I know you’ve seen them everywhere. Maybe it’s been a giraffe in a grocery cart, a shark at the airport or a bunny in overalls at the park. But no matter where you’ve been, chances are each animal was clutched in the small hands of a child. Yep, I’m talking about soft, cuddly stuffed toys. Those best friends, constant companions and confidants of kids. When my now 25-year-old child Harry was a toddler, they* didn’t want to leave the house without a small squeezable Cowardly Lion or gingham-dressed Dorothy from Kansas.
The benefits of a child’s stuffed animals or floppy dolls are well documented. They can be help manage feelings of anger or sadness, and encourage imaginative play. For Harry, those stuffed toys were often traveling companions on her make-believe hallway train.
In addition to playing with his stuffed animals, which included a collection of more Beanie Babies than I ever cared to count, Harry loved to create with markers, colored pencils and paints. I’d never thought about combining their artwork and love of stuffed toys until last winter.
In January, I received an email from Yaela Uriely, an Israeli artist, toy designer and mother of two. Yaela was struck by what she read about the difficulties that LGBTQ youth face. “When I read your blog I couldn’t help thinking about all these great struggling kids and teenagers out there,” she said. “I thought maybe my dolls could help them a bit.”
Yaela was initially inspired to create a stuffed toy when her daughter was experiencing a difficult time. Yaela encouraged her to channel her emotions through art, and then transformed the drawing into a unique, cuddly, three-dimensional piece of handmade art.
“Soon enough I found myself surrounded with all her friends and cousins asking me to turn their drawings into dolls as well,” Yaela said. Dolls ‘n’ All was born with the intent of supporting children the world over.
I like to think that an important aspect of Yaela’s stuffed toys is building self-confidence. Seeing their drawing transformed into a real-life companion helps validate a child’s creativity and self-worth.
I’m thrilled with the manner in which Dolls ‘n’ All celebrates a child’s artistic expression. It’s such a wonderful concept: A child creates a special drawing and just a few months later that creation is in their hands, ready to be hugged, held and loved. As a child Harry drew a lot of mermaids. If I’d had the opportunity to secretly send in one of his pictures, I know how excited he would have been.
I think a child learns through art to connect with and express their innermost authentic self.
Over the holidays in 2006, Harry decorated one of my toy soldier cookie cutouts as a drag queen. (They spent 30 minutes on it!)
I put Harry’s drag queen cookie on the plate I sent over to his dad’s house. That cookie remained on the kitchen windowsill for years, untouched. Though the cookie eventually faded from the sun and made its way to the trashcan, I thought one of Yaela’s dolls would be a fun and beautiful tribute.
Harry loved the drag queen cookie doll. And then decided his dad would like it even more. So he wrapped it up and sent it off to his dad, Ken, for Father’s Day. Ken got kind of choked up when he saw it. This one-of-a-kind doll reminds Harry’s dad and me how lucky we are to have such a vibrant, expressive son.
“I realized that there is something special here and decided to make kids all over the world happy,” Yaela told me. “I think it’s a great way of keeping your child’s drawing dream forever.”
I’ve always told Harry that you can have, be or do anything. The notion that you can create something tangible from an idea is a wonderful message and a belief that every kid, no matter what age or how they identify, should hold in their heart.
*My nonbinary kid Harry uses he/she/they pronouns interchangeably. If I as which I should use, Harry says, “Mom, I really don’t care what you call me.”
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