Dearly Bear: The Toy with the Same Disability as Me
‘We’ve got to find her.’ I say, slightly pleadingly.
Mum and I feel like we’re going to pass out in the hot stuffiness of the loft.
Mum turns around, ‘Did you look in here? Girls’ old toys?’
Admittedly, I didn’t even see the box that said, “girl’s old toys”.
Mum struggles with the tough tape. Eventually, she pulls out familiar faces. Including a bunny rabbit with filthy once-white fur and the face of a human baby: a weird classic that we both cheer to see.
Then, finally, Dearly Bear. Dearly Bear has slightly shaggy golden hair, black eyes, and a black bow. Dearly Bear, in many ways, has absolutely nothing in common with me – what with her being a stuffed bear and me being a human (stuffed dependent on how much I’ve eaten, how long ago).
Watching Toy Story too many times means that I’m genuinely concerned to know if Dearly is okay and forgives me for leaving her in the loft. She seems to be okay. Forgiveness, I hope, has been granted. It is good to see her.
Growing up, my sister and I had a slight obsession with collecting dolls that looked like us. An early sign of narcissism, maybe, but really, it was about feeling included. Our games tended to be very theatrical and imaginative. Why wouldn’t we want a Scarlett and Willow doll to be a part of the world ending? But none of my dolls had cerebral palsy. Some dolls did become disabled by being played with too much. We always played with our disabled dolls. It did not matter if they had lost a thumb, an arm, or a leg. We even invented a condition for dolls whose heads fell off.
Still, little-me longed for a doll that had cerebral palsy. Why? Because I had no friends who had cerebral palsy, or any other disability for that matter. Every day, I wore a splint on my left leg, my left arm, and left hand. The splint on my left leg was intended to make my foot better at meeting the floor at a right angle, heel first. The splint on my left arm was intended to elongate it. And the splint on my left hand was intended to stretch it out (it liked to exist in a scrunched up little fist). Not one other person at school wore a splint. I was alone in having this distinct, obvious physical difference.
I wished to have a friend who looked like me, and therefore, got me.
My Mum had the ingenuity to fit my littlest splints on a bear. I started wearing splints soon after my limping toddle began. This meant that my very first splints were absolutely tiny, and so, fit a bear.
I named her Dearly Bear. An odd, non-name. But she was very literally dear to me. Because she looked like me. And was a stand-in for the friend I so craved, the friend who got me.
I ended up taking Dearly Bear into school to do a show-and-tell on having cerebral palsy. Something that only really felt possible with her by my side. Being there and getting it. I could talk through my symptoms by talking through the bear.
I did take off Dearly’s splints, but I never put them on another toy. That would have been like putting my splints on a non-disabled human, and why would I do that? The splints were not an accessory, they were respected for their purpose. It was understood that Dearly Bear was the toy with cerebral palsy, with or without her splints, like me. And that was special.