There’s something missing around our home.
When Penelope was born, I laid out a supply of items I thought might become her lovey. At first, I thought this really cool brown owl would strike her fancy, but she was never interested in it. As she grew and began showing a preference for books, we become very fond of Eric Carle, specifically Brown Bear. She lurved Brown Bear. So I went to our local toy store and got three plush brown bears. She liked them! But she didn’t luff them, with two Fs.
In fact, she felt no need for any kind of special lovey–even her beloved Elmo was more of a plaything than a must-have–until after her little sister was born. In the weeks after Abby’s birth, beloved though the baby was, Penelope became more and more enamored of a particular pink blanket that had been a baby gift from my sister Elizabeth.
I know what you’re thinking: Oh. A blanket. I have 19 of them, and I can’t believe anyone would spend 50 bucks on such a thing. And I’m with you, except remember: Penny was born 10 weeks early, and my sister, in a daze, brought her eldest daughter to the boutique near their home, where they stared at the selection of available gifts to buy wondering if there’d even be a baby there to receive them when my sister got off the plane. “I want to get the leopard one,” my sister said. “Mom. Come on. That’s scary. Just get the pink.” So she showed up in the NICU at UCSF with this amazing fluffy item totally out of character for me, and I looked at it and knew exactly why it was in her hands, and the thought that went into it. This was no time to be quirky. We needed beauty, and normalcy, and–fluffy. The blanket was put under Penelope as often as I could clean it, and the nurse apologized when a spot of blood got on it, but I loved that spot of blood. Even after we got home I would run my fingers over its faint stain, thinking how far we had come.
I always kept it draped on the side of her crib, special to me, but never particularly special to her, until it was. Suddenly it was, “Where my special blanket?” when it was time for bed, and there was no peace until she was sure it was there with her. And who could blame her? Though I had moved her out of the cosleeper months earlier, she still remembered sleeping alongside me, as Abby did now. Before long, it was “Special Blanket,” and then “SB,” as in, “Crap. Where’s SB? Is he in the living room?”
Every once in a while, out of curiosity, we’d ask: “Is SB a boy or a girl?” Penny alternated: SB could go either way. When she lay down to go to sleep, she’d say, “Put SB over my feet, mommy.” And I’d ask, “Do you want fuzzy, or pink?” Most often, she’d say “pink,” meaning the satin side went against her skin.
SB was our roommate, our friend, our babysitter. And now he’s missing.
I am absolutely strict about SB never, ever leaving the house; I’ve even argued with my stepson about this. I always say: She can get along fine without SB when we’re out and about. But we can’t do without him here. We can’t run the risk of losing him. We have 100 blankets we can drape over her legs in the stroller–SB stays here.
And yet. A few weeks ago, at bedtime, he had vanished. We looked in all the usual places, including my stepson’s top bunk (a popular rest stop, and tricky because his blanket is also pink) and the microwave oven of her play kitchen (another usual culprit). “Well, it’ll just have to turn up,” we said, repeating our family’s official mantra and loading her up with alternate cuddlies. There have been nights when she freaked out at SB’s absence and we ran around until we found him, but oddly, this just wasn’t one of those nights. And neither are all the nights since then.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m grateful that she’s not freaking out, but it became the fluffy pink elephant in the room. At bedtime my husband and I would sidle around the subject of SB and just not bring him up, and counted ourselves lucky that she did the same. But of course, because I’m me and I’m a Kveller-type mom, I worried relentlessly that her good nature was a front, and that underneath it all, my daughter was silently freaking out about her lost lovey, putting on a brave face. I fretted that this would become one of those stories you tell your college friends to explain your particular neuroses–”They told me my blanket had gone to a farm upstate. We all knew the truth, but nobody talked about it. My parents, man. They’re just… nuts.”
So I brought it up in a sideways fashion, giving her the opportunity to discuss SB if she wanted to without making it a big, showy, worrisome deal. (I have relatives who do things like this–”are you very upset about your terrible ordeal, dear?” Yeah, no, I wasn’t until you said it like THAT!) She never took the bait.
Then, last night, she wanted to read Blankie, by Leslie Patricelli. I love her books soooo much, populated by a crayon-drawing-style bald baby and his/her pals, backed by bold colors and simple but right-on stories. But this! It seemed so obvious! She was working out her mourning, right?
I read her the book, about good ol’ Blankie and how it makes everything better for Bald Baby Kid.
“I sure miss Special Blanket,” I said. “Do you?”
Penny shook her head. “Read another one,” she said.
Well … is this possible? Has she outgrown SB the way Trixie outgrew Knuffle Bunny, coincidentally just as he vanished? Is it coincidence? Is it fate? Wait, what if I’m not ready?
And incidentally, even if she isn’t traumatized … where the hell did Special Blanket go?!