On a balmy Monday night in early March, my husband, Rich, and I arrived at the Orlando airport with all three children, but something was missing: Bulldog. Bulldog, our youngest son, Ian’s, favorite stuffed animal and constant companion, had recently endured a family ski trip in February but was now likely swimming with sharks in Sea World.
Bulldog had survived a day at Disney, a couple days by the lake in Mount Dora, and 9/10ths of the day at Sea World before he escaped. We have a picture of him in Shark Encounter at about 5:00 p.m., and we think he made it to dinner. While I dreaded a flight back to New York with Ian and without Bulldog, common sense told me not to drive back to Sea World and risk missing our 8:00 p.m. flight. Surely Ian would fall asleep, and we’d all survive. Bulldog’s twin, brought by Santa as a backup, was home waiting for us.
Things did, for once, go smoothly. Ian fell asleep early on in the flight and only mentioned Bulldog a few times. When we got home around midnight, we tucked him in, placing the spare Bulldog in his arms to be discovered in the morning. When Ian awoke, he came out of his room holding Bulldog and asking, “Two dahs? Two dahs?” He was calm, but his request tugged at my already guilt-ridden heartstrings. He was used to having two Bulldogs at home. I should have kept a better eye on the dog. I should have left him in the car for the day. I should stop worrying about this dog and get over it.
Ian had a speedy recovery. He quickly replaced his missing Bulldog with my daughter, Eliza’s, stuffed Minnie Mouse. Minnie Mouse was about the same size and dressed in bright pink polka dots with a matching bow. Ian fell in love. For him, a solo Bulldog was just fine, as long as he had “Ninnie Mouse.” Unfortunately, the other kids and I were still a bit distraught. I kept worrying that we might lose this Bulldog, and they selfishly wanted more bulldogs for themselves. One wasn’t enough.
I purchased the original Bulldog in 2009 from a neighbor selling brand new baby gear. I bought some packages of swaddling blankets, my go-to shower gift at the time. As I left her apartment, she casually mentioned the bin of stuffed animals and said, “They’re new, from Ikea. I’ll sell you any you want for a dollar a piece.” I picked Bulldog and a mother and baby elephant. My oldest son, Robert, was about six months old at the time.
Robert already had his own favorite animal, a yellow gingham bear named Night Night Bear. He slept with his bear every night, but slowly, as he grew, Bulldog made his way into the crib more and more often. When Robert was two years old and Eliza was born, Bulldog had taken center stage and become Robert’s baby, in need of bottles, pacifiers, and diapers, just like his new baby sister. Bulldog enjoyed a couple years as Robert’s companion, but then settled to the bottom of our stuffed animal bin, waiting to be rediscovered.
Last fall, as we unpacked in our new house, we went through a bin of stuffed animals one night at bedtime. The children’s memories amazed me as they reflected on the stories that made each one special. As Robert, now six, talked about Bulldog, Ian’s face lit up. Dog was one of his first words, and he immediately tackled the dog to the ground, smiling and almost laughing as he exclaimed, “Dah!” over and over again. Robert officially gave Bulldog to Ian, although he never lets us forget that he was the original owner. From that night on, Eliza started sleeping with her Jellycat monkeys again, and Robert with his yellow Night Night bears. These all but forgotten animals reentered our lives, precious keepsakes from the newborn days.
When we lost Bulldog at Sea World, I felt I let my son down. I was the one who needed him back, and the scarcity of these plush toys haunted me. One night when Rich was out of town, I woke up at 1:00 a.m. My sleepless thoughts drifted to Bulldog. He had been missing for about ten days at this point, and there was no response from Sea World’s lost and found team to my online inquiry. It was time to take action.
Whole websites devoted to lost and found loveys exist on the Internet for crazy moms like me, but no one reported finding this particular dog. I found a few choices on eBay, ranging from $35 US for a “gently used” one to 70 British pounds for a brand new one. Prices had gone up since Santa made his Christmastime purchase. I ordered one of the least expensive, good condition ones before realizing that there are two sizes with slightly different features: An Ikea Gosig 15″ and Gosig 21″ bulldog. Damn. Which one is ours? I snuck into Ian’s room and silently removed Bulldog from bed to measure and examine him. By the time I was finished, I had ordered three new bulldogs, filling the void of the lost one and allowing for extras for the big kids.
My Yahoo inbox filled with eBay order confirmations, which I forwarded to my husband to make him aware of the situation. I apparently also ordered one on Amazon, due to my one-click account settings, so now, like an expectant mother dog, I wasn’t sure exactly how many pups would be in my anticipated litter. I knew these dogs would be loved, so without feeling too much guilt, I went back to sleep. An infrequent internet shopper, I rationalized that this binge wasn’t too bad. I could have been ordering Ron Popeil inventions from QVC.
A week later, our dogs started to arrive. The first one was identical to our original. The next one was the bigger version, slightly different from ours. The kids named that one Mister, which evolved into Mister Sassy. Ian started calling him “Bee Dah” for big dog. Before receiving any more dogs, a mysterious book arrived from a rare bookseller. It turns out the dog I ordered on Amazon was not a bulldog at all but a Swedish novel called Den Sjunde Dagen. The ISBN number and the bulldog’s item number apparently got mixed up. The kind customer service person issued a refund and said we could keep the book, but I don’t know Swedish and plan to return it. It is apparently worth about $35, after all.
Our house is now full of bulldogs. Ian doesn’t need to sleep with them all, just one or two, but he brings them to life by putting them in his high chair, doll stroller, swing and tricycle. They are part of our family now, Mister Sassy and his three pups.
Logically, I didn’t need this many bulldogs, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye that day at Sea World. Bulldog was part of my life as a new parent, a bond between my kids and a symbol of their early years. Shedding the baby gear and clothing has been easy for me since Ian was born, but these bulldogs will stay. They taught me my first word in Swedish: Gosig, meaning cuddly.