• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Teddy Bear Love

No substitute.

May 21, 2015

When I teach Economics, I often find myself in discussions about tea and coffee. While these are the typical example of two products that can be substitutes, I doubt that many fellow tea lovers would be willing to substitute coffee as a beverage of choice. I found myself thinking of this recently when I stumbled across a stuffed bear that is very similar to one that my daughter loved throughout her childhood. We once thought that one could substitute for the other. Silly parents!

When our daughter was a baby, a friend gave her a stuffed bear. She immediately reached out for it with her tiny hands, wiggled her feet in delight, grabbed onto it and bit its nose. It was soon clear that this bear would be the special bear, the one she would eventually ordain “Teddy,” the one that would follow her through her childhood. Years later, that bear is still sitting on her bed.

Once it became clear that Teddy was the special stuffed animal that would accompany her journeys, we realized that losing Teddy would be a tragic event. My parents found another bear that was identical to Teddy, and we put it away, high in a closet, in case we would ever lose Teddy and need to comfort our toddler with a familiar bear. Yes, we lost Teddy on many occasions, but after a day or two, he usually found his way back to the family that loved him. And so, that imposter Teddy sat alone, high on a shelf in a closet otherwise used for coats and boots.

I recently had a reason to sift through the stuff packed into that closet, and the bear my daughter decided must be Teddy’s brother came out from hibernation. My daughter grabbed onto him and giggled, but then immediately realized that the second Teddy was not as well-worn as his brother. Where the Teddy that she loves had been through the laundry many times, had been repaired with stitches on occasion and had well-worn skin that was matted down from many nights of being held, his brother was fluffy with soft, untouched skin. While Teddy was now thin, since the beans used as his stuffing had become deflated from trips through the washer and dryer, his brother was plump. “He should eat less fish” she said, since she likes to claim that Teddy bears love to eat fish. No, the years had taken their toll on Teddy, and substituting the two bears would no longer be possible.

I recently found myself in a conversation with a fellow faculty member, and I stopped myself short when I heard myself say that I had “severed on the Tenure committee several times.” I then explained that after leaving my first job just steps ahead of what would certainly have been a tenure denial, I expected that I would never be able to say the word “tenure” again without getting sick to my stomach. And here I had served on that committee several times! The struggles at my first job had beaten me up but had not destroyed me. Indeed, in many ways they helped to move me to a different position that allowed me to explore new areas of scholarship and encouraged my creative side. In the sense that the word is used in the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, thanks to those struggles, I am now much more “real.”

Teddy accompanied my daughter through her through babyhood, when I worried about each ear infection and fever. She got sick on him, once left him in a snow pile at kindergarten, and took him on many a sleep-over, including sixth grade camp. He is still with her as she embarks on adolescence, and I will not be surprised if she someday takes him to college with her. He is worn out and deflated, but, as she says, “he is loved.”

And so I ask my readers; do any of you have stories to tell of “teddy bear love” in life or in your careers?    

                                                                             Wishing all of my readers a wonderful summer


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