Before I had my own children, I never had any understanding of just how much a toy could embody. So much more than the material it is constituted from, be it plastic or fake fur. I can still remember my Huggy Bear. I had seen him on the television in the frenzy of adverts leading up to Christmas, and oh how I had wanted him. He was small and brown, and had these arms that could grip, or rather hug, anything that took his fancy. He was adorable. And he was at the top of my Christmas list in 1979. I remember tearing through the wrapping paper on Christmas morning and just being overwhelmed with joy at seeing his box. I think Huggy Bear spent that whole Christmas, and beyond, attached to my arm.
I have no idea what happened to Huggy Bear. Was there a gradual decline in the times that I took him down from his shelf, or did I suddenly lose interest in him? I do remember that sometime after I had left home to go to University, my mum bagged up all my soft toys, and I think that they either went up into their loft, or to a Boot Sale. My mum asked me if I wanted to look through them first, and rescue a few, but I wasn’t interested: I had bigger fish to fry in those days and my furry childhood friends, including Huggy Bear, seemed very distant. I think I also had a suspicion that once I started looking into those forlorn glassy eyes I wouldn’t be able to part with them. I didn’t want to be weighed down with those comfy memories of a childhood past, not when I was trying to build an independent life for myself.
I can well imagine now, at a distance of some almost 25 years how painful it was for my mum shoving all those memories of long done Christmases and birthdays into bin bags. It makes me want to put my head in my hands and howl, and I have an overwhelming desire to hunt those teddy bears down, especially Huggy Bear, and give them to my own daughter. My beautiful little girl, growing up so fast it makes my heart want to burst. I’m starting to feel that mixture of pain, sorrow, nostalgia and a little bit of fear as I bag up some of her toys, the ones that have been collecting more than their fair share of the dust balls that breeze around the floor of our house. One such toy in particular has been the cause of me sitting here, trying to put this cocktail of feelings into words. Recently, I dismantled the three story, pink and plastic Barbie Dream House that my Dad bought for Lizzie not so many Christmases ago. She wanted that Barbie House with the same intensity that I had wanted Huggy Bear. She was four years old and the magic of Christmas was strong.
My Dad was very good at being a Grandad. My children loved him and he loved them back with an unashamed glee that he never really showed us as children. My children really were everything to him, and one thing he loved to do was to buy them gifts. This was just one of the ways that he expressed his love for them. Sometimes this generosity would annoy me because he would always bring round some totally unsuitable and unhealthy sweet treat that he had picked up from Morrison’s that day – usually donuts covered in lurid icing. One of them only had to say that they liked something – a particular brand of biscuit or cake, and he would flood the house with them the next time he called round. How I regret the times that I shoved the donuts to the back of the fridge, or tutted and sighed at their total unsuitability. I feel wracked with guilt about the gingerbread Halloween Ghost Train that we never made, that to this day is sitting in the cupboard under the stairs, well past its sell-by date because I can’t bear to throw it out. There are so many of these things that I feel guilty about.
Dad loved to be the bearer of gifts at Christmas. He absolutely loved Christmas with what can only be described as a childlike abandon. He reminded me of the Ghost of Christmas Present in his ebullience. Months before the Big Day, he would begin stockpiling food and drink. There would be nuts of every kind, chocolates, dates, Turkish Delight, jellies, cheesy footballs, crisps, tangerines, twiglets, cheese, mince pies, luxury Christmas crackers…really, the list is endless.
The front of the house and the trees would always be covered in every kind and colour of fairy light known to mankind (or Alton Garden Centre a least) and he did this right up until the very last Christmas. It was one of the many little sharp knives to stick in my heart that first year after he died, to see the house in deep darkness, with no jolly little fibre optic Christmas tree lighting up the front room window, no flashing blue icicles dripping from the fascias. I couldn’t bring myself to go inside the house at all that year, and we were a sad crowd indeed at the pub, tucking into our tepid and delayed Boxing Day dinner, desperately trying to forget that bloody empty chair.
Indeed, in the dreadful immediate aftermath of my brother’s death, that awful day in September 2008, I remember my Dad sitting in his armchair in the middle of the wreckage that had been our lives, and saying “Well, that’s Christmas ruined then”. To an outsider, those words might seem callous and trivial beyond belief, but to me, who knew my Dad’s mad joy in all things Christmas, it touched me like nothing else.
I am certain to have a photo somewhere of Lizzie after she had discovered that her parcel contained The Dreamhouse. The floor of my parents’ living room will be strewn with wrapping paper, and somewhere in the background will be my two sons, gallantly making their own way through an enormous pile of gifts, already high on a tidal wave of sugar. Lizzie will be looking delighted, her cheeks flushed, brown eyes alight. If my Dad is in the picture too, then he will be smiling and wiping a tear away: he always would get overcome with emotion at times like this. All of this is what makes taking down that Barbie House so damn hard. It is not simply a toy: it is loaded with love; it is loaded with every Christmas that my Dad ever enjoyed.
I have always had issues with letting go of objects or possessions. The extreme example of this, of course, is the compulsion to hoard. I think we have all seen the television programmes where some poor person is sitting behind mountains of furniture, carrier bags and old clothes, having not seen the carpet for 15 years. There are many theories as to why people might hoard: these include; unresolved difficult feelings, such as anxiety or a sense of being out of control; childhood or other significant trauma, loss or abuse; attachment difficulties or learnt behaviour from childhood (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/hoarding/causes/). Mindful that I don’t want to be that person cowering under mountains of carrier bags, I often hurtle around the house casting objects into a black sack. I can only describe this as a sort of frenzy, and I feel almost high on the buzz. Then, later, sometimes when I’m lying in bed, I will feel overwhelmed by remorse and guilt and have to rummage through the bins rescuing that piece of paper that my daughter crafted into an Easter Bonnet 5 years ago…
I’m not sure what the underlying cause might be for me, but I have a feeling it is a need to control, or even freeze, the passing of time. To document the past and a reluctance to accept that things change, times marches on, children grow up and people die. Taken to its real extreme, perhaps it is that ultimate existential fear of mortality and the need to stave of my own death that drives me? I’m sure the existential writer and therapist Irvin Yalom would have something to say on the topic! Being aware of the desire to hoard and the possible underlying cause has helped me to keep a lid on it and to attempt to strike a happy medium between the towers of carriers bags and maintaining a happy (relatively) tidy and functioning home. For others, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works, where the individual is supported by the therapist to throw out certain items one at a time and to learn that nothing catastrophic will happen as a result.
It’s an ongoing issue for me. Only yesterday I threw away a certain piece of paper Lizzie had brought home from school and that was lying around her bedroom getting under my feet. I put it in the bin. Last night, I woke up in a panic and felt almost compelled to come downstairs and stick my hand in the bin to try to retrieve it. Instead, I waited until the morning and then rooted around amongst the tea-leaves…it was gone. I washed my hands and have moved on from it.
I gave the Barbie House to my local pre-school in the end. It has gone. The memory of it, my Dad, and how much my daughter loved it, remains. Taking it apart and passing it on has not changed any of that….
Attachment can relate to almost anything in our lives, the side we instinctively get out of bed, to the teapot handed down from great grandma – her only remains. It can play out I our relationships, our choices and subconsciously how we move through our lives. Click Here for an informative article on attachment, created by the NSPCC.
Again, another beautify written blog by Sinead Withers.