Santa brought Mark a new teddy bear this Christmas, raising the delicate problem -- because he is a one-teddy boy -- of what was to become of the nice old bear who had served him faithfully for years.

Old Teddy, which is all the name he has ever had, was living propped on Mark's pillow when we lay down Christmas night to consider the name for the new teddy. He settled on "Harry," in honor of a classmate. Then, as the boy snuggled in, he found himself face-to-muzzle with Teddy. Teddy is old, yes, fraved, yes, but still a fine figure of a bear, and I thought I could see a hint of reproach in his buttons.

"What about Teddy?" Mark said.

"What about Teddy?" I said.

"Should I put him in the box?"

"I dunno. What do you think?"

"I don't think he'd like it."

"Well, maybe not. He's been sleeping with you a long time. Might get lonely. Isn't there room in the bed for both of them?"

"Nope. They would fight. I would never get any sleep."

There's no arguing with an expert, and Mark clearly was ready to let the matter hang there all night as an excuse to stay up and play with his new toys. m

"Tell you what. How about if Teddy sleeps with me tonight? It would keep him from getting lonely and it would help him get used to not sleeping with you."

He giggled. "Daddies don't sleep with teddies."

"I used to. It would be kind of nice."

"Would you throw him on the floor the way you do with your pillow?"

"No. I'll take good care of him."

You really mean it?"

"Sure."

After casting a few more innocent asperasions on my sincerity and character the boy kissed Teddy and delivered him over into his father's hands.

Half an hour later Mark appeared at the head of the stairs.

"Dad! Where's Teddy?"

"He's sitting with me watching TV. He says he isn't ready to go to bed yet."

"Okay. But Dad!"

"What?"

"Be careful not to roll over on him."

"Okay. Go back to bed."

I was lying in bed reading when I realized that I had left Teddy in the chair. Games one plays with children must be played out to the end, so I went and got him. Mark's mother woke up when I came back.

"What are you doing with Mark's bear?"

"He's going to sleep with me tonight. To ease the transition, don't you know."

"You mean he's going to sleep with us."

"I told Mark I'd look after him."

"Well, you explain it to the girls if they find out. And keep him on your side."

When Bawd, the world's second oldest and most cranky cat, came to bed she found Teddy occupying her accustomed spot.

"Just for the one night," I explained. "There's plenty of room for both of you.

She sniffed Teddy, sniffed at me, and left.

I have this pillow that is older than I am, and decades of being doubled up to raise my head for reading have left it rather limp. Teddy, I discovered, is round and plump and firm and fits the curve of my neck just right. I drifted off while trying to follow Darwin's account of the Galapagos finches.

"Hey Dad!" a voice hammered in my ear. "Leggo Teddy!"

"Mmmph," I mumbled, and woke to find Teddy clutched in my arms. I yielded him to Mark and saw his mother standing there.

"Wait'll you see the pictures," she said.

"Pictures?"

"Pictures of Daddy asweep wif hith Teddy. I can't tell you how cute you looked. I'm going to have an 8 by 10 made up for your mother."

Well, that was a week ago, and Teddy and I still are keeping company. I'm only sorry we didn't get to know one another sooner. When you hug him in the middle of the night, he doesn't groan and punch you in the ribs. He never snores or grinds his teeth, he doesn't know from nightmares, and he is deaf to burglars.

But I haven't figured out how to explain it to the girls.