Last night I slept with my childhood teddy bear Patchy in my bed. If I said that was the first night since I was a kid. I’d be lying. It’s been a few nights. Over the last few weeks. Possibly months..
I was given Patchy when I was two. He’s not your normal teddy. He’s pink with purple ears, a purple patch on his left eye and a pretuding purple belly button. He used to have a tongue but that fell out. Really wierd looking soft toy come to think of it. But I loved him. He might have been my first love to be fair. I always fall for weirdos.
He came everywhere with me, every trip or family holiday, every sleepover or party. He got left in shops, on busses, at picnics, once on the ferry from Dover to Calais. We always got him back.
Patchy, me, mum and my brother, Spain 1990.
Portrait of Patchy, by me 1992.
Patchy today, 2017
So why has this relic from my childhood made a reoccurring appearance in my adulthood?
I’ve felt lonely, really lonely, for a while now. I live by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I fully love living alone, enjoy my own company and am actually quite panicky about having to share a bed with someone else for ever, but night time can be quite hard. I don’t sleep well, never have, so sometimes I search for comfort in those hours. Of course, there’s my cat, who is a total don and fully affectionate, but she’s not one for actual cuddling and usually fucks off at night to survey the garden perimeters and chase foxes. Witness the savagery here.
I’ve never been one for inviting people I don’t know well or feel strongly about in to my space for comforts sake. Since reading the work of Nayyirah Waheed, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Rupi Kaur, Lalalaletmeexplain (seriously, follow and read these intelligent, brilliant women) I have felt empowered, strong and even amused by my loneliness and vulnerability so have been very mindful not to feed in to the insecurities and fears that lead to regretted action, though there have been some moments, and I forgive myself for them. I have known that no matter how much I want to feel the comfort of another body next to me at night, I want that person to be my partner, my best friend, an absolute don, who is up for cuddling AND chasing foxes away.
So I was wondering last night, is my want for a partner the reason I am reaching for something to hold at night? Or am I reaching for the relic of my childhood to fulfil some other need? I’ve had this weird looking bear nearly my entire life. A whole 31 years together. The same amount of years I had with my dad. Did my need to find my partner become stronger since losing my dad? Yes, of course. He was the first man to take care of me. He was the first man I took care of. I miss that care, both ways.
I was never the kind of girl, or women, to daydream about getting married and having a husband and kids. I was never particularly inclined either way. But now, I find myself wanting a child, a family that I’ve started, with someone I love who loves me back.
Kids are fucking mad and absolutely terrifying. Nearly everyone I’ve known from childhood/teen/twenties has kids now and some are on their second, and some are trying for their third. It’s amazing and surreal. I just heard that a girl I have known since nursery is now pregnant with her second child. This same girl came to my house when we were 5 stood in the middle of my room, cried and pissed herself for no reason. Kids are nuts. I want one.
Some of my friends are born mothers. They raised younger siblings and have wanted the dream husband and babies ever since playing at make believe weddings in year 5, hanging sheets off their heads like veils. I was once made to be the groom. I remember being really bored. For some it is devastating that they’ve made it this far in life, and still haven’t got there. Imagine longing for something for so long that you can’t be in control of achieving. Well, you can achieve it, even without the man, but for it to actually be right, with someone you love, seems to be a lot harder than first imagined. And there’s pressure of time, and biology, and there’s a longing, and something missing every day. I’m starting to feel this way, I never thought I would.
Anyway, back to the question, why am I tucking in at night with my childhood bear?
Yes I’m lonely, hugging something (albeit a poor substitute for holding a warm human body) feels comforting. Yes I want to meet someone fall in love and have children with them. Yes, I miss my dad. Yes, this alien teddy bear has held all my tears and secrets (especially as he no longer has a tongue) for my whole life. But actually, it doesn’t feel like he’s back for the adult that I am, it feels like he’s back for the child that I was.
I’ve done a lot of work on myself and my childhood experiences in therapy. It’s been painful but absolutely necessary. I had a good childhood, I was loved, there were shit times though, there always is.
Childhood is not actually a time of total innocence. My 3 year old goddaughter who is the absolute love of my life tells quite impressive lies and was already working manipulatively to get what she wanted out of her parents before she even had sentences strung together. Last time she stayed at my house she insisted on sleeping longways on the pillow kicking me repeatedly in the head throughout the night. She also stole a pebble off my shelf. So she’s a thief and a liar. Yesterday she told me that she had become famous on Facebook for her Irish dancing (actually not a lie) and cried because the balloon she had went behind the TV. Her brother who is 5, and recently obsessed with wearing my white leather platform boots every time he comes round, made citrus mascarpone cheese out of curdling milk with a lemon and straining it. It was actually really impressive. He also put granddads fizzy lemonade in the microwave. You’ve gotta love kids.
For my job I work with young people. Some of them are very vulnerable, at risk and with complex needs. I am made for this field of work, and I honestly love my young people as if I had actually given birth to all 50 of them, they are all amazing and have me simultaneously wanting to laugh, cry and tear my hair out almost every day. But I have realised something, I am fully committed to caring and supporting vulnerable people, mostly young people, the majority of them boys, and somehow this has transferred over in to my personal life. I seem to attract men, who are actually lost little boys. For a while the dynamic works because I get a lot of my self worth out of being the caretaker and enjoy the role within a relationship. It always gets challenging though when I become vulnerable, in need, difficult, throw a tantrum or behave in an insecure way. All of a sudden it’s two children fighting. There’s lemonade in the microwave and uncontrollable tears. With no parent to govern the situation, mediate the argument or distract with ice cream. These men need to heal, to look after the child in them, so that they are able to enter in to a relationship capable of giving the same amount of care that they receive.
Children are self centred and when we haven’t looked after the child inside (especially when the child wasn’t actually looked after when growing up) this can become a presenting behaviour in adulthood. I was once in a long term relationship where I was allowed to be the child. It was a very complex time, my dad was dying, I needed looking after, but I became a total brat. My behaviour became totally unacceptable at times and it was a very unhealthy dynamic. Weirdly, the opposite issue happened here, when I became stronger, less vulnerable, he couldn’t cope and became very difficult. I think he knew that once I realised I didn’t need him, I would realise I didn’t want him. He was right. We went round in circles for 4 years. I will always be grateful to him for his care, I would say he saved my life more than once, but thinking of the relationship now makes my stomach twist. It was very messy. I learnt a lot.
So, Patchy means a lot to me. He represents home. The home that I grew in. The home that I lived in until the day I moved in to my flat. The home I missed when we went on holiday. The home I would come back to after living away in America. The home where dad first got sick when I was at University in Bristol. The home dad was last in before going to the hospice that night. The home my mum has just put up for sale.
He has taken care of my comfort needs since I was a kid and I have kept him safe from any Blue Peter jumble sale, charity clear out or childhood ‘swapsies’ agreement (how bad was the immediate regret after swapping toys with your best mate?! I always got bumped!). He is literally the oldest thing I own, and I will keep him safe.
Until I have a child of my own to take care of, If I ever do, I will take care of the one that I was, that sometimes, I can still feel that I am, and from time to time I will allow the comfort that Patchy brings.