• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Building a Bear

Business and pleasure.

January 7, 2015

It’s now my “break,” when I do not need to be in the office every day and can use this relaxing time to focus on writing all the reports I never have time to do (oh, yes, and working on my research). Of course, it’s also an opportunity for focused time with the children as well, so when my daughters suggested an afternoon at “Build a Bear,” I was agreeable.

What an experience.

For those who never have had the pleasure, you go in, pick an unstuffed animal from a bin, then proceed down a series of paths where you get to “stuff” your bear (or, in our case, a Frozen Olaf snowman and an Anna Bear), wash your bear, select expensive clothing to accessorize your bear (sunglasses and black patent leather shoes for us), and partake in an elaborate ritual of putting a heart in your bear to endow it with love. A sign hangs in the store that tells us “You are not born a bear, you become one” (I have visions of de Beauvoir rolling over in her grave).

Going through this made me think about the shift in the production and consumption of toys. In earlier periods, one would not purchase a stuffed doll or bear; one would sew it. Children probably saw their dolls made by their mothers and grandmothers. They learned how to make a doll. Most children were lucky to have one or two dolls in a lifetime, instead of yet another bear to add to their overflowing toy boxes. The ritual of love that the store emulates draws on the love of a person making this gift for a child.

In contrast, my girls experienced the commoditized production experience. This is not to say that they didn’t have a good time. They loved helping to “make” their bear. However, a few days later, as I read to them the Ramona series by Beverly Clearly, my daughters had no idea what the characters meant when they talked about sewing. They’ve never seen anyone sew before (not even a button). In trying to explain sewing to them, I tried to connect it to making their bears, but that made no sense to them. Their bears were sewn long before they saw them. In fact, the Build-A-Bear experience more resembles the assembly line of the modern factory than craft production.

I can see the appeal of stores like these. As purchasing moves online and malls decline, these types of places give you a reason to go to the store and provide an experience that connects you to the product you are buying. Yet, what is lost in mimicking the “maker” experience, as opposed to actually creating something? Perhaps I’d be better off teaching them to sew. Of course, we’d have to learn together.


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