just before his thirteenth birthday.
You might expect that a bear in December would want to move to a cozy basement, as well, but you are forgetting that this white bear is not a wild bear with natural instincts; it is a creature of circumstance. When the bear found that it was to continue living in the loft (actually, that it was returning to the loft after a brief and confusing stay in some sort of heap in another room, while a vacuum cleaner roared terribly in the distance), it was as delighted as the other animals. They lined up around the perimeter, tucked under the bookshelves. The mattress where the boy had slept became a reading and play loft for the girl who had never had a bedroom, who now had three rooms in one: the loft, the dressing/play room under the loft, and the bedroom with the window.
The girl’s fifth birthday passed, and her mother began to pack up the winter clothes, separating those to be worn again next fall from those to be given away. She paused, holding the rainbow-waffle shirt, size 2T. She knew it would be too small for her kindergartner. It was too stretched-out to give to another child. The fabric would not make good hankies.
The mother climbed the ladder and dressed the bear in the shirt. It was an excellent fit for a twelve-year-old bear, with room to grow.