Kids will attach. Most of the time, it’s to the parents, the siblings, or even (in my case unfortunately) the T.V. These bonds are developed early and are surly a survival instinct. (Picture the younger sibling being chased down by the older one(s), and running to grab onto a mothers leg for protection.)
As they get older, they often develop a secondary surrogate attachment. This will replace the parent or sibling when they are away. For most children this comes in the form of a blanket, a stuffed animal, a doll, or vehicle.
You will see these weary eyed toddlers dragging these items behind them in the supermarket or on the bus. They show signs of experiencing countless hours of toddler love. A missing wheel, rips, or bald patches. It evokes classic childhood memories akin to the story of The Velveteen Rabbit, and can make even the most hardened of adults soften at the sight.
Several months ago, the younger one found his surrogate.
A bar of Dove soap.
“Soapy,” as he/they have become to be known, worked his way into the baby’s heart one night after a bath. A sliver of soap, almost too small to be useful for any sort of cleaning purpose, was carried out of the tub, and held in reverent awe as the child was dried and dressed for the evening.
It was such an endearing enough sight, we allowed upon his sweet insistence that it sleep in the bed for the night. And most sane parents will tell you that if it’s not worth arguing about, especially at bedtime, you simply pick a different battle.
I got into a conversation a short time afterwards with a fellow parent. Expecting that she would find my child’s bar of soap as silly and slightly tongue-in-cheep concerning as I, I was surprised at her response.
Her Son was attached to a toaster.
The mere thought of my child cuddling down for dream land, with his arms wrapped around a home appliance, gave me some piece of mind that in the world of crazy children, mine was at least more centralized in the spectrum.
He refused to understand the concept of what Soapy was made from and insisted on bathing with him time and time again until one evening we were alarmed to hear screaming from the bath. It was a devastating sight. Oozing out from his fat little fists was soapy. He looked at us as if to ask: “What have I done? I am a murderer!” His misery was brought to a head as he watched the last bits of Soapy flow down the drain.
This would have gone on for an unprecedented amount of time, had he not spied Soapy, retuned from the grave! This miracle of the bathroom was actually an expensive facial bar belonging to my dear wife. But, in order to bring peace to the house in time for bed, she relented, and his Soapy returned triumphantly.
With the older one, we went through a similar thing. While not as readily disturbing as a bar of soap, his attachment was to “The Forest Book.” In reality, it was a free mini book, that came with some sort of kids meal from Wendy’s. But to him, this 3×5 inch book became a journal, story book, note pad, and best friend. We spent the better part of a year, going back home because we had forgotten it, or literally tear the house apart to look for it.
At one point we clued into what other parents do to combat this form of attachment. You buy several of the same things. So one dreary winter night, I left the family into the car and ran into a Wendy’s to ask for a couple more copies.
I’m sorry sir, but we don’t give those out.
Yes, they come with a purchase of the kid’s meal.
Fine. I’ll pay for the meal, but only want the books.
I’m not sure how to do that.
After five more of the most confusing minutes of my life, and brief meeting with several other key staff in the restaurant, I left with a milkshake and two more Forest books.
At least soap is easier to replicate.
Over the next several months, Soapy traveled with him. To childcare, and Grandma’s, and out in general. And with each passing trip, he began to show signs of love.
A chipped corner.
An errant hair plastered to the surface.
It began to lose some of his luster and took on a beige hue. And while I contemplated washing him off, I remembered what happened to Soapy the First, and thought better of it.
Slowly, just like other toys, the day to day interest in Soapy started to wane. While he was still appreciated, it became less and less necessary to make sure Soapy was packed along with you as you went about your day of errands. It made me sad in a way. Perhaps the huge amount of energy a child puts into anything, makes it real, or gives it that soul The Velveteen Rabbit had in his eyes. Perhaps it is simply seeing the passage of time as you watch a baby grow into a child. Curse words and all.
But fortunately there are other moments, other toys and attachments to form, and sometimes, if you are lucky, they rekindle that remembrance of love one has for their old, bear, or doll or book.
So when my wife received two new fancy soaps for her birthday recently, we are once again able to watch our youngest get lost in pretend play. And remind ourselves, it’s only natural.
And at least makes him smell like cinnamon and flowers.