Oklahoma City family fun comes in all shapes and sizes.
"Vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom," the monologue of engine sounds meets up with exaggerated voices and fake shooting sounds.
Isaac is at play. I hear his voice echo throughout the room. He makes up the background sounds of our household, narrated with help from Transformers and other action figures.
There are three boys in my household, not counting my husband, who may or may not join in their play. I've learned more than I ever really cared to know about superheroes, rescue squads and robots through osmosis; just being nearby is enough to pick up on the constant banter and impossible plot lines.
We've never been a family that cherishes stuffed animals.
The idea of a security object is new, since we don't have that many toys of the cuddly variety. Hard plastic is difficult to snuggle and we hadn't seen a need until just now.
Gabriel will be 2 in January and he attended preschool for the first time this fall. Attended is an optimistic word. Went and didn't have a good time/cried to go home/kept all the other toddlers awake during naptime is a more accurate description.
His teachers recommended establishing a security object, something to accompany him at school that would remind him of home. I'd read about the concept, since it's pretty much the opening chapter on every book ever about toddlerhood. My older two children, though, just didn't attach to any one thing.
Bear is that thing for Gabriel. He was a hasty purchase and no one gave him a more creative name. We can't go to school without Bear; should he be left behind, we have to turn around because school isn't happening without him.
A stuffed lovey made all the difference. I could see that working for Gabriel. What I couldn't predict, though, was that our 4 year old, Isaac, would all of a sudden also want one.
"What's my security object?" he asked pointedly.
"I don't know. You've never wanted one. Do you need one? I mean, you've made it all this time without one," I countered.
"Of course I do," he affirmed.
Sam is 9 and he joined right in without even a trace of a sheepishness. The same preadolescent who insisted anything little-kid-related isn't for him certainly didn't feel too old or anything to declare his absolute need for a stuffed animal.
Off we went to Build-A-Bear.
I'd never been to a Build-A-Bear store. I had no idea what to expect.
The Penn Square Mall location's staff gave us a tour and we weren't disappointed. I was wondering what we'd possibly find there with unique appeal to three little boys who love action heroes; sparkly stuffed unicorns and neatly-dressed dolls were what I was expecting.
It wasn't that way at all. We saw "Star Wars" teddy bears, Care Bears, practically every kind of animal you'd find in a zoo. My boys looked on in wonder. They each selected their animals with care and went through the process of choosing exactly what went into them, from the way they'd smell to the sounds they would make.
The Build-A-Bear staff confirmed what I had just learned: although their target demographic is ages 2 to 10, older kids and adults also really like creating stuffed animals.
Here are three reasons why I ended up unexpectedly loving Build-A-Bear:
- There's a bond: The child makes the decisions and forms an attachment. The ways the stuffed animals can be customized like adding a heartbeat sound or choosing to make their new friend smell like a cupcake encourage the fact that this toy will stand out from other toys. A printed birth certificate makes the experience complete, with the child's name and the name of the stuffed animal. That sense of ownership also imparts responsibility. The fact that you can wash this thing that will get taken everywhere, depending on which one you choose, is also a plus.
- The cost is totally manageable: I'm a very practical person. Collectibles and keepsakes are largely lost on me. I really appreciated the fact that we could choose exactly what went into each creature and that's what makes the experience and its end result unique. Gabriel chose a rabbit, for example, and I didn't want it to make noise because the idea of that as a distraction at naptime isn't appealing to me. Isaac, though, chose a recording with dragon sounds and that's fine. Sam selected a cat in honor of the kitten we had to put to sleep this past summer. Its beating heart really meant something to him. If we hadn't chosen sounds for the animals, we could have added just a satin heart at no additional cost. Gabriel's rabbit had just that, a cloth heart and it's perfect. Same with scents and clothing and accessories; they're there if you want to buy them but no worries if you don't. The cost averaged less than $30, which is within a nice range for Christmas or a birthday.
- Losing a toy may not be the end of the world: There's a system where you can leave some basic contact information in case you lose your stuffed animal and someone turns it into a Build-A-Bear store. Knowing that makes me feel like we're suddenly part of a more connected community of parents who look out for one another somehow; if I ever found a stuffed animal with BAB stitched on its paw, I would know where to take it. Having a place to look for a lost item is also comforting, should any of these three ever lose theirs.
Isaac's dragon is less noisy than his action figures. Sam holds onto his cat and talks about his kitten. Gabriel's Bear can now be traded for Bunny now and then. They really love them and that's a welcome change from all the plastic guns and cars.
I just might want one too, a little bit.