My two youngest sons have shopped at yard sales a few times this past month. They have both acquired new stuffed animals. Not all of my children had favorite animals, some had a blanket. Naomi was showered with stuffed friends for years but a blanket was her favorite thing. She stopped crying in the church nursery when she developed a fondness for a blanket. Benjamin had a blanket that Prajna crocheted. We didn’t know how much he loved it until we left it back in out Budapest flat when we went on a Thanksgiving retreat. Benjamin, just about 5 months old, exercised his powerful lungs and made it clear in no uncertain terms that he wanted his beloved blanket. Who could blame him? He was away from home in a strange crib. Strangers were glad to hold him. Everything was different. Of course he wanted a little piece of something he knew.
Stuffed friends, blankets and other lovies are called transitional objects. Not only do they help a child ride out an unfamiliar situation, they help in developmental stages where not only their world changes, but they change too. A transitional object remains the same.
Yes, I had stuffed friends growing up. Among other things, I had a stuffed penguin, sewn by my mom. She made it from brown material so it had the coloring of a penguin chick. I named it Paul, just for the alteration. I had other stuffed friends as well including a frog, a dog and another penguin. But it didn’t end there. Not by a long shot.
When I was 8 years old my dad was transferred from Clarkdale, Arizona to Lahaina, Hawaii. I was told there wouldn’t be a whole lot of room in the moving van and needed to get rid of things. I gave away a racetrack and got a stick of gum in thanks. I threw away car brochures collected from dealers. I kept most of my toy cars.
My new room in Lahaina was bigger than the old one. There was more room for stuff. The move had changed me forever. I’ve touched on this in previous blog entries and don’t want to dwell on it today. It’s enough to say that I had trouble transitioning. I got the penguin my second Christmas there. But I had also surrounded myself with the toys that I had brought from Arizona. And I never threw anything away. I had a desk stuffed with drawings. The floor was always cluttered with toys, artwork, and miscellaneous junk from my old and new home. My room became a shrine to my past and present. The idea of getting rid of anything horrified me. I couldn’t explain why. It wasn’t always that I thought I might ever need it again, just sometimes it was just a hold on the past, a little bit of familiarity. I have only recently considered this notion also: I may have been trying to entrench myself so as to never have to move again.
I moved some of the junk with me to college. I kept a lot at home. My parents moved a few times and graciously, astoundingly kept some of my stuff. Today I still have an old green Volkswagen, some old notebooks and yes, the penguin. Among other things, I also have old parts of cars (real cars) I’ve owned, a few shreds of my old laptop that died on me last November, and a disposable coffee cup from a convenience store Prajna and I visited in Clarkdale, Arizona that same month.
Prajna bought herself a small coffee after we visited the little town I had lived in. I kept the disposable foam cup and it’s in the golf cart I drive to work every day now. To me, it’s the linking together of several of my worlds. This little scrap of litter is a transitional object to me. I know it’s not a healthy thing to hoard objects. I’m admitting it’s a character flaw.
One of the most encouraging things for me is to see my children, my younger ones at least, not becoming overly attached to their stuff. Jamie gives away his magazines a month or two after receiving them in the mail. This is something I never would have done. Nathaniel never really had a transitional object. I would like to think that these two boys don’t feel the need to hang onto things in fear of losing security. That makes me feel good about my parenting. And when they are careless with the toys I used to have and am now sharing with them I have to just let it go. To them, stuff isn’t as valuable. They are not like their dad in that way. Maybe he can learn a thing or two from them.