The flu hit our family hard. It followed our 6-year-old home from school and entered the house despite a stringent handwashing policy. When his fever spiked, he was couch bound. That’s when he came face to face with the bug in his body making him feel lousy, and he gave it a great big hug.
It’s hard for kids to understand what’s going on inside them when they’re sick. (Frankly, it’s hard for adults too.) We can tell them things like, “you’ve got a bug” but imagine the horror that must conjure to the mind of a child. Happily, the folks at GIANTmicrobes are here to help. They’re the leading producer of plush, stuffed biological beasties and anatomically accurate organ dolls. The core of their 150 plushies are the eponymous microbes ⏤ from plasma and bone cells to Ebola and Anthrax ⏤ which are made exceedingly cute and not as frightening as you might think by being magnified “a million times actual size” and crafted of soft plush.
I was lucky enough to receive a Super Sick Day gift pack from GIANTmicrobes prior to my kid getting the crud. The pack contained a variety of nasties including the sweet blue blob of the flu, an evil-looking caped MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), and bumpy, big-eyed norovirus. Fortunately, my boy only had the flu, and although he was lacking his usual energy, he brightened upon receiving the squishy representation of his viral foe. I explained to him that the stuffed critter was a representation of what his body was currently fighting. Except inside of him, they were much smaller and there were a lot more of them.
A burgeoning scientist, he listened as I read the included description and turned the flu over in his hands a couple times before smiling softly. “You’re mean,” he told the plush and then let out a karate-type noise and punched its adorable face. Then he snuggled down. I heard him mumbling to the virus as the day went on, perhaps negotiating a truce.
While fantastic for teaching kids about biology, GIANTmicrobes don’t come without a tiny downside. Despite the name, the smaller versions have a tendency to get lost in cushions and under beds. And at least for my kids, even the bigger creatures were left out of later imaginative stuffed animal play, for some reason. I assume it’s because infectious diseases are pariahs regardless of size and softness. Still, the sheer variety of offerings from GIANTmicrobes opens up the possibility that their plushies could become playmates. The anatomical hearts are adorable. As are the brain cells and the brain itself. Chlamydia, less so, but equally as educational. Basically, if it’s in your body, you can buy a giant soft version of it.
A few days later in my house, the older kid was starting to feel better just as the younger one was getting ill. As he sat on the couch under a blanket, his brother handed him the plush blue blob. “I guess your brother really did give you the flu,” I said. Who can’t love a toy that comes with a dad-joke?