Jane Bradley: Picnics just won’t cut it for nursery Teddy

Teddy bears and the like that get passed from one pupil to another for weekend "care" can be stressful for parents who feel their skills are being judged on what they do with the toys.
Teddy bears and the like that get passed from one pupil to another for weekend "care" can be stressful for parents who feel their skills are being judged on what they do with the toys.
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Last weekend was a big one in our household. We had an important visitor.

The nursery teddy.

Nursery teddy, in our case, a beige bear named Oscar, may seem to be an innocuous house guest.

You’d think he’d be fairly undemanding: he doesn’t eat much; he doesn’t complain about the comfiness of the bed. He’s fairly quiet and unlikely to flush the loo in the middle of the night.

But I was looking ahead to his visit with a high level of trepidation.

My daughter, on the other hand, was beyond excited. A mix up on the part of her teacher meant she had been given him a week later than planned – and the anticipation had been mounting ever since.

He arrives, as many of his cousins at others nurseries, schools and Brownie packs around the country, presumably do too, with an accompanying diary, where the family is supposed to detail his experiences over the weekend.

Opening the book, I was right to be worried.

As I had feared, my daughter’s best friend’s mum (a good friend of mine who puts me to shame when she turns up at playdates with lunch boxes full of homemade snacks, when I have shoved a brown banana in my back pocket on my way out of the door) had gone to town on Oscar’s visit a few weeks earlier.

He’d been on a family holiday with them, enjoying sunny trips to the beach and indulging in daily ice creams. Train rides and barbecues. They’d even bought him his own tiny teddy to take to bed with him at night, adding to his existing luggage of a change of clothes, blanket and a brand new toothbrush.

Their pages were practically a craft project in themselves, adorned with glossy photos, stickers and tiny pockets which held even more photos – demonstrating the full extent of the fun he’d had with my daughter’s friend, let’s call her F.

Another family had taken him to Cornwall, where he’d taken in the sights of the Eden Project, learned about wildlife and been for bracing walks on the beach. Looking back at our previous entry a year ago, he’d had a fairly fun time even then, taking the train to visit my parents in England, where he was treated to the same level of grandparental pampering as my daughter.

But worryingly, we had a bit of a quiet few days looming ahead of us. I was concerned that Oscar was going to tell us he was disappointed and demand to be taken back to F’s house for more fun in the sun.

We had to up our game. We took him to an adventure playpark; he was carried to our neighbour’s house to play with her on her slide. We made him a hearty dinner of toad in the hole, followed by chocolate cake, making sure we made it clear this was an infrequent treat, in case Social Services were called to enquire about the lack of organic hummus in our daughter’s diet.

The next day, we took him on an expedition to the zoo, where to our horror, he saw hardly any animals due to a combination of the bird flu restrictions keeping any winged creatures inside and miserable weather.

Worthy of a complaint from our demanding bear, no doubt. If only he could talk.

In reality, my daughter’s nursery is a relaxed place with friendly 
parents who are unlikely to judge me on the quality of Oscar’s weekend.

But for others, the pressure is – completely ridiculously – real.

One parent tells me that the teddy – in their case, handed out during the first year of school, when the 
children and parents are settling down to get to know each other ahead of seven years of daily meetings at the school gates – is nothing to do with the children, oh no indeed.

Instead, she says, her school’s parents see it as a serious chance to sneak a peak into their children’s classmates’ homes, critiquing the furniture and the wholesomeness of the family meals.

Whispered conversations take place on a Monday morning once the book has been returned, she says. It is like Mean Girls all over again – only this time with 38-year-old protagonists.

No Fruit Shoots for teddy. Organic apple juice all the way. Hummus and carrot sticks for his snack.

Teddy can definitely not have spent the weekend in front of his favourite CBeebies show.

Others have regaled horror stories of other parents who have charted in their diaries how they have hand sewed entire outfits for said teddies – a tutu so it could join in their daughter’s ballet class; a pair of matching pyjamas so he could get ready for bed with their child that night.

A dangerous activity perhaps, when you consider my friend’s daughter’s experience of the Rainbow’s teddy, who after she complained of him being “scratchy” after taking him to bed one night, was found to have a sewing needle sticking through his stomach. Voodoo teddy style.

One pal recounts the tale of “ironic” WhatsApp groups created amongst the parents of children in her son’s class to circulate pictures of the school bear’s antics once their pint-sized host is in bed.

Teddy downing a bottle of red wine. Teddy snorting a dubious-looking white powder. Teddy in uncompromising positions with other soft toys.

The competition to be funny among the parents well outweighs the pressure put upon her by the real diary, my friend says.

I kept focusing on the previous week’s entry in Oscar’s diary, where the bear, in a refreshingly simple turn of events, had merely been to the cinema with his host, then spent time playing with his toys. Time out for teddies. And subsequent parents. Phew.

It was only after Oscar left that I realised we’d forgotten to clean his teeth all weekend – his tiny teddy toothbrush was lying, unused and not out of its wrapper, in the bottom of the bag.

Oh dear. Better rip up that picture of him stuffing his face with chocolate cake.