On the day my first child, Edith, entered the world, I left my post by her humidicrib in St Vincent’s Hospital’s Special Care Nursery and bought her a teddy bear.
The 15-hour labour had been a traumatic experience for the three of us; although in those first hours, it was as if our darling daughter – her little head bruised and wonky, her cracked lips slicked with meconium as, every 30 seconds or so, the screaming would stop and she’d heave with the pain and shock of everything – was the only one truly in the moment. Tash was drug-groggy and physically ruined; I was reeling in a dreamlike state. Only the dream wasn’t in any way enchanting or uplifting: the hairline fracture to Edith’s skull; the slightly panicked faces from the men in white; the talk of deeper examination – this was real-world stuff; everything and anything prior had evaporated.
After a short pause outside, sipping from a Styrofoam cup and listlessly watching the Victoria Parade traffic fly by, I found myself in a gift shop. Flowers, balloons, cards and fluffy toy animals lined the shelves. A cute little white-and-pink bear with a reassuring smirk seemed to be looking straight at me. I snatched it up.
‘Special Teddy’ stayed close to Edith in her first week. He set up home in her crib, watched over her in the ambulance to the Royal Children’s Hospital, and in the blue-light disco of her jaundice-treatment cot.
Then, eight days (which felt more like 18) after packing Tash and a few zillion baby bags into the wagon for her birth, Edith was given a clean bill of health and Special Teddy shared our baby’s car seat for the ultra-cautious trip home.
Special Teddy might have been by Edith’s side during her darkest hours, but that didn’t save him from some rough treatment down the line.
In the weeks to follow, Special Teddy’s sweet, unfailing smile was a constant as Edith’s head eventually healed and we got stuck into our new lives as a family.
Special Teddy might have been by Edith’s side during her darkest hours, but that didn’t save him from some rough treatment down the line. When she was old enough to discard him, she did, and it became commonplace to find the bear face down on the bedroom floor by Edith’s cot.
As Edie entered toddlerhood, Special Teddy became just another toy; like a 20-cent coin in a bedside jar of silver, he sat dormant for a long stretch at the bottom of a toy box twisting with all manner of toy-animal persuasions, dolls, balls and plastic books.
Then, the ultimate two-fingered salute: a toy camel became her night partner. The camel endured for a decent enough stretch, and might still be in the picture had he not joined the throngs in Toy Heaven.
Camel’s as-yet-unexplained disappearance, coupled with a classroom discussion on “things we had we as babies” found Special Teddy back into Edie’s bed. Some nights, when the shit’s hitting the fan in her sisters’ room, I lay with Edie in my bed, chatting quietly as she hugs Special Teddy to her chest, the slightest of squeezes effecting his faint rattle. Just as Edith, closing in on her seventh birthday, finds her teddy as Special as he’s ever been, I find him oddly reassuring; a symbolic extension of the little girl who took hold of my heart from her first blue-faced breath – a good 20 seconds after finally being yanked out – and hasn’t let go.
Recently, while hunting gems in a North Melbourne Salvos store, I noticed a stack of soft toys, and it dawned on me that Edie’s two younger sisters, while possessing several boxes full of fun things, didn’t have their own Special Teddy.
I sometimes let myself down as a role model to my girls, but it seems to count when I buy them something – even it’s a second-hand teddy and pink bunny, at two bucks apiece, that we’re talking about.
Maybe it’s because gift-buying has almost solely been Tash’s domain and they’re parading in the novelty of a present from dad, or they joined the dots – as super-shrewd children are wont to do – in regards to Edie and Special Teddy, but the pair were instant bed-time (and day-time) hits.
Now Dressica the Bear, Fairy Floss the Bunny and Special Teddy all provide comfort and warmth to my girls, sending them hurtling, contentedly, towards their dreams.
Which, as a dad, is all I can hope for.