Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
Sometimes, an act of kindness can be as tiny — or as huge — as a smile. If you take a walk on a residential street around town these days, you might find some unexpected new neighbors: stuffed bears, or other animals, gazing out from windows all over the neighborhood; bringing comfort, as teddy bears do.
“We’ve got two in the window right now — one huge one and one small one,” said Karen Wrang, who lives in Highland Park in West Seattle. “Hopefully they will make somebody smile.”
The bears (and penguins and gorillas and tigers) are part of an impromptu worldwide project, intended to delight squirrelly children taking neighborhood walks during the coronavirus pandemic. The idea spread rapidly on social media in recent weeks, from postings on the community forum website Nextdoor (as was the case in West Seattle) and Facebook groups, suggesting families should put teddy bears in their windows to encourage socially distant fun.
The inspiration is the classic children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxbury, in which a family has adventures as they look for a bear. Kids disappointed by canceled playdates and long days at home can likewise make a walk on their own street an adventure; a scavenger hunt, with smiles as the reward.
A number of Seattle neighborhoods have already joined the bear-hunt effort. For those who haven’t, it’s simple to get things started: Just put a bear — or whatever stuffed animal you have handy — in the window, and watch what happens next.
Shannon McGuire’s 4-year-old daughter helped her mother put six stuffed animals in their window — and was delighted to find bears at four houses on their block.
“It seemed like everyone did it really quickly,” said McGuire, who lives in the North Arbor Heights area of West Seattle.
“My daughter loved it. I told her that people would have bears in their windows and she looked at me in disbelief,” McGuire said, noting that for children, “their worlds have closed in a whole lot lately. It was kind of magical for her to go on a normal walk around the block that she’s seen 100 times, and have it be an adventure.”
I went on a bear hunt myself in West Seattle over the weekend, on a resolute afternoon unfolding in shades of gray (clouds) and pink (cherry blossoms). Families walked slowly down neighborhood streets, keeping far apart as they pushed strollers, stepped around puddles, pointed at windows. Some homes hosted solo bears; other windows displayed companionable groupings. Two bears embraced in one window; in another, a penguin led a row of soft friends; in another, a pink gorilla seemed to exude calm.
Later, at home in my North Seattle neighborhood, I found myself rummaging a well-worn teddy bear and a shabby tweed owl from the back of a closet, and putting them in a small upstairs window. Only the sharpest of eyes might notice them from the street, but never underestimate kids on a quest.
Maybe, for someone, my own Teddy and Edward might inspire the feeling I got from seeing a stout bear in a Seahawks jersey in a West Seattle window, with a homemade sign displayed above. It read, simply: “Hope.”