A Bag of Teddy Bears

A Bag of Teddy Bears April 24, 2023

teddy bears
image via Pixabay


Adrienne brought me a bag of stuffed animals.

She is eleven and a half now, an age for change. She is going to middle school this fall. Right now, she spends most of her spare time in her room, listening to her favorite streamers play and review video games. While she was listening this afternoon, she cleaned and organized her old toys. Some of her stuffed animals she kept for decorations, but these were the also-rans, the less important ones. They were for me to take to the thrift store.

I looked through the bag myself.

Adrienne had at least fifty stuffed animals. She populated a small paracosm with them and used them to reenact Beverly Cleary stories, before she switched to a more complicated world with her action figures in the dollhouse. These were extras in her teddy bear world, not the main characters. There was a stuffed rabbit that never had a name. There was a stuffed bear she never liked, because it didn’t have proper glass eyes but felt ovals sewn on in a perpetual squint. There was the annoying bear with the fur that was itchy rather than soft. None of them were terribly memorable, except for the panda at the bottom.

The panda was important.

When Adrienne was a toddler, I would take her on the bus to the grocery store. We went to the store more than once a week because we had to drag the groceries home, a block from the bus stop, so we couldn’t get too many things at a time. I would swipe the food stamp card for an apple or another small treat for her to eat, and she’d sit in the shopping cart, munching and chatting with me. We’d go up and down the aisle saying the names of things. When we got to the toy aisle, she’d beg for a present, and I’d wag my finger and remind her of the rule. “One hug, and put it back.”

And Adrienne would give the doll or the stuffed animal or the fire truck one hug, say goodbye, and put it back.

In the evening after our shopping, she would ask for videos: usually she started with Old Bear or Paddington Bear on Youtube or Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on Amazon Prime. But just before bed, when the longer video was done, she’d demand a video of panda bears. Panda bears were her favorite animal. She couldn’t sleep until I turned on the computer and searched for short videos of baby pandas playing in a sanctuary in China. She liked the one where they rolled in the leaves a patient zookeeper was raking, and the one where they rocked on a rocking horse just like human babies did.

As it got closer to Christmas, our routine got more exciting. The grocery store filled with beautiful things. We took an extra long time shopping because Adrienne had to examine every single Christmas decoration and greet every single toy. She found and fell in love with a display of stuffed panda bears with red ribbons around their necks. I reminded her of the rules: the panda can’t come home, but you can give it one hug. And she always gave the panda one hug, said goodbye, and put it back. Then we’d go home to watch videos of pandas.

As it got closer and closer to Christmas, the stuffed animal display dwindled, but there was always a panda to hug.

Finally, it was Christmas eve. We walked all the way out to the church for the children’s vigil Mass, with Adrienne in the stroller, a puffy coat layered over her red overalls. On the way home, we stopped at the grocery store and counted out our money to buy a tiny chicken and potatoes for Christmas dinner. We had a little extra.

There was one panda left. Adrienne hugged him and put him back on the shelf.

As soon as I pushed the shopping cart away, Michael silently snatched the bear as if he was going to shoplift it. Then he tiptoed to the self-checkout and paid for it while I took Adrienne to look at the toy cars.

He kept the bear hidden inside his coat on the chilly walk home.

That night I stayed up late, wrapping the box of thrift store toys and board books we’d gotten and arranging it under the tiny tabletop Christmas tree with a stocking full of candy,

Next morning, I went and got her out of bed. “It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas! Do you want to see if Santa Claus came?”

Adrienne toddled out of the bedroom in her diaper.

Her face lit up when she saw the tree. “I can have PANDA? I can have PANDA? I can have PANDA?”

“Yes!” I cried, tears starting in my eyes. “You can have Panda. Panda is yours now. Panda is here to stay.”

That was about ten years ago.

“You don’t remember Panda?” I asked my eleven-year-old daughter, taking the bear from the bottom of the bag. He was battered and a little misshapen from being at the bottom of the toybox. The white patches of his fur had gone gray, and the ribbon was squashed.

“No.” Adrienne went back to cleaning her room.

But I remember Panda.

I put him on the nightstand next to my bed.

He’s been there ever since.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.




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