~ this one is for therapists. And those interested in Bunny’s history ~
My early therapy years were spent working with children and adolescents at a residential treatment center. As I entered private practice and began creating my own therapy office – a consistent, calm, welcoming space - I needed a stuffed animal that could be soothing to clients – while I see people of all ages, children and adolescents remain a large part of my clientele.
I’m pretty particular about most things – I like a sturdy fidget spinner and a good Pop-It (has equal sound and push-pop on both sides). So I wasn’t going to just run into a drugstore and grab the first bear I saw. I researched my options, online and in high-end toy stores. The animal had to be soft, aesthetically pleasing – perhaps have multiple tactile options on it’s stuffed body. All the things a good therapy stuffed animal can be.
The first acceptable animal was a very soft, small brown bear. He had imploring eyes and was soothing to stroke. However, I, and one client, were the only people who cared at all about him. No one cared to take him from his couch corner and at the end of each day, I pulled him from between the couch cushions where the daily neglect left him. I had true empathy for that bear and wish I had given him to his one adorning client instead of Goodwill.
The couch was empty.
The next summer at the yearly arts festival I found a blue knitted yarn cat made from repurposed sweaters. She had four long legs and a long tail. I thought Blue Cat’s face was engaging. Clients thought Blue Cat’s face was frightening. Blue Cat went to the bottom of the bookshelf to stand watch, out of sight, over the emotion cards.
Again the couch was empty.
And then I found Bunny.
Actually, that’s a lie. I had my eye on Bunny for a long time. For some reason I hesitated to buy him – fear of failure?????
He is soft. He has long stroke-able ears. His face is engaging but passive. His nose, a cute pink triangle. His butt is a bean bag so he has some heft and sits well. He’s a brindle bunny - a mix of brown, grey, a little black.
Most people love Bunny. Everyone likes him. And not just kids, Bunny’s most fervent admirers are all adults. He is held on laps, his ears are stroked, his ears, arms, and feet are tied into loving knots, his head is petted. He is talked to. Clients inquire about his name, gender, and other personal details. I call him Bunny, but he has multiple names – one of them is Comfort. Even the most hardened and dismissive teenage girl absently strokes his head while she talks. When clients leave the office they make sure Bunny is sitting in a comfortable space with his ears and legs comfortably arranged. They say to him, “goodbye” and “see you next week”.
Recently a woman in her mid-20s, who never appeared interested in Bunny, told me she has a small Bunny she requested as a gift because of Bunny on the couch – she wanted one at home. She said of Bunny in the office, “he is always here, he’s a constant”.
Sometimes people are frustrated and Bunny is abused. But amends are always made. One woman came in and sat on the couch, Bunny was in the way. She knocked him to the floor - “move over” she told him. Then, after a few seconds she sighed and picked Bunny up off the floor, “It’s not your fault,” she told him as she set him upright on the couch next to her.
What is it about Bunny that endures him to people? His ears really are great for self-soothing and absently stroking while talking. But I think it’s the shape of his face and the placement of his eyes. They let everyone know that Bunny accepts you regardless of your faults, your scary secrets, and strange desires. Most importantly, he allows himself to be whomever you need.
My two nephews and I were running around their tiny town, playing hide and seek, exploring, and talking to neighbors.
Henry, age six, found a deep pile of leaves in a church yard along a stone wall the boys were walking on and jumped in. Laughing, he kicked around in the leaves for a few minutes. When he climbed back over the wall, ants were crawling all over his calves and shins and into his socks. He panicked, swatting at his legs as tears welled in his eyes. We quickly removed his shoes and socks and brushed the ants off. His tears dried, and we resumed our journey in the direction of his parent’s small health food store where his mom was stationed behind the counter.
As I got a drink from the cooler, Henry checked in with his mom and the two boys ran upstairs to play. At the counter paying for my drink, and feeling slightly guilty for allowing her son to play in an anty pile of leaves, I told Emily, my sister in law, about the ants. Emily smiled and said she’d already heard the entire story. She slid coins into the cash drawer, closed it, and we too went on with our day.
But the Ant Incident stuck with me. It’s not about ants. It’s about attachment, the single most important parenting practice. More important than healthy food, organic toys, and appropriate pre-school placement.
Bonding with an infant is a known practice. Hospitals promote parent and infant contact after birth. Many people recognize the importance of attachment in a person’s first years. However, attachment is a process that continues throughout the life span. A parent who is able to attune themselves to the on-going emotional needs of their child provides a secure emotional base from which the child can explore the world, knowing they have a safe emotional place to return.
The connection Henry made with his mother after the Ant Incident is a perfect example of how parents can continue to provide secure attachment. After the Ant Incident Henry and his brother re-engaged and continued their jokes, ribs, and exploration back to their parents where Henry immediately sought his mother’s attention. He told her the story, she validated his fear and provided reassurance – all within a minute. He then ran off again with his older brother.
A healthy attachment experience exists inside this seconds-long interaction that provided security, safety, and assurance to Henry. And let me be clear – checking Henry’s legs for ant bites is the least important part of this interaction. The secure attachment between Henry and his mother is exemplified by Henry telling a story about a scary incident to his attachment figure, her listening, nodding in understanding, asking if he is okay, giving a quick hug and putting right to the world. It was focused attention, full engagement, and calm, kind words that happened in a matter of a minute on a typical day in this family’s life.