Speaking Up Without a Voice.
Life Lessons From a Stuffed Toy Fox.
When you live in a world designed to CHALLENGE, you’ve got to dig deep.
Sometimes this means years of grueling PRACTICE.
Sometimes this means SEEKING a part of yourself that you never knew existed. And sometimes this means BECOMING THE VOICE OF A STUFFED TOY FOX.
Hiya, James here from Candy James — a husband-and-wife creative duo from Australia who make children’s books and graphic novels inspired by real-life events.
In this article, I’m going to show you how two painfully shy young adults found the CONFIDENCE to be the vocal force of support their DAUGHTER NEEDED, and how this confidence led them to becoming stronger, more resilient not-so-young adults.
And you’re not going to believe where this confidence came from! WARNING: There’s a scripted story in Part 2 of this article. You may want to clear some space as you act along.
PART 1 – A Little Background.
1.1 How Talking In Public Scared Us Silly.
Most people who meet us now are surprised to learn how troubling we once found socialising. I mean, it’s still tricky, but back then … oh boy!
Our unconventional childhoods had done little to build much in the way of self-confidence. Growing up, the thought of having to talk to strangers made us sick to our stomachs.
Unfortunately for us, being young parents gave new meaning to the term “socially awkward”. Here we were, two quiet dabblers of the arts suddenly thrust in the spotlight because we had a BABY! People mysteriously wanted to talk to us. About things other than the weather. Parents wanted to arrange play-dates, have parties, meet for coffee. And we didn’t even drink coffee!
As CRAZY as it sounds, taking our daughter to the playground was incredibly difficult at first. Already on show because of our young age (in our minds at least), the thought of running around playing games and causing a ruckus filled us with dread.
Well, playing with the other children would be fun (kids tended to gravitate to our games), but what if the other parents wanted to talk to us?
What would we say?
We felt judged and completely out of place.
But Slowly Things Started To Change.
1.2 How Talking In Public Started To Be Alright.
Okay, so we had no plans of having more children, but our family was steadily growing by ways of a multitude of stuffed animals.
They didn’t say much at first, but with a little help from Daddy (aka James), characters were born and voices were raised.
With time, their personalities grew — some wise, some silly, some loud, some soft, but all confident beyond their limits, and all with a wild, explosive zest for life that was so very different to our own.
Or was it?
In filling the missing extended-family void, our daughter’s come-alive stuffed animals not only made life an endless game, but they also gave us — her parents — the strength, confidence, voice, and ability to deliver the support she (and we) needed most.
Wherever we happened to be.
These stuffed animals brought out the best in us and made us grow in a way that no amount of coaching ever could. In short, we became better parents. And more confident people.
Don’t believe me? Let me show you how.
Look Who’s Talking Now!
1.3 How We Were Suddenly The Loudest Of The Lot.
Remember when I said that going to the park and was a real struggle for us because we didn’t like talking to people?
Well, this is about the time when Archie, our daughter’s beloved arctic fox plushie, helped her overcome runner’s cramp and win a fifteen-hundred metre cross-country race by shouting his head off and cracking jokes as he and a shaggy-bearded DADDY ran around the track in full view of hundreds of well-behaved teachers and parents.
Yep, all eyes were on the guy holding the fluffy white fox that day!
Before we start our story, some points to remember:
Archie (he/him) is a fluffy white arctic fox stuffed toy. Reddie (she/her) is a smallish red fox stuffed toy.
Daddy (i.e.: James; i.e.: Me) provided the voices for both, resulting in some pretty intense moments of multiple-personality disorder over the years.
You’re allowed to read this out loud. Who knows, you might even have fun!
PART 2 – How We Learned To Overcome Our Social Fears and Embrace Our True Self.
In Which Archie Runs A Race And Poppy Wins One.
A true story.
The morning had started normal enough — merry calls from sugar-seeking parrots mingling with the distant hum of apple orchards getting their bi-weekly spray as Daddy tiptoed into Poppy Periwinkle’s room to help Archie and Reddie sing their wake up song.
Reddie (sweetly): “Rise up, rise up, it’s time to shine — ” Archie (scratchily): “I’ll eat your breakfast before you eat mine!” Poppy: “Hey!”
Daddy could see something was up. Poppy was not her usual cheery self.
Daddy (doing his chicken-like cluck-n-kiss): “What’s the matter Pop?” Poppy (scrunching neck into A&R): “Prickly!” Daddy: “Hmm. I suppose my beard is a bit prickly today. Perhaps I should — ” Archie: “Oh no! Daddy’s face has been attacked by a swarm of hungry cactus cats!” Reddie: “Not Princess Pricklebutt?!” Archie: “Worse! It’s Sir Spikesalot and Miss Ouchypants!” Reddie: “We have to rescue him!” Poppy (rising expectantly): “How?” Archie and Reddie together: “With kisses!”
Sufficiently rescued, Daddy was quickly abandoned as Archie, Reddie, and Poppy dashed away on Gaston, the burping four-wheeled-ladybug, to see if Mummy also needed rescuing.
A ride on Gaston was never a straight-forward affair — there were things to check out first, a course that needed to be raced, dents that needed to be gouged into the soft pinewood flooring.
Which is why, several laps of the kitchen later, a rather dusty ensemble of fur and pajamas screeched to a halt at the foot of the big bed.
Finding their own feet, the three mighty warriors took a flying leap … and ended up with a mouth full of fluff.
Mummy laughed from the other side of the house.
She was already up doing her exercises.
Poppy: “You’re all sweaty!” Mummy: “Yeah? And super-powerful! Watch this cool move I just learned.” Poppy (easily impressed): “Wow! I can do that too!” Archie (even more easily impressed): “Me too! Watch me, Daddy! Bet you can’t do this!” Daddy: “What do you reckon, Reddie?” Reddie: “Let’s do this!”
Launching to the lava-rug, we summoned our ultimate finishing moves, then got dressed, made breakfast, packed lunch, and set off for school.
As the trees zipped past us in the car, we tried singing Archie’s favorite song of the moment.
ALL THE COLORS OF THE RAINBOW A song by Archie, a fluffy arctic fox who’d recently learned his colors with Poppy Periwinkle.
“Black and black and black and black, black and black and blllaaaccck! I can sing the rainbow! Sing the rainbow! Sing along with me!”
— but Poppy wasn’t in it. She was thinking about the big race that was happening later that day.
Mummy: “There’s nothing to worry about, Pop. It’s just a nice run with your friends.” Poppy: … Daddy: “We’ll be there to watch you.” Poppy: “You will?” Mummy: “Of course! It’s going to be really fun! Just like chasey-chasey and all your friends will be there running — ” Daddy: “And Archie is entering the race, too!” Poppy and Mummy together: “He is?” Archie: “HE IS?! I mean, of course he is! I is. I am.” Reddie (pointedly): “Yes, of course you are, Archie.” Mummy: “I know! He can wear an orange ribbon like yours, Poppy! You can all earn points for your house!” Reddie: “Go team!” Archie: “Well … I do look good in ‘orange’ …” (Archie’s knowledge of color didn’t extend far beyond black.) Archie (whispering): “Daddy, how long is this … er … run?” Daddy: “One and a half kilometres.” Archie: “I see. And … how long is that?” Daddy: “Well, do you remember when we practiced in the forest yesterday?” Archie: “That wasn’t ‘practice’, Daddy. We were running for our lives!” Reddie: “Yeah, we were trying to get away, but Poppy always caught us!” Mummy: “Poppy’s too fast for us!” Poppy: “He-he.”
Daddy: “Well, it’s about … half that distance.” Archie: “Half?! So we have to run even more?!” Reddie: “No, Archie, ‘half’ is half. So it’s twice as much less.” Archie: . . . Mummy: “Don’t worry, Archie. Poppy will be running with you.” Archie: “Yeah, but she’s like a RUNNING MACHINE! Have you seen her GO? She’s faster than all the boys! SHE’S EVEN FASTER THAN DADDY!” Poppy: “He-he.” Daddy (seeing Poppy smile in mirror): “Yes, she is very fast. Do you think you can catch her, Archie?” Archie: “Well, it depends …” Daddy: “Depends on what?” Archie: “On what day it is. Foxes are really only good at running on — Mummy: “On Wednesdays?” Archie: “Yes, on Wednesdays!” Mummy: “Today IS Wednesday!” Archie: “IT’S WHAT?! I mean — ”
And then it happened. That wonderful, glorious thing we had been hoping for.
Poppy (pulling Archie close to her neck): “Don’t worry, Archie. I will help you run faster. We can do it together!”
We dropped Poppy at school full of hugs and kisses, promising to be at the oval in time for the big race. Reddie decided to stay with Poppy, tucked safely away in her secret-spy pocket, to make sure Poppy didn’t forget to gobble up all her lunch — she needed her strength, after all!
Then, turning on our heels, Candy and I smiled at each other as we skipped happily back to the car. Depending on the records viewed, Archie may or may not have sung a gloating song.
ARCHIE’S GLOATING SONG (sung — or not sung, as the case may be — with pride) “Oh, Mummy and Daddy don’t know what to do when their little girl cries tears of boo-hoo! They try to think stuff — But it’s never enough … Oh, what’s a parent to do?” Now, some parents are vocal. They’ll be outside, see something happen and say something about it. Not us. Even at sports events, we never felt it proper to scream woo-hoo! A clap and general cheer with the crowd was more than enough. With Archie and Reddie’s coaching, we may have been emerging from our shells, but we weren’t quite to that level yet. Shouting to bring attention to ourselves just wasn’t in our nature. Still isn’t.
Archie, on the other hand, would have none of this. He knew when people needed help and looking out now as tens of little feet stumbled over the great giant grassy hill, cheeks red and hands dragging, he knew one little girl in particular needed help!
And if Daddy wouldn’t do it, then Archie would show him how!
Archie (pulling Daddy): “Come on, Daddy! POPPY NEEDS US!” Daddy: “Right!” Archie (cheering loudly as he and Daddy draw up close to a very travel-weary Poppy): “Woo-hoo! Way to go, Poppy! You’re doing great! Keep going!” “We’re just like walruses, zooming along the African savannah!” (Archie gets his animals mixed up — he meant cheetahs.) “Look at us go, Daddy! Me and Poppy are even faster than you! Whoop-whoop!” “Hey, Poppy, they better make this track longer ‘coz we’re going to finish it in no time!”
For one-and-a-bit kilometres, Archie the arctic fox (with Daddy in tow) ran beside his favourite girl, shouting encouragements and cracking jokes to make the time pass.
And when, at long last, Archie dashed past the finish line and congratulated our daughter for coming FIRST PLACE, he ran back and did the same for all the other six-year-olds doing their best to run the longest race of their lives.
And you know the really funny thing?
The parent cheering the loudest on the sideline was Mummy, holding a small red fox in her hands.
“Adults,” Archie said knowingly, “just don’t know when to speak up.” “Nope,” said Reddie. “Not a clue.”
Archie & Reddie showed us time and time again how to help our daughter overcome challenges, gain self-confidence, and be the type of parent she needed most.
This is part of an ongoing series by Candy James that explores the role of imagination, play, creativity, acting, and childhood playthings in finding one’s own identity, confidence, and ability as parents and creatives.
Read the hilarious early-reader graphic novel series inspired by our real-life adventures to bring a little fun, magic, and humor to our daughter's childhood.