Jul 28, 2023

Bring your stuffed animals with you

It’s August, meaning that students will be arriving or returning to Ann Arbor soon, if they haven’t already. In the coming weeks, students will be tossing every essential into blue bins that travel up and down residence hall hallways or hauling around boxes and suitcases containing sheets, clothing, toiletries and the like. But among these essentials, you might be forgetting something equally important: your childhood stuffed animals.

For many, going away to college feels like the first step into adulthood. You’re moving away and living on your own. You’re discovering yourself and what you’d like to do for the rest of your life. While perhaps not fully in the adult world, you’re certainly a few steps closer than you were in your high school years.

In this time of transition, sometimes it feels easiest to cast off the facets of our younger selves. Most freshmen arrive at their colleges as legal adults, and becoming that idealized adult might mean abandoning any affection for the things of our childhood playtimes.

As a child, my favorite stuffed animal — or “lovie,” as my family called it — was a stuffed white lamb called Catkins. She’d been a baby shower gift from before I was born, and though my parents had bought an extra of the same lamb toy (who later became Lamby), I became fully attached to Catkins and Catkins only.

She remained a permanent fixture in old photo albums, always in the hands of a younger me. With time and love, she became a little less white and a little more gray. Small rips in her fleece or her embroidered smile and eyelashes have been mended time and time again. She’s far from the mint condition she was in 20 years ago, but Catkins has always remained a reminder of the love and safety around me. She came along with me on cross-country trips and excursions to summer camp and, eventually, to college.

In bringing Catkins with me to college, there was a part of me that felt a bit insecure. I worried that my want to tow her along was an immature impulse that was holding me back from taking those further steps into adulthood. With time, however, as I increasingly cared less and less about what others thought. I also realized that many college students — and 4 in 10 adults — have stuffed animals of their own.

When we face times of change, seeking comfort in a stuffed animal is a perfectly healthy way to face our anxieties. While the term “transitional object” is most often used when discussing childhood development, we are constantly facing change throughout our lives, and objects like stuffed animals or even comfortable pillows and blankets can be the soothing solution to our worries. Take, for example, lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a stressful time for children and adults alike, and many grown-ups found comfort in turning to stuffed animals when all other physical interaction was kept to a minimum.

When I look back on my childhood and the time leading up to college, I think I sometimes put too much pressure on myself to act all grown-up. I often sorted through my belongings to get rid of old Barbies and baby dolls and stuffed animals all because I was concerned that those things were too childish. Now that I’m a bit older, I find myself disappointed that I spent that time trying to act more mature, instead of simply allowing myself to just be a kid.

Since becoming that grown-up I once dreamed of being, I’ve allowed myself to succumb to enjoying the more playful side of life. With a reignited love for Miffy Bunny and Catkins alongside me, I’ve found myself enjoying the more whimsical comforts I once denied myself. I’m not alone, either. Plenty of adults are now rediscovering the joys of their childhood favorites, from Legos and Barbies to Hot Wheels and American Girl dolls. The nostalgia of these childhood favorites creates the perfect storm for reintroducing the comfort and playfulness that often fades as we grow older.

Now, this isn’t a call for overconsumption. You probably won’t find a fulfilling sort of solace by buying Barbie upon Barbie or by putting a down payment on a Lego Millenium Falcon. Rather, we ought to allow ourselves to really discover what comforts us. If it’s nearby, open up that box of old playtime friends — they probably miss you a whole lot.

We’ll always continue to get older, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose that childish whimsicality that makes life so much fun. We’re in college, and though that means we’re a few steps closer to the adult world, that certainly doesn’t mean we have to force maturity onto ourselves. Even when we take those final steps into the blurry area that is adulthood, we never have to lose those aspects of who we once were.

Audra M. Woehle is an Opinion Columnist who writes about gender and sexuality in popular culture. She can be reached at [email protected].

Please consider donating to The Michigan Daily