Items worth keeping - Old Teddy
I've written previously about the importance of place and memory for our adopted son.
I thought I should also share some of our story around toys as well. When our son first came to live with us he brought with him a small range of toys. Some, in fact most, had been provided by his foster carers, including his first bicycle which had been bought by his second foster family as his main Christmas present while he had been in their care.
There were some toys that had transferred with him from his birth parents, through foster care and to our home. These were largely identifiable by their battered appearance.
Suffice it to say they were a sad bunch and they carried with them a mixture of emotions and memories for our little boy.
Perhaps the saddest of the toys is the one he prizes the most. I use the present tense because it is still with us and it retains a central and important position in his affections.
It's a moth-eaten teddy bear. The one toy he would, in the early days, turn to in moments of distress and uncertainty, clinging to it for comfort.
Our son could, and still can, recount the story of getting the teddy. He can remember longing for a teddy like it, as he watched it in the window of the toy shop outside of which he was left in his pushchair while his birth parents were in a neighbouring establishment.
On a day when the family had, unusually, some surplus money they bought him one of the teddy's in the shop's Sale. Preprogrammed with an American accented voice that repeated phrases when you pushed it's tummy, the teddy arrived with our son very dirty and very battered.
That's the way it has stayed, a testament to his past. I've been frightened to wash it in case I damaged the voice box providing the phrases.
Why is the voice so important?
When we first met our child (I've blogged about that here) and subsequently during our week of transition as we progressively took over his care, (read about that here and here) he repeated phrases to us. The phrases seemed out of place as they expressed a misplaced degree of intimacy at the time.
When he came to the door to meet us he said "you're my best friend". He'd cuddle in and say "give me a hug" when we were sitting next to one another, and when we tucked him into bed he would tell us "I Looove you."
Each time these words seemed insincere, almost learnt. We assumed he had learned to say these phrases to do all he could to endear himself to those around him.
It was therefore both shocking and with profound sadness that I realised, within the first week of his living with us, that the phrases he used were exactly the same as those repeated by the teddy.
Over time we have been able to question him about 'Old Teddy', as the soft toy came to be known. Our son has been able to elucidate quite clearly how this teddy bear was, for him, the only source of comfort and affection through much of the period he can remember being with his birth parents and also his first foster carer.
When we reached the first anniversary of our son coming to live with us we bought him a teddy. Fitted with the same voice box, it became known as 'New Teddy'. He immediately took it to bed with him and it has replaced Old Teddy as the toy to which he turns for comfort.
Still, Old Teddy retains a special place in his affections, and pride of place amongst his, now very large, collection of soft toys. The voice box is finally dying and I am torn as to whether we should now wash Old Teddy or not. To do so will undoubtedly change the rather sad, but atmospheric nature of a toy that carries so many memories.
A postscript to this story is that when our son wanted to go and talk to his class at school to tell his story of being adopted, he took both Old Teddy and New Teddy with him. Using them as a metaphor for his experience of adoption, he spoke bravely about his journey to his new family.
So many of our son's toys were damaged when he arrived.
Amongst these was a book, one of the type that has an audio element to it, with buttons alongside the pages to provide sounds to augment the story. The story was a Disney one, our son knew it pretty much off by heart.
The books' pages were torn and the sound element no longer worked. Reading it to him was heart-breaking. It simply wasn't possible to give him the experience he should have from the book.
We tried to replace the book, but were never able to find the exact replacement.
The toys our son brought with him were contained within a toy-box. Battered and broken, the box stayed with him throughout his time in foster care,
In common with the story of Old Teddy, our son had very clear memories of how and when the box was broken. He repeated the story with both sadness and fear, remembering the anger and violence of the moment with his birth parents.
We kept both of these items for the first eighteen months after our little boy joined our family. In the middle of his second year with us we had some work done to the house. The work necessitated a skip be parked on our drive for a few days.
Asking what the skip was for, I explained it was for items we no longer needed and would be throwing away as the work to our home was completed. "I want to put some things in the skip," our son said.
The following evening both J and I helped him put those of his old toys he wanted to throw away into his toy box. Amongst these was the broken disney audio book. With him we took the box out to the drive, where the skip was situated.
"Are you sure?" I asked our little boy.
"Yes, that's my old life, I have a new one now," he replied.
We put the toy box in the skip and walked back inside, our son pensive, but clearly happy as he put that old life behind him.
Our son's toys carried a host of memories for him. We took a conscious decision not to interfere with them, one which I think was right with hindsight.
Ultimately he discarded those that carried unpleasant memories and retained those that, no matter how sad, provide comfort. I'm glad he's done so, they are part of his history and they remind him of the incredible journey he has been on.