Before my son was born, I pictured him cuddling up with a soft blanket or stuffed animal, much like Linus from Peanuts, or Kevin Henkes’ charming Owen. I certainly wasn’t prepared for or expecting the reality, which was that my son formed no physical attachments for the first eighteen months of his life.
That is, until we moved from Pennsylvania to Utah and his regular routines went topsy-turvy and I found myself sitting awkwardly by my son’s crib each night while he stroked my hair through the bars. Nothing else would do: he wanted to touch my hair. Needless to say, it didn’t take very many days (all right, weeks) of this before I decided something had to change. I found a soft doll at a local store whose hair sort of resembled mine in color and texture and presented it to my son. Luckily, he accepted the switch.
Maybe he accepted it a little too well. I certainly never envisioned, when I presented him with a doll, that he would still be sleeping with her at ages four and five. Or that we’d have to scour stores and eBay to find a replacement after he puked all over her. My sister-in-law called her “Bob Marley” in honor of her dreadlocks. My mother-in-law begged me to let her throw the doll away. I couldn’t. My son loved her too well. She retired recently when my son turned six: her skin gray with years of loving (a grime so deeply embedded that no amount of washing could remove it), her hair irretrievably knotted, and her head holding on by a few threads.
I have to admit, I was sorry to see her go–both because she was such an ingrained part of my son’s childhood and because it meant that he was starting to outgrow that childhood.
When my daughter came along, I thought I’d manage the attachment thing better. We presented her with silky blankets and soft toy, and while she loved them all, none of them proved essential to her. It wasn’t until she was about 2 and a half that she found her physical attachment.
Like her brother, she wasn’t interested in a mere toy. No, she wanted a part of me. Specifically, she’s adopted a mole on my arm. (For obvious reasons, I chose to go with a picture of her brother’s attachment). She’s even named it: “Moley.” Most of the time, I’m just happy that she’s happy. But there are moments–at the end of a long day when I can’t bear to be touched and all she wants to do is rub my arm; or when I come home after being away for a few hours and she doesn’t want me, she wants my arm–when I wish my daughter liked more conventional things.
I know, of course, that she’ll outgrow this (she’ll “put away” her “childish things”)–or maybe she’ll just trade this habit in for something more subtle and socially acceptable.
I wonder if I’ll miss it. After all, I think the craving for some kind of attachment is just part of a deeper craving to feel safe and to feel love and I’m glad she associates these things with me.
Then again, she told me recently, “I don’t love Moley–I love you.” So maybe there’s hope that she can outgrow her attachment without outgrowing her need for me.
What has your experience been like with physical attachments. Did you–or your siblings, nieces and nephews, or children–have any unusual attachments? What were they? How did you feel when you (or your child) had outgrown them?