I sleep with animals. Not literally, except sometimes, specifically on Saturdays. Saturdays is the Jewish Sabbath, and as I am a Jew, I take the commandment to rest on the seventh day literally. In Exodus 20 the commandment includes animals — okay, draft animals — but I don’t own any mules or oxen. Thus on the Sabbath, and only on the Sabbath, are my two dogs allowed up on the bed with me. Often my husband joins us as well. It’s cozy, if somewhat confusing for the dogs, who have to sleep on the floor the rest of the week.
But the point isn’t my own personal Sabbath observance. The point is animals. Because I have to confess that well before the dogs, not to mention the husband, came along, I slept with animals. Stuffed ones, to be sure, but unlike most children, I somehow never grew out of the habit of curling up with them in bed every night, and sometimes in the middle of the day, and sometimes in rooms other than the bedroom, and sometimes in public places like airplanes or doctor’s offices. True, I was perhaps an unusually terrified child, with an imagination fully up to the task of keeping me in a state of permanent stress, but at the same time I never had any trouble leaving home for the usual array of growing-up experiences, from sleepovers at friends’ houses to summer camp to college and eventually to a bona fide adult life, complete with husband, kids, minivan, and mortgage.
Would you like to meet my animals? Of course you would.
Bumby is almost as old as I am, but — because she’s gone under the needle numerous times for various nips and tucks, and currently is covered in blue cotton — doesn’t look her age. She’s a rabbit. Elephant is younger, about seven inches tall, and possesses noble tusks on a face that’s remarkably expressive, particularly as his eyes are made of many-layered red stitches. Woofie is a dog, and though no longer in his first youth, is a very recent addition to the menagerie. Fudge, too, is a dog, but as he’s technically my husband’s animal, and not mine, I won’t go deeply into his biography, as such an undertaking is beyond the scope of the subject at hand. Osher is an owl, with white fur and blue eyes. He’s the smallest of the bunch, standing at about 4 inches tall.
I can’t understand why so few other adults seem to travel with, or even need, or have any relationship at all, with stuffed animals of their own. Except maybe in the United Kingdom, where a recent study revealed that a huge number of householders, totally more than a third of the adult population, sleep with their teddy bears. Not so much here in the good old U.S.A. though, where — perhaps as a result of our Puritan roots — we leave our childish things behind. And it’s not just adults who callously discard and indeed forget the companions of their infancy. When my own daughter, now a college senior, was about six, she announced that she no longer wanted to share her tot-bed with a stuffed toy named Baby, and just like that, threw Baby out. That was cold. Cold. I’m still in shock.
Like many children, I gravitated towards one particular favorite early on: If you’ve been paying attention, you will by now have figured out that this first favorite was Bumby (whose original name was Bumbum — Bumby was a later, and more sophisticated, iteration). For years, we slept happily together, never dreaming that the day would come when our practice would become a preclude to social annihilation. And the events kept coming: Should I or should I not bring Bumby to a slumber party at my best-friend’s other-best-friend’s house, and if I didn’t bring her, how could I sleep? In the end I did bring her, but only after hiding her wrapped up at the bottom of my sleeping bag such that I could retrieve her under cover of dark. What about summer camp? True, most of the other girls — all of us adolescent by now, with bras and an interest in hair products — brought animals, but they were purely of the mascot variety: propped up on the pillow by day, and discarded by night. But the lure, and more to the point, the great abiding comfort that Bumby represented won: I brought her, slept with her, and concurrently became the Camp Queer. Was it worth it? To this day, I’m not sure, but I will say that Bumby is still in my life, whereas all those girls — well, I can’t so much as recall any one of their names.
I bought Elephant at the school bizarre when I was in the fourth grade. Black all over, except for the red pads of his feet, Elephant was the last of his kind, as all his prettier siblings, covered in bright or flowered or printed fabrics, had been sold. I bought him anyway, constituting the single largest purchase I’d ever made with my own (allowance) money, and then put him on the shelf, where he languished for more than 10 years, at which point I whisked him (but not Bumby) off to Massachusetts, where I was about to start college. Why Elephant and not Bumby, you rightly ask? Because I went to Tufts, and the Tufts mascot is Jumbo the elephant, and also because, right about then, I got this stupid idea in my head that it was time to try to act, and sleep, like regular college students — i.e., with members of the opposite sex, and not with stuffed animals, no matter what their gender. So it wasn’t really until after college, when I moved to New York, that Elephant really came into the forefront of my consciousness, moving quickly into the center of my heart with his honesty, gentleness, and unerring kindness. Not to mention his wisdom. Just to take one example: It was Elephant who encouraged me to break up with my rich, socially-connected boyfriend and date a penny-less and ill clad grad student, Stuart, instead.
Some months later, Stuart and I went on our first big trip together, to Israel. A few hours before we boarded, Stuart handed me a small, handmade document, encased in a blue binding: it was Elephant’s passport. And honestly, could I have fallen in love with a man who didn’t understand and even embrace my other loved ones? The answer is: no. The answer is: any man who couldn’t deal with Elephant was not the man for me. Reader, I married him.
Of course I travel with them. To the dismay of my children, the animals have sat on my lap all the way from JFK to Glasgow, Tel Aviv, Paris, Los Angeles, and London, and only once did tragedy strike, in a taxi going from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, where, after nearly 24 hours of travelling, Elephant fell out of my cloth carry-all and onto the floor, where he remained for two full days until my husband figured out how to get in touch with the Russian-only-speaking taxi driver, and ransomed Elephant back. When at last Elephant was again in my arms, I was all but overcome with love for this husband of mine, who accepts my animals, and my quirks, without hesitation. However, he insisted that, henceforth, Elephant couldn’t travel overseas with me: the risks were too great. I needed to bond with another animal — someone I could part with, if necessary, without landing in the loony bin.
Which brings me to the three other animals: Fudge came along when my then nine-year-old daughter didn’t think that it was fair that her mother had two stuffed animals while her father had none at all. He’s brown. Hence his name. Osher was a gift of my friend Meg, who knew of the near-tragedy with Elephant, and wanted to supply me with an alternate travelling-animal instead. His name, in Hebrew, means “Happiness.” (It also means “wealth.”) Finally: Woofie, I got him at a garage sale, where I paid nothing for him, perhaps because he was already so patently pre-loved by the grown child who’d so callously, if typically, decided that she no longer had interest in the sweetheart whom she’d once so desperately and steadily loved. He was simply calling out to me. Plus he’s exactly the right size and shape for cuddling with, on and off airplanes.
And yes, of course, it’s easy to be in a happy relationship with someone who doesn’t talk, eat, read, nap, snore, floss, argue, or leave dirty laundry under the bed. Even so, the animals and I love each other, and I figure that any love as sweet and abiding as the one we share has got to be a good thing.