Animal House: How stuffed friends helped us through a pandemic

Josh Farnsworth

The year is 2080.

Flying cars have finally become a reality, laptops are now the size of a pen, and a world reflects on the 60th anniversary of a somber point in history.

The great-grandkids gather around Old Man Farnsworth’s house to hear the story of how our family lived through the great pandemic of 2020. 

“How did you make it?”they will ask. After gracefully slipping my dentures into my mouth, I wait for the children to park their hover-chairs and listen. 

“Was it resilience? Did you spray the lawn with Febreze non-stop?”

I will have three words for them: Clifford. Rocky. Cat-o. 

No, it was not tremendous upper body strength (though I may throw in a made up story about fending off swarms of heathens trying to steal my last roll or two of toilet paper). The very key to surviving the pandemic, in great part, was due to my kids’ small army of stuffed animals.

I can see you, and most likely my great-grandchildren, are a bit confused. Let this near-100-year-old explain...

My kids have slowly accumulated stuffed animals, superheroes, etc. over time. There were plenty of times pre-pandemic when I looked at the lot of them and shook my head. Why do we have so many? When did we get a stuffed alligator? Why did we not just stop at one? Or 12?

On the surface, they are threads and stuffing with the occasional fluffy tail or hard plastic eyes. But my kids are serious about their stuffed friends. Very serious.

So serious that we recently became the proud owners of a stuffed animal hammock—a decorative way to store them in our playroom.

Side note: The sight of stuffed animals lounging around on a hammock while you attempt to work from home and serve your children breakfast at 6 a.m. really “brightens” your day.

While the concept of stuffed animals is an easy one to understand, I never would have known they would be the unsung heroes in our house during this tumultuous time in so many ways.

Friends that can be within six feet

As a graduating Kindergartner, my oldest, Cooper, was able to make an influx of new friends at school this year. 

And just like that, all those friends had to go—and stay—home for months on end.

Although he gets along great with his younger brother, he has needed additional camaraderie. These are the favorites. Clifford the famous red dog has been Cooper’s favorite for years. 

At a time when Cooper seemed to most need a friend, Clifford was there. As in, literally, everywhere, barking away loneliness one day at a time.

And as Cooper has bonded with his friends, his younger brother has watched and done the same. Rocky is a small, playful raccoon who Milo seldom has breakfast without. 

Collectively, the two…er, four… of them have allowed each other to play together, but also go into their own corners when tensions get high (you know, when one of them gets to have an extra piece of candy, and World War III nearly breaks out for the other).

Stuffing makes for a nice buffer sometimes.

Emotional maturity

My kids are filled with lots of things: energy, sugary cereal, etc. However, they are also chalk-full of love, stories and empathy. The Stuffed Animal Gang has been the rain bucket for those emotional clouds.

We have talked about the pandemic and about staying home. They mostly understand we are on the lengthiest home vacation of all time. But sometimes not seeing grandma or their cousin friends is beyond any reasoning.

On one occasion, Cat-o (you get one guess as to what animal character she is) was the subject of a long lecture on why we all can’t go see my father-in-law on a certain day. Cat-o was able to act as a surrogate grandfather that day. Also, great listener, that Cat-o is.

And my kids are not the only ones emotionally invested.

I find myself on the edge of my seat when the drama unfolds. When a favorite stuffed animal gets demoted in popularity and loses privileges to sleep in the bed or come on the big road trip, I openly root for a comeback story.

Hang in there, Batman. Times are tough now, but Milo will come around. 


The way they play reflects the way they live sometimes.

Case and point: Milo recently had a doctor’s appointment. While he is usually not that timid for his age when it comes to seeing the doctor, a familiar scene unfolded at the Farnsworth Municipal Theater for the days leading up to the checkup: animals needing checkups for a litany of issues.

For some, it was a routine exam.

For others, it was suddenly an emergency room for the poor animals who had the worst of life befallen them. For one unlucky animal, the diagnosis was “broken bones all over and a broken belly button.”

How one breaks their belly button, I will never know. Sounds painful.

That said, I was able to role play a routine exam with a few animals and find out just how on edge he was. We talked (well, I did through a very reflective stuffed talking tomato) and felt better about the appointment.

The doctor appointment went great. No broken belly buttons to report.

New perspective

They sometimes overrun their beds.

And then, overrun ours when they drag them all in early in the morning.

They need constant washing (animal tubs, we refer to them as).

They will be worn down to a last thread, no doubt.

But for whatever reason we gathered a small gang of these stuffed animals, I am thankful. Maybe your kids have stuffed animals, or dolls, action figures, or an invisible friend or two. Either way, here are to the silent heroes that have helped us through a strange time that is hard for kids to understand.

I hope you had one or 12, too.

Compassion and friendship are universal languages. And there is more behind those threads, stuffing and hard plastic eyes than at first glance.

So, my great-grandchildren, that is how your grandparents made it during the great pandemic of 2020 with much of their happiness intact.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I left my flying car double-parked. If you can’t find me when I get back, I’ll be the one napping in the stuffed animal hammock.