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SANDY BANKS

To a Little Girl, an Old Blankie Is Everything

October 23, 1998|SANDY BANKS

We are engaged in a tug of war, my youngest daughter and I. I am determined to wrest away the most enduring symbol of her babyhood. She is just as determined to hold on tight.

It is little more now than a tiny, tattered square of fabric . . . a remnant of her baby blanket, soiled by stains and saturated with smells that a hundred washings could never erase.

But to her it is much more than that--a talisman, infused with precious memories, able to hold the world at bay.

*

My firstborn child needed nothing but her thumb to suck . . . and the full attention of two doting parents, poised--eager--to anticipate her every need.

By the time our second daughter was born, I realized the value of a substitute for mommy--a "transitional object," the baby books call it--to give her comfort when I was busy or away. Her blankie arrived unbidden, packed deep in a box of used baby clothes my sister had sent us in the mail.

It was soft, well-worn--a doll-sized quilt of soft green squares. I draped it across my shoulder while she nursed, lined her crib with it when she slept. . . . She became accustomed to its feel, its smell, and kept it with her night and day.

As she grew mobile, her blankie assumed companion status, going off to preschool, movie theaters, birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese. . . . And I spent more time than I'd like to recall crawling on floors under restaurant tables, between movie rows, beneath carousels of department store clothes, looking for a missing blanket, prodded by a crying child.

But her interest in blankie gradually waned, and once we wrapped it up and stored it away, she never looked back.

*

It is different with this youngest child. Her bond seems deeper, more primal, more enduring than her sister's ever was. Her blankie has a name, a personality, a power to calm and comfort her that even Mommy no longer has these days.

When she was just born, I made this blanket for her by hand--a formidable task for a woman who can hardly sew on a button or mend a hem. Then, it was a perfect square of soft, blue flannel, printed with little yellow ducks and edged with a binding of pink satin . . . a symbol of a mother's prodigious love.

Now, its little ducks faded and satin long gone, it has become a symbol of a daughter's pervasive need.

To her, blankie has evolved perfectly. It is now big enough to cover her eyes when she is tired or frightened by something scary on TV, yet small enough to tuck in her pocket when we travel, or wad up in her fist while she sucks her thumb. And sturdy enough to wipe up the milk when her cereal spills, yet soft enough to wipe tears from her cheek when her resolve gives way.

After all these years, I admit I am tired of blankies . . . tired of searching under car seats and behind beds; tired of prying them from clenched fingers to wash while my children sleep; tired of tears when we forget them and negotiations when I don't want them along; tired of holding my nose when I kiss my daughter because of blankie's sour stench.

Still, how can I persuade my daughter to give up her one perfect friend?

*

Psychologists say security blankets like my daughters' do exactly what the name implies--provide growing children with a sense of security and continuity in the midst of change.

I know this is true, and yet it strikes me as unseemly that a girl old enough to play soccer and read chapter books still needs her baby blanket to get through the day.

Surely she must know--with her eighth birthday just one month away--that the time has come to give up, move on. I notice now that she hides her blankie whenever friends come by to play.

But I watch her later, when the coast is clear--how she presses it tenderly to her cheek, how she breathes in deep, thumb in her mouth, eyes closed tight . . . blocking out the pressures of her day.

Still I push on, feeling bound to vanquish her dependence, to drag her into this "big girl" age.

I hide her blankie and pretend it's lost. She cries inconsolably and I give in, stung by the panic in her voice. I threaten to pin it, like a scarlet letter, to the front of her shirt so she won't lose it again. She thrusts her chest toward me; suppliant now, immune to shame.

"I want my blankie," is all she'll say.

And I realize I've got no deal to make, nothing to offer to compensate for the sacrifice I'm asking her to make: "Grow up, move on . . . join your sisters and me in this grown-up world, where there are no blankies to carry the day."

I hand over blankie. She holds it to her chest for a moment, sniffs it, smiles, then shuffles away.

* Sandy Banks' column is published Mondays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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