Before Alex was born in December 1991, I made two teddy bears for him. After seeing how tiny he was as a newborn, I was worried that those bears intended to comfort him might scare him instead with their big eyes and slightly creepy smiles. Nonetheless, he seemed to like them, smiling back at them as he grew older. Once he was bigger, he wanted those teddy bears, whom he designated in his practical way as “Red Bear” and “Blue Bear” for the color of the bows around their necks, beside him in his bed every night. When I would check on sleeping Alex, I would find Red Bear and Blue Bear ever vigilant, always awake and keeping watch over my boy.
Over time, Alex apparently outgrew the bears, who were relegated to his bedroom closet for many years. Most people would have thrown them away after all that time, but I felt sentimental about those bears that I had lovingly sewn and stuffed while Alex was stuffed in my pregnant belly. Moreover, knowing that Alex often rediscovers items from his past and enjoys the nostalgia of remembering his childhood, I thought he would be upset if those bears ever disappeared.
Recently, those bears found themselves relocated from the dark closet to their formerly honored positions in Alex’s bed. Checking on Alex before I went to bed one night, I discovered Red Bear and Blue Bear on Alex’s pillow, one on each side of his peacefully sleeping head. Since they were not there when I said bedtime prayers with him before he went to sleep, Alex must have dragged them out of the closet sometime after we recited bedtime prayers and said, “Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite! Love you!” in unison, as we do every night.
While sleeping with teddy bears is not something typical twenty-seven year old young men should be doing, Alex’s life is not typical. In most ways, he is a little boy in an adult’s body that doesn’t function properly because of autism. His hands don’t cooperate, so he relies upon us to help him with getting dressed, grooming himself, and fixing food. The words don’t come easily, so he trusts us to speak for him when he can’t tell what he needs. Sensory issues make the world too loud, too bright, and too irritating for him, but he knows we do our best to ease the distractions and soothe him. For these and other reasons, he cannot live independently and needs our help to function on a daily basis. Alex's life is not typical in any way, shape, or form.
Perhaps he sought out those teddy bears for additional comfort. Although they are a bit faded and worn with a few stitches I added by hand years later to reinforce the seams that had come undone because they were so well loved, their big eyes, silly grins, and colored bows are still familiar. Their stuffing has flattened over time, but they are still soft. I’d like to think that as they surround Alex’s precious head, they protect his mind and give him peace.
This winter, Alex also began sleeping with a quilt I made for him when he was a little boy. Knowing his love of numbers and letters, I found materials for the quilt squares filled with these beloved symbols and stitched them together for him as I had the bears a few years earlier. Since the quilt was made for a smaller version of Alex, it cannot cover his current nearly six-foot frame. However, he is content to have the “1997 blanket,” as he has dubbed it, cover his feet and keep them warm.
Not long ago, I asked him why he liked sleeping with the bears and quilt again, and he smiled and told me, “Because Mommy made them for Alex.” While these comfort items may serve as nostalgic reminders of a simpler time in his life, I think Alex now appreciates the effort I made by sewing the bears and quilt especially for him. Maybe he sees them as symbols of the all-consuming love I have for him that wants to protect him, to comfort him, to make his life happy and content.
As I continue to pray that God will completely heal Alex of autism so that he can live a fulfilling and independent life, I hope that he someday will not need the comfort of Red Bear and Blue Bear and the 1997 blanket. If they wind up back in the closet as fond reminders of an earlier time, I will be content knowing that they served their purpose. In the meantime, I hope he views these old, familiar bits of cloth stitched together as a reminder of his mother’s unconditional love for her precious son.
“So give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy.” Proverbs 23:25