Yes, you can use a stuffed yeti if you prefer.

Image: Jane Sherman

On Saturday afternoon, my kindergartner entered full-on meltdown mode. It’s understandable for an extroverted six-year-old who wishes he could play with his friends—or with anyone, really. And yet my overloaded brain struggles for a productive way to keep us from devolving into emotional sludge. This weekend, though, was different. This weekend, we hunted for bears.

I had missed the smattering of news stories about a national movement that encourages people to put a teddy bear in their front window. This effort creates a sort of scavenger hunt and a means to occupy your kids that doesn’t involve a video game controller or an endless loop of the Paw Patrol theme song. What I did see was a post on my neighborhood Nextdoor site, a Google map aggregating upwards of 150 windowsill-mounted stuffies along the swath of the city that traces Lake Washington.

We hit the sidewalk and followed the map until we spotted our first bear, a small, mint green teddy peeking over the hedge in a front window. Then a bigger bear, looking down at us from the second story of a house around the corner. Bad mood averted—between navigating the map on my phone and tracking house numbers, we even snuck an educational component into the proceedings.

John Madrid, a Madison Park resident and managing broker at Realogics Sotheby's, built this almighty Google map after a friend back east told him about the teddy bear project. Rather than aimlessly wandering the streets in a sort of ursine Easter egg hunt, he figured, “Wouldn’t it be easier if people could just plan their walks via a map?” Madrid gave himself a crash course in custom Google maps and now estimates he spends a half hour each morning and evening entering in new coordinates as people send him their addresses. He’s even found custom icons for households that didn’t have a bear but still wanted to post a stuffed chicken, flamingo, giraffe, or dragon. “I didn’t realize there were that many stuffed hedgehogs out there,” he says.

Now Madrid’s map charts bears from Eastlake to Mount Baker. The indefatigable West Seattle Blog is chronicling the bear hunt’s presence in that part of the city.

Madrid says he hears from older residents, who hesitate to venture much outside and doubly appreciate waving to the kids who stop on the sidewalk to spot their bears. A free form of entertainment for stir-crazy children is civic gift enough, but in this moment of making joyful noise and virtual happy hours, it's another way to connect in our socially distanced reality. Madrid's family installed an enormous stuffed panda in their window; when they hear kids approach, they stealthily move the bear's oversize arm so it "waves" to passersby. "It's a nice distraction for us," he says, "and the little kids on the street freak out with joy."

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