Self-Reflection

Someone has left a present on my doorstep. There’s no card, no occasion I can think of, but my daughter is excited to open it so I bring it inside. Turns out it’s a stuffed bear. It’s cute except for the fact that it won’t stop talking. It says things to my daughter like “Take only one cookie, Sweetie” or “No more than thirty minutes of TV. Wooden puzzles are more fun, don't you think?”

When I pick him up for a closer look, the bear cocks his sailor-hatted head at me. “Doris,” he says. “All that dirty laundry hosts harmful bacteria. And the mold in your refrigerator—it’s a miracle no one has gotten salmonella.”

I want to throw the bear in the garbage. But I consult my parenting book to make sure. The book says that under no circumstance am I to throw the bear in the garbage. Children, it says, must learn to appreciate the gifts they are given. “Living with the bear will teach your child habits of gratitude and self-reflection.”

Of course I want to do the right thing as a parent. But it’s hard to live with the bear. The bear has many demands, among them that I give my daughter only organic snacks and play Mozart in the car. He also likes to correct my spelling and point out better ways to organize my drawers.

One night my daughter and I watch the Miss America pageant. The bear perches on the back of the sofa and makes snide comments in my ear. “This show perpetuates the objectification of women. As the mother of a girl, you are setting a terrible example.”

“But it’s a scholarship competition!” I sputter. “We like the pretty dresses!”

“You should be enriching your daughter at this formative stage of her life.” He purses his furry lips. “There is nothing intellectually or spiritually redeeming about this spectacle. How about some Baywatch while you’re at it?” The bear doesn’t shut up until I change the channel to PBS.

My daughter is a compliant soul. She nods when the bear insists on “fixing” her homework before she turns it in. She says nothing when he asks, after a pointed pause, is she really sure she wants to wear the red tights with the pink dress? It’s not until she wakes up one night to find him gazing at her with unblinking plastic eyes that she begins to crack.

“Mom,” she whispers. “I don’t like how Teddy is always watching me.” She clutches me tightly, a passenger on a sinking ship.

She starts to wash her hands until they’re raw. She picks up objects around the house—the newspaper, a hairbrush—and sniffs them, wanting to know if smells can make a person sick. The sight of my beautiful girl sniffing a spatula sends me from the room weeping.

The bear finds me ironing. He tells me to stop crying. He says I need to work on my gratitude and self-reflection, and besides, I am getting tears and snot all over the clean laundry. I cry harder.

When my daughter refuses to hug me unless she is wearing oven mitts, I clench my teeth. I see she is wrapped in an invisible cocoon. I want to dig my nails into the sticky threads. I want to rip them away before she transforms into something unrecognizable. It’s time to stop crying. 

I invite the bear to join us on a picnic in the woods. I bring a basket of nitrate-filled lunchmeat and partially hydrogenated cookies. While he is busy lecturing us about the dangers of processed foods, we book it to the car. We tumble in and lock the doors. I switch on the ignition.  

I can hear him yelling. His voice is insistent, close. “Come back! You're doing everything all wrong! You’ll never get her into Harvard now!”

My daughter plugs her ears. I slam the car into reverse and feel a soft thump. I drive over the bear, forward and back, forward and back, until I no longer hear his voice.

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About the Author

Doris Cheng received an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University and currently teaches creative writing at The Writers Studio in New York City. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Normal School, The Cincinnati Review, New Delta Review, TSR: The Southampton Review Online, CALYX Journal, and other literary publications.