I didn't think I'd be sentimental about leaving the baby stage behind. I'd gone on a mad sorting and donation spree and moved on with an equal amount of glee and relief similar to the feeling of walking out of my last college lecture.
But I thought wrong.
One day, my 3-year-old son lost his "lovey" bunny blanket—the same companion (in varying colors) that shared the intimate nest of the infant car seat with each of my three kids, from that special first ride home, onward. And the store that exclusively sold it went out of business.
The idea that I could not replace the thing that my eldest hilariously told strangers was her "comfort item," that my middle child carefully tucked into a doll-sized baby carrier on her chest and that my baby frequently dressed in his enormous footie pajamas, was suddenly too much for me to bear.
Maybe it was my comfort item, too.
He lost the bunny while I was out of town. My mother-in-law and daughters retraced their weekend steps and all were confident it was somewhere in our house. I agreed. I kept seeing him around our house, but they were only mirages—I wishfully mistook socks for a part of the dingy blanket body and stray strips of toilet paper for one of the lovingly mauled ears.
I hadn't found him yet, but I knew he was here.
But as days turned into weeks, I was less hopeful that "Bun" would be found. Aged to baby blanket perfection, his once pale blue body had grayed and bore multiple holes. His edges had the crunchy texture that could only be achieved by several years of daily sucking. Though 75% detached from his body, his face was unflappably pleasant, with a stitched-on grin that seemed to laugh at the perpetual and constant swirl of emotions, dirt and snot surrounding it.
My son had loads of places he claimed his faithful friend was hiding: in a tree, at the place with the quesadillas, under the dandelions, at the playground zip line and beyond. He seemed to enjoy the idea of sending me on fruitless hunts almost as much as he imagined the bunny would enjoy said adventures. One scenario sounded like a bunny burial. I cynically thought, great, just shovel my despair over the end of your babyhood in there, too.
Clearly, it was not the bunny, but what it represented, that I longed to preserve. A space in time that was as hectic as it was happy, sour smelling, but incomparably sweet. Even with an abundance of struggles and only shreds of sleep—the good always outweighed the bad in the baby phase.
The more my son taunted me the more I became obsessed with finding Bun. It is not rational, I know—but I started to think that if I could just see that bunny one more time—tightly clinched in my son's fist and tangled among the curls matted to his sweaty naptime forehead—it would finally stick in my memory. It would be what I needed.
How could a cotton animal make me unravel?
I suspect it was partly because being present and in the moment has always been a challenge for me. Have-tos often leave little energy for the love-tos for me. This has improved some with each child. But with the baby of the family soon starting preschool, my regret over what I could have or should have appreciated more in the early years is now very tangible.
Plus, calls for help in the bathroom, Matchbox car races and spontaneous picnics are a welcome, and fleeting, contrast to the wild pace of my older kids' school, activity, sports and friend-filled lives.
One day, I frantically lamented to our nanny that I'd searched every corner of my house and eBay for the bunny. In all of her wisdom, she said she thought I was more upset about the bunny than my son was.
So, I asked him if he was sad about Bun missing. He smirked, shrugged, avoided eye contact and said, "No." Confirmation that this was more my issue than his.
As I read a draft of this piece to my husband, he had the brilliant idea to check one spot my son's rich imagination had not traveled. There, in the deepest recesses of the couch, was Bun's signature smile on a head only slightly more smashed from being under a month's worth of family movie nights.
His fabric absorbed my tears that night, as it had my son's, so many before. I awoke to feel both permission to prolong the baby phase a little longer and at peace to soon let it go. My son's piercing squeals of excitement at the sight of his precious pal almost matched the thrill I felt when sneaking into his room to stage the early morning reunion.
Moral of the story: Sometimes heroes wear blankets, and sometimes parents need saving, too.