Adventures in Parenting

Lisa Ross, Unrevealed, Site 4 (Colored “Cribs”), 2009. Courtesy the artist.

No Blanket Left Behind

Across generations, when children can’t find their comfort objects—usually soft toys like blankets or favorite stuffed animals—all hell breaks loose.

There was panic at bedtime. Taggie was missing.

“Where the fuck is it?” I said too loudly as I tore the living room apart. Our daughter was upstairs, standing in her crib, wailing. Her face red as a beet, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her hands gripped the rungs, her little knuckles gone white from clutching despair.

I was doing that thing you do when you’ve been looking for something really important for a really long while—keys, or a wallet, or a shoe—and you’re starting to lose your mind, looking in the same places 15 times, pulling cushions off of sofas and chairs, emptying closets, turning the house upside down. And swearing. A lot of swearing.

The routine of putting our toddler down was always a delicate one; each step was carefully tested, calibrated, vetted for proof of performance. Each step had to be followed. Pajamas. A bottle of hot milk in mama’s lap. A story, then a song, then into the crib. All the while she clutched her Taggie. Taggie was foundational to a successful bedtime. There would be no sleep without it.

Our daughter was 18 months old. It’s not like she’d taken Taggie anywhere without our knowing. It had gone missing before but we’d always found it, and usually pretty quickly. Now my wife had joined the act, and also my mother, who was visiting for the weekend. We were all running around the house, voices raised, blood pressure off the charts, desperation setting in, searching in the most ridiculous places—the dishwasher, the tailpipe of our car, the shrubs in the front yard. Need I mention it’s nighttime in January in Maine? Wind howling, sub-arctic cold, Vacationland for polar bears. There’s ice in the shrubs in the front yard. But no Taggie.

Taggie is a small blanket. A square of fleece about 18 inches per side. Sewn along the edges are loops of silky ribbon in different colors and patterns—these are the tags from which its name derives. The company’s website rightfully boasts these tags “calm and mesmerize babies. Because of those magical tags, Taggies™ blankets almost always become a child’s most treasured security object.” You can say that again. That it’s stained with baby food and smells like sour milk only enhances its magical powers.

Taggies started as a small, hand-crafted business back in 1998. Our daughter, who was born that year, was given one of the first-ever Taggie blankets as a gift at birth. As she grew it quickly became clear—of all her toys and dolls and stuffed animals, Taggie reigned supreme. She carried it everywhere, and especially needed it by her side at night.

With our little girl out of control we were all out of control. I needed to restore order quickly, or else there was a good chance none of us would ever sleep again.

She’s not alone. A 1979 study by psychologist Richard H. Passman found that 60 percent of children form an attachment to a comfort object, especially soft toys like a blanket or favorite stuffed animal. The psychology of comfort objects asserts that as young children become more aware of their unique self, they also realize they are separate from their parents. While this newly discovered independence is exciting, it’s also scary as hell. The world is an overwhelming place, fraught with peril, filled with strange faces and sharp objects and loud noises. Comfort objects buffer the transition; the object serves as a soothing proxy for the parent, helping baby control their own emotions and cope with the stimulus of a chaotic world. In a later study, published in 2000, the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology reported that children who brought their comfort object to a doctor’s visit exhibited far less emotional stress, as measured by their blood pressure and heart rate.

It’s true: When our daughter had her Taggie she was calm and cool and happy. And when she was happy so were we. She’d hang out in her crib for a while, babbling and gurgling and chewing on those little silk tags, and then she’d fall asleep. When she was asleep we might actually have a little time to ourselves, some semblance of the peace and normalcy we enjoyed pre-parenthood. Taggie made everything right with the world, for her and for us.

But take Taggie away from her? That was tearing the lid off Pandora’s Box. Madness was unleashed and no amount of coochie-cooing and Goodnight Moon-ing could sooth the misery or contain the pandemonium.

And now Taggie was missing.

With our little girl out of control we were all out of control. I needed to restore order quickly, or else there was a good chance none of us would ever sleep again.

“OK! All right! Everybody just…breathe. She had it this morning, right?”

“Of course, Sean. She had it this morning.” The wear was starting to show on my wife. She rubbed her temples, looking upstairs toward the baby’s bedroom. If anything, the screaming had intensified. Perhaps it was our imagination, but it felt like the walls were shaking.

“Did you go anywhere? Did you leave the house at all?”

“I took her to the toy store,” my mother volunteered. “But she didn’t have her blanket.”

“Are you sure?”

My mother hesitated. “Well, I don’t think she did, anyway.”

We called the toy store, but no one had turned in a child’s blanket with little silk tags. “Sounds like a cool idea, though” the store associate volunteered unhelpfully.

So I did what any good, loving father would do in a situation like this. I bundled up and drove 20 minutes to the mall. To walk the store myself. To search the parking lot, if I needed to. I was on a Taggie rescue mission. Shit was getting serious.

I went to these lengths because I could relate. I too once lost my comfort object. As a former security blanket dependent, I know and appreciate the wracking anxiety of separation. Mine was a gift at birth as well, a 1960s era, white acrylic receiving blanket with nylon binding. I carried it everywhere for the first eleven years of my life, enduring the subtle jibes from my parents as I neared puberty.

“Hey Linus, you going to bring that thing on your honeymoon?” my dad would joke, sounding mildly exasperated.

“Yup,” I replied, sticking my thumb in my mouth and walking away, just to goad him. I was serious, too. Sure, it was graying and tattered, but I had no intention of ever giving it up. Love me, love my blanket. The right woman would understand.

And then the unthinkable happened. My parents surprised me with a trip to Disney World. For a child who had never before crossed the state line of Massachusetts, this was a big deal. I tossed a week’s supply of shorts and T-shirts and bathing suits into my kid-sized American Tourister, and carefully placed my neatly folded blanket on top of the pile before latching the suitcase shut.

Our vacation was eventful in all the right ways. Our luggage made it to Orlando without a problem. I came face to face with an alligator while cruising in a paddle boat. We got to ride Space Mountain. But on the last day, as we were packing our bags and readying to turn in our hotel room keys, I was panicked. My blanket was nowhere to be found.

They tried bribery, but no amount of sugary cereal or G.I. Joes could pry my blanket from my grip. It made sense to get us as far away from Massachusetts as possible to ensure the separation would stick.

I tearfully implored my parents to join the search. Together we stripped the beds, checked the dumpsters, followed the housekeeping manager to the laundry room. The women there just looked at me sadly and shook their heads.

The finality of the situation was soul crushing. I was breaking the soldier’s creed: “Never leave a fallen comrade.” We were about to board an airplane and fly back to Boston, and my blanket was misplaced, scared, and alone, somewhere in this fleabag hotel. I would certainly never see it again.

“Where could it be?” I wailed as my father loaded up the rental car.

“Maybe one of the maids took it,” my dad shrugged. “Maybe their kid needs a security blanket more than you do.”

In retrospect, I’m sure the maid story was malarkey. A felonious maid, properly motivated, might steal money or jewelry or a watch; they wouldn’t steal a kid’s dirty blanket. It’s more likely that my parents took advantage of the Florida vacation to throw my blanket away. Knowing I would tear the place apart, they probably drove it to a nearby convenience store and stuffed it deep inside a grimy trash barrel. Lord knows, they’d exhausted every other strategy. They tried threats, but I called their bluff. They tried hiding it, but I always sniffed it out. They tried bribery, but no amount of sugary cereal or G.I. Joes could pry it from my grip. I was pretty attached to the thing. It made sense to get us as far away from Massachusetts as possible before the deed was done, to ensure the separation would stick.

In fairness, the security blanket had more of a stigma back in the ’70s. For a kid to carry one around much beyond the age of five or six was a sign of immaturity. My parents weren’t worried about healthy childhood development or sensory integration issues or any of that. They were thinking: “This poor kid is going to get his ass kicked if he keeps carrying around that blanket.” Which was probably true. They had my best interests in mind.

Still, I was inconsolable the entire trip home, and for many weeks afterward, grieving, incapable of imaging life without my blanket.

I was not about to let this happen to my daughter. Plus, I really needed my sleep.

I covered the entire floor of Toys “R” Us twice over, stalking the aisles like a man possessed. No Taggie. I checked with the clerk at each register; they just looked at me sadly and shook their heads.

Outside, I surveyed the parking lot. It was not looking good; desolate, dimly lit, pocked with banks of blackened snow and bits of trash born like tumbleweeds on the whipping wind. I didn’t even know where my mother had parked when she’d brought my daughter here earlier in the day. This was my “Hail Mary” pass. I started walking up and down the lanes, crouching to peer beneath the handful of parked cars, searching for any shred of hope.

“Hey,” some guy called from across the lot. “You looking for a blanket?”

I wanted to hug him.

“It’s blowing down toward the street. You better hurry.”

I hurried, all right. There was Taggie; a little wet and dirty, dragged across the parking lot, but it was Taggie. I was going to be a hero.

I got home and tiptoed into my daughter’s room. She’d stopped crying, but she was still awake. She looked up at me from her crib. I handed her blanket. She smiled, pulled it to her face and fell instantly asleep. Mission accomplished.

My daughter is a teenager now, and she still has her Taggie. She doesn’t sleep with it or travel with it, she just keeps it, and the thought of throwing it away is unthinkable. Every once in a great while it emerges from the chaos of her bedroom, and I’m surprised to find it in a laundry pile. I’ll hold it to my face. It still carries the smell of silky baby hair, with a faint back note of sour milk, pureed sweet potato, and Toys “R” Us parking lot. It reminds me of my little girl. I find it very comforting.

Sean Tabb has made a grand total of $250 writing for the internet so, no, he is not buying this round of drinks. He lives and works in Portland, Maine. More by Sean Tabb