Velveteen Fifi

When I was three my dad gave me a stuffed dog. He was sick by then and paralyzed on his left side. I don’t know if he went to the effort to have someone drive him to a store or if my mom chose it.

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Me with a velveteen hat, and dad off to the side in his wheel chair that he would give me rides in

Either way, it was a kind of ugly, kind of weird stuffed animal. She was pink with a white patch on her chest and long floppy ears. Her body was soft and cuddly but her head, too large for the body, was made of something hard. That head was also so heavy that the soft neck wouldn’t support it. The head always flopped over like her neck was broken. But still, she was the last gift I received from my dad before he died.

Lisa & dad 6 wks

Me at six weeks when dad could still manage to stand

I’ve always been the one to buy the plant that’s dying on the sale rack, the pot with the lid that doesn’t fit right, the item others pass by or laugh at. I feel sorry for inanimate objects that no one wants. I think it’s the fault of that hard-headed stuffed dog. Who in their right mind would have bought her? Obviously one of my parents. Obviously the empathy with deformed objects is hereditary.

Mom's wedding

At some point I decided I should name that dog, although I had no interest in doing so. I felt I should love her more than anything because she was a gift from my dad. I pretended to love her more than anything. I named her after a kitten we had at the time. I made sure she rested on my bed between the pillows in a place of honor. I kept her for many years because I felt I should. I remember one time being a teen and upset about some drama. I held Fifi close as I cried because it seemed like something I should do, as if a stuffed dog would comfort me because the person who gave her to me was gone. But even in the middle of crying and clutching that hard head, I felt stupid, like I was putting on an act.

Holly & Big Doll

I never got attached to Big Doll either. This cute sibling inherited the hard plastic doll.

Eventually, well into my thirties, I finally got rid of Fifi. She was ratty by that time, with most of her body stuffing gone. The head was still intact though. I wonder two things now. One, why I never cut open her head to find out what was so hard in there. And two, if I had kept her, loved her more, would she have turned into a Velveteen Dog and come to life?

Our son had lots of stuffed animals, as most kids do. Oscar was the most loved. A little black and white dog that now sits on my bookshelf. Our son had to sleep with Oscar every night. And any parent will know what comes next. Oscar got lost. Oh, the drama! The heart-broken tears at night when he had to sleep alone!

Arthur & Jello

Our son out for a walk with his grandpa, and a real black and white dog, Jello

We searched the house. My parents, who had given him Oscar, got online (a momentous feat for them), found the company, and ordered another. The two dogs looked almost identical but this new one was named Fraser. That was acceptable to our son because at the time he was an avid fan of Due South and the main character’s name was Fraser.

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Oscar on top, Fraser on the bottom

Of course after Fraser arrived, Oscar was found. Our son had used him as a basketball for an indoor set, and Oscar hung suspended in the basket netting. Our son then slept with both.

He clearly loved them, which is why we still have them. He clearly loved them for real, unlike my pretend love for Fifi. I’m more attached to Oscar and Fraser than I ever was to Fifi. So maybe she wouldn’t have ever come to life after all.

In spite of my recent post about how we accumulate way too many things, I find myself wishing I’d kept Fifi. She could be up on that bookshelf with her ratty pink fur and broken neck and tipped-over head, right next to Oscar and Fraser.

Proof that maybe she was loved after all.

Lisa 3 wks

Dad and me at three weeks. 

4 thoughts on “Velveteen Fifi

  1. I think “should” is the development of a conscience in children. The way we “should” behave, what we “should” feel, and what we “should” say. Our parents, grandparents, teachers, etc., instill that in us, and so we develop the mores and attitudes that enable our society to function smoothly … or not. It’s not a bad thing — but sometime, as in your situation with your Fifi, it walks us into a place where it’s a poor substitute for what we really need and we pretend.
    A thoughtful and insightful piece, Lisa. Thank you for sharing.

    • A therapist I used to work with years ago told me you need to pause whenever they use the words ‘I should’ and ask themselves why to find the real reason behind the perceived obligation. I think you’re right though, that it develops the conscience.

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