My 6yo son had been looking forward to this day for a long time. For weeks, he had been diligently earning stars on his chore chart for such tasks as feeding the dog, putting his clothes in the hamper, and brushing his teeth. He had his eye on the prize – a fuzzy new friend from Build-a-Bear Workshop.
If you’re not familiar with Build-a-Bear, it’s essentially like a make-your-own sundae bar only with stuffed animals instead of ice cream and exorbitantly priced clothing and accessories instead of sprinkles and cherries.
When you walk in, your senses are assaulted with stuffed animals of every size and color, some of whom talk and/or sing, dressed in more over-the-top outfits than the cast of “Glee.” Grass skirts and wetsuits, fluffy bathrobes and sparkly bikinis, skinny jeans and skateboard T’s. And that’s not even CONSIDERING the shoes. These bears’ footwear would put Paris Hilton to shame, people.
Building a bear is a complex, 8-step process that includes “stuff me, stitch me, fluff me, name me.” (Just TRY not to hum U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” right now, I dare you. Not that that song would be “beary a-PAW-priate” in this setting. Build-a-Bear culture is rife with bear puns, BTW.)
My son was strangely quiet when we entered The Workshop. He made a beeline for the bear he wanted, then stood by my side shyly while the uber-enthusiastic Bear Builder ™ Associate asked him if he was a first-timer. (He was.) Then she asked whether he wanted his bear’s stuffing to be soft, medium, or firm, as if we were buying a mattress. Miles got to work the foot pedal on the stuffing machine that shot the bear’s empty
carcass body full of fluff. Oh, and your child also gets to choose a heart for his bear (battery-powered heartbeat sound not included), which is sewn inside it.
Next, we moved on to the “fluff me” stage in the bear beauty salon. Miles brushed his bear to a smooth, synthetic sheen, then blasted it with a blowdryer. I kid you not. THEN came arguably the hardest decision of the day, because it was time to choose the bear’s outfit. These critters’ wardrobes rival Michelle Obama’s and Kate Middleton’s combined.
I tried to coax Miles into a practical daytime ensemble like cargo shorts and a Batman T-shirt, but he wasn’t having it. His bear apparently had a bad-boy streak, with a penchant for dark-wash denim and a black hoodie. With flame-adorned sneakers to match. (Personally, I thought the plaid Vans were way cuter, but nobody asked me.)
It was a good thing our visit happened to coincide with a special promotion, because at this point my wallet and I were starting to sweat. I had been warned by a fellow mom that the place was a money pit, and I had firmly informed my son beforehand that he could choose ONE outfit and ONE accessory for his bear. No way was a stuffed animal going to be better dressed than I was! I was wearing 3-year-old clearance-rack jeans and this bear was sporting designer denim?!
But our Build-a-Bear experience was not over yet. Next we had to sit down at a computer and punch in his personal information for his birth certificate. Birth certificate!!
Now, I could go all cynical-adult here about the constant upselling and the aggressive marketing that lured my son into the store that day after he saw a commercial on TV, but you know what? I was a child of the ‘80s. I can still remember the thrill of getting my first and only Cabbage Patch doll. I was at my friend Julie’s house when I got the call that my “adoption” had come through at last. I’d never been so excited in my life. I loved that plump-faced piece of plastic with all my heart. My mom even sewed clothes for it. If I recall, Giselle Grace had her own suitcase.
So seeing my son’s glowing face that day as he chose his hard-earned, well-dressed bear was worth every cent. The store associates were actually very friendly and professional. The one who rang us up was studying elementary education. AND she let me use a coupon. All in all, it was an un-FUR-gettable experience. Oy, Build-a-Bear. You’re killing me with those puns.