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Bears Are a Good Thing

When I was going through my cancer treatments, I received an assortment of beautiful flower arrangements, thoughtful cards, chocolates, and a floppy grey teddy bear.  Each gift brought a smile to my face and warmed my weary heart.  As time passed, the flowers became memories, the chocolates were consumed (mostly by others since I couldn’t tolerate sweets), and the cards were saved in a plastic tub somewhere.  However, the gray teddy bear remained vigilant and stalwart on his post in my room, still wearing a crooked smile, smooshed and bedraggled from lots of hugging.

Who would think a stuffed animal would remain part of a home décor years after its purpose has been fulfilled?  I didn’t understand it myself until I read about Schlepp, a bear who had the same assignment as my gray teddy; to bring comfort to a fifty-something woman going through chemo. With permission, I share Anne’s story.  I would guess we all have Schlepps in our lives.

The first bear, a small tan baby with white angel wings, came wrapped around a bud vase and was delivered by my neighbor, Linda.  “I fell in love with this little guy the minute I saw him in the florist’s case,” Linda explained.  “I knew he was just what you needed.  Bears can be such a comfort to people who are ill.”

I thanked Linda for her thoughtfulness, admired the cute container, and set the vase on a table in the living room where it remained for several days until its rose died.  Then the vase with the bear was moved for storage to a high shelf in a closet and forgotten.

I was surprised when not too many days later Linda arrived at my door with a second bear, this one a larger white version of the first.  “I want you to put this on your nightstand, and when you are feeling sad, it will be there to love you and give you comfort.”

“Right,”  I thought as I again thanked her for her compassion.  I did put the bear on my nightstand and smiled at it when I passed, but I certainly didn’t think of it as solace for the deep depression the news of breast cancer had caused.

Bear number three, a pale gray sans wings, came from a different source, our neighbor Shauna.  She delivered him in a tissue-lined bag with a card suggesting that she hoped her gift would help appease my anxiety.

“What’s with these sentimental women,”  I appealed to my husband Richard after Shauna left.  “You give bears to little kids. They aren’t for fifty-seven-year-old grown-ups!”

His smile seemed to confirm my appraisal, and nothing more was said about bears for several days until we paid a visit to an elderly friend in a nursing home.  In one of the two chairs in her small room sat a sizable teddy, a gift from a family member.

“Just throw him on the floor,”  Helen told Richard as he approached the chair.

“I’ll hold him,”  I volunteered.

At first, I set teddy beside me, my left arm around his shoulder.  As Richard visited with Helen, I enjoyed feeling the closeness of something soft.  Before I knew it, I had teddy’s tummy next to my chest and was embracing him with both arms.

“I’ve got a confession to make,”  I said sheepishly as we got into the car after our visit.  “Hugging that bear really made me feel good.”

“Then we’d better go bear shopping after my office hour on Friday,”  Richard responded.

True to his word, my dear husband drove us to Scottsdale Fashion Mall where we poked into several toy stores without success.  However, when we reached FAO Schwartz, we knew we’d come to the right place.  Bears in abundance lined the window.  Then began the testing process, the act of choosing just the right one.  Much to the amusement of passers-by in the mall, Richard and I unashamedly hugged bear after bear.  Some were too small, others too hard or scratchy.  Some lacked a compassionate look in their eyes that I felt was essential.  After what must have been close to an hour of bear hugging and narrowing the choice down to several, I knew I must have Schlepp, even though sixty plus dollars seemed a mighty lot to pay for a stuffed toy.  Almost three feet from ear to toe with floppy arms and legs, a pot belly, eyes close set that tugged at my heartstrings, and a snout that melted into my shoulder, Schlepp was the bear for me.  I could hardly wait to get to a private spot where I could hold him to my heart’s content.

In the weeks since his purchase, Schlepp has been a godsend.  When nothing else has brought comfort to the deep hole in the pit of my being, holding Schlepp has provided peace to my soul. Bears are a good thing.  (By Anne Clement)

Always a Mother

Joy.  Pure joy.  That’s the only way I know how to describe the feeling I had when my newborn baby girl was placed in my arms.  I instantly fell in love and have remained in love for forty years and counting. When my second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth newborn babies were placed in my arms, the joy was equally as passionate.  I never knew a heart had room for so much love.

What has forty years of motherhood taught me?  That my need to mother hasn’t changed, but my children’s needs have.

I thought the early years were exhausting.  The tiny humans that entered my life depended on me for everything. Nourishment, baths, ponytails, endless storybooks, answers to questions such as “Why are cheerios round?”, and lots and lots of hugs.

Upon discovering they were individuals, separate from me, they began making their own choices and decisions.  “Are you SURE you want the plain swimsuit with a fish on it instead of this colorful cute one with ruffles?” I ask my three year old.  I learned early that some things weren’t worth debating.  I was good at letting them make simple choices.  Not so much the big ones.

With each birthday, I saw my importance in their lives fade, ever so slightly.  I was rescued from complete retirement by their need to talk.  Always in the middle of the night.  Was I about to complain about my struggle to stay awake, knowing I would need to rise early?  I would never turn down their desire to have my attentive ear, and my opinion.

When my first daughter married and began a family of her own, I was saved by the fact I had five others that still needed me.  It was when the last one left that I had to redefine my role as Mother.  Or did I?

I just hung up from an hour conversation with my first daughter.  She is now a mother of seven and she still calls.  Not just for advice, but because we are friends.  Daughter number four sends me a long text and makes me laugh.  Number three calls for suggestions on how to break a little one’s habit.  Daughter two shares her excitement over a product she thinks I can’t live without. Number five, my only son, calls to see how I’m doing and number six wants to know my recipe for spaghetti.  These are the years where I easily slip from Mother to Friend and back again.  They are the ones who determine which role I assume at the time, and I adjust, as the situation requires.

As I get closer to the winter of my life, I no longer worry about my role as Mother.  I will always be their Mommy, and each one will always be my favorite.  We have composed a graceful melody, with two-part harmony, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with my life-long career as Mother.  Joy.  Pure joy.


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