Childish Things

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?

About Rosalyn

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. She served a mission in the Hungary Budapest mission. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework.

14 thoughts on “Childish Things

  1. One of my brothers liked to touch my mom’s hair. She had to put his car seat behind her in the car and keep her hair long so he could hold it while she drove.

    My 3rd son had a “scratchy”. It was a t-shirt with a design on the front that he liked to scratch. He wore it until it had a hole and then kept it with him until it was just rags. He is almost 8 and recently cried when he remembered about it and didn’t have it (because he threw it away in a moment of bravery).

    Other than that, my kids’ attachments have mostly been temporary.

  2. We have a good friend, grandma age, that we sit with at church. My 3 year old spends all of sacrament meeting caressing her upper arm skin. He just loves that soft loose area. And she is very kind.

    I didn’t have attachments and have been glad my kids do–one has a special monkey, the other just likes lots of things. I think I will be sad when the phase is done.

  3. Elmo! He isn’t exactly a physical attachment as far as having to have a toy. She loves him anyway and can hear and find him anywhere. Do NOT disturb her when she is watching Elmo. I did not push or encourage this love in any way. She found him all on her own and it was true love. Sometimes I wish the Elmo phase would phase out. He can get really annoying. I remind myself that she won’t be little forever and let enjoy her Elmo moments.

  4. My baby grandson fell in love with a little Raggedy Ann doll I sat on a child-size rocking chair in my living room. I let him take it home. He loves on it and kisses it and beams at that doll.

  5. don’t understand why you would encourage a physical attachment to anything. Do however understand the touching of espcially hair. tactical soothing. never had a child attached to an actual object. Did alot of petting and cuddying of my children maybe that was enough. Did I miss something?

  6. My son was attached to my hair, too. He still plays with it sometimes when he’s tired. When he was young and had to write 5 Thing You Love About Mom for Mother’s Day, #1 was “She has soft hair.” He has outgrown my hair, but he still sort of twists his own hair, which drives me crazy. I don’t know when he will break that habit, but it needs to be soon, because I think it’s weird.

    And he still sleeps with a favorite blanket when he goes to a sleepover or when we travel, as well as a stuffed animal (although he’s not very picky about which one he uses). My daughter couldn’t care less about a blanket or a stuffed animal, and has never formed such attachments. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my son sleeps much better than my daughter, and always has. He just needs a familiar blanket and “guy” to make him feel secure, and he’s out. My daughter–she can be a nightmare at night.

    Rae keck, that’s the point of an attachment–so they can feel secure with something OTHER than mom for the times when Mom can’t be around. At least that’s the way I see it.

  7. Our youngest daughter became extremely clingy after I had time in the hospital when she was an infant.I could not leave the room without her raising a storm. My husband would not do. Nobody was acceptable for even a few minutes.
    In her sleep she would sniff to know if i was near, if she could not smell me her eyes would fly wide open and she would go into hysterics.
    We soleved this by wrapping her in my robe at nap, and bedtime. I would sing her to sleep and then I could hand her to my husband or put her to bed and actually leave the room.
    Eventually she accepted being held by others if she was wrapped in my robe, and I could move about freely.Little by little she relaxed and the robe could go. Nobody can hold and infant 24/7 no matter how much you cuddle and love your child. I had to have baths etc.
    Our daughter slept wrapped in my robe for some time even after her fear of me going away abated. It was a comfort for her. I wore the robe every morning to keep my smell fresh for her. We want our children to feel safe and secure, even when life is unpredictable.
    Maj-Lén

  8. eliana, you reminded me that I used to love to stroke my grandmother’s flabby, soft skin on her arm and neck. She was sweet to let me do that, too.

    And Becky, my daughter LOVES Elmo. It is interesting what different kids will get attached to. I had a wooden train set since my oldest was a baby. None of my boys really got into it until #4. Trains were his favorite thing for at least two years. You never know what will strike their fancy.

  9. I’ve loved reading all of your stories–thank you for sharing! I do think it’s interesting how different kids are, even in the same family, in terms of what they find comforting.

    I’m also glad to know my kids aren’t the only weird ones out there.

  10. Not sure I should be admitting this, but my 18 year old still sleeps with her “me me” (her blankie). It’s tricot on one side and the softest cotton on the other. As the edges wore out I cut off the binding and serged around it. It’s much smaller than it used to be. She just makes her bed with that in it. I think it’s funny, but I don’t care. Whatever.

    My other daughter had a few eye surgeries when she was younger. We bought her a new doll to take with her each time. First it was a Minnie Mouse when she was 3, then a new Minnie doll when she was 7. She slept with those till her next surgery, then just replaced it with the next one. Her last surgery was 10 years ago, when she was 12. We got her a Jessie doll (from Toy Story). She slept with it, took it to girls camp and loved that thing until she got married and her new husband said NO WAY. So Jessie has been relegated to the top of her closet. Last year for Christmas we bought our son-in-law a Woody doll to go with Jessie. He (luckily) thought it was pretty funny.

    I don’t really think it’s weird. Whatever gives comfort and makes you feel less stressed, do it. I hope we don’t ever need to put away ALL our childish things.

  11. I’m almost 34 years old and I still have my stuffed Shamu doll up in the top of my closet. He came to college with me, but he didn’t go on my mission (because I was worried about losing him). He’s got no back fin and has buttons for eyes, and still has many special memories for me :)

  12. My oldest carried around a stuffed bear everywhere for a long time. Blue, named for his color, was a serious attachment. After a couple of years she outgrew the constant attachment, but will likely never give him away.

    My fifth is super attached to one certain blankie, named Lubby. Her favorite part is “Tag” which she caresses in one hand while sucking the other thumb. To top it off, she loads her bed with picture books every night, anywhere from 10-30 of them and if I clear them all out she simply puts more back. She is really only comfortable sleeping with Lubby and her stories, though I can’t imagine how sleeping with books can be comfortable.

  13. I’m still chuckling of the image of you perched next to the crib, while your son strokes your hair.

    I had one son, who was attached to his fuzzy blankets (he had a couple), and we had no idea until we visited my parents, and he woke up every hour at night. That was a rough trip, but luckily one of his blankets was quite small and easy to travel with. It never happened again.

  14. Hahaha! I know I’m late to the party but I love this post! Kids are crazy! I have 3 girls. Two of them enjoyed their stuffed animals & blankets when they were little, and they gradually grew out of it. My other daughter though . . . Her little stuffed dog Scruffy is her alter ego. Oh the stories we can blackmail her with years from now! We had to make clothes for it, and beds from shoe boxes, and it has gone on such adventures with her. When she was younger, if we felt wicked and desperate to get her to mind, we’d grab it and say in a high voice “oh please clean your room so mom will let me sleep with you tonight!” worked every time. And at 10 she still needs it every night and loves that thing to death. I think her future husband is going to have some serious competition from a worn bald little scrap! :)

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