On Dignity and a Giant Raccoon


I have a goal going into parenthood of providing an environment marked by beauty, order, and simplicity for my child. It has long been a given that there will be no garish colors, no big cartoon characters, nothing of questionable taste. This morning, though, I have been thinking about a beloved toy from my childhood that today would not meet my standards for my child’s environment: a giant, unnaturally colored stuffed raccoon. When I received it as a gift at three years old it was bigger than me. The fur was a pinkish purple color and it looked like it was wearing a rainbow colored vest. It was only identifiable as a raccoon by the black patches around its eyes. If I saw something like it today I would think it hideous. At three years old, though, I thought it was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. It was big enough to use as a chair. I could sleep on it. It could sit at my child-sized table sipping invisible tea without need of a seat. It took up a lot of room. The other stuffed animals were subject to it. (Except Huggy Bear, a polar bear who was missing a nose and had stitches above one eye and was the undisputed king of the toys.) I loved that strange raccoon until I was bigger than it and the fur was rubbed raw in many patches. It finally went to where all good toys go when they begin to disintegrate, and I grieved its loss.

I am sure I would not choose a toy such as my old companion the raccoon for my child. However, if the child receives such a thing as a gift I will be okay with it. While I still want to create a Montessori-style simple, beautiful, natural environment for my child, I will not obsess on perfection. My goal is to raise a child who is dignified and has an appreciation and preference for things of value and substance. My friend the strange raccoon did not prevent these desires in me, and thinking about that wonderful, awful toy helps me relax and realize that a less-than-model environment will not lead to undignified taste.

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