I was seven when Greenie was taken away. It was thrown into the fire. I wasn’t home to witness it.
Greenie was a slip of soft fabric, torn from a baby sleeping bag during an accident involving the wheels of a toy stroller and over-zealous tugging from my brother. It had some kind of 70s pattern in a forest green, and piping on the edges. I remember the incident with the toy stroller wheels — I must have been no more than three. Already I was carrying Greenie everywhere and its decreased size didn’t end that. Every night it came to my bed, scrunched up against my face, soothed me with familiar scent and softness.
By the time I went to school Greenie was relegated to the bedroom. I still slept each night with it in my bed, stroking the soft cotton between my fingers. Sometimes it went through the washing machine and I was far beyond crying beneath the clothes line but I kept a close eye to make sure that Greenie came back.
Then I went away, to visit my mother. Greenie was exiled from my suitcase: ‘you’re seven years old, a big girl now!’ It made sense, especially with the promise that it’d be there when I got back, and off I went to the airport and another state and my other family, without it.
I think I slept okay. I was allowed to leave the light on, there.
They thought I would forget. They thought that when I bounded up the steps to the house, and deposited all my cigarette-scented clothes to be washed as I did after every visit to my mother, the last thing I would be thinking of was a scrap of torn fabric, the left-overs from babyhood.
Actually it was the first thing. I looked, and then I asked, and then they stalled. It was only the next morning after a tearful bedtime that my stepmother finally snapped ‘I burned it’ and I knew it was true.
I’m certainly not angry about this story now and I don’t blame anyone. I’m not writing this out of anger, or for pity. Seven is old to have a comforter; or was, then. Seven is not old enough to have the right to control one’s environment; or was not, then, in that house. But it’s old enough to feel betrayed and to lose trust and I did, then.
It’s not ‘babyish’ to find ways to self-soothe and to cultivate feelings of security: it’s human, and it’s smart. It’s not wrong to form attachments and dependencies and when it’s people and things that do not harm us, it’s actually desirable to do so. There is no prize for growing up the fastest, especially when growing up means shedding, or hiding, human vulnerabilities.
Bean has a special teddy. Teddy goes to bed with her, and he also accompanies her through much of her day. She puts him in the toy stroller and takes him for walks. She plays doctor when he’s ‘sick’. She pretends he’s a baby and sings lullabies. Sometimes she pretends he is another child she knows and they play together. He’s soothing comforter and imaginary friend both. Teddy’s also an ice-breaker: I don’t think he holds her back from interacting with people but rather facilitates it. Strangers will often be introduced to Teddy first – if they show an interest in him, it deflects from her while she stands back and warms to them. Teddy holds her hand and leads her into conversations. And a lot of the time, he lies forgotten on the floor.
The child care centre Bean attends is a warm place. We are very happy there: it feels safe and she’s rarely eager to leave at the end of the day. But they want to take away Teddy. They want to dictate that Bean learn new ways to soothe herself, new ways to interact. They want to decide how she does these things, rather than allowing her own strategies to prevail. And it makes me angry not only because I want to protect her from feeling any of the things I felt when Greenie met its end but also because I think it’s disrespectful. It’s a needless assertion of adult privilege.
Bean is only two but she is a person. To protect the health and safety of her (and others around her), we “control” her through age-appropriate direction, teaching and boundary-setting. To encourage her to show courtesy and consideration (social acceptability) we do the same. It’s called parenting. But her Teddy is not dangerous. Her Teddy is not unacceptable, or offensive, or unhealthy, or unreasonable, or hurtful, or even particularly inconvenient. That adults commonly attempt to control even how much time a child spends holding a particular object is a clear example of how little importance we place on treating children as people.
I obviously suspect that Bean will come to rely far less on Teddy as she passes through toddler-hood, just as almost all other children begin to cast off their comfort objects as they develop other strategies of moving through the world. But were she to keep her Teddy close by her side even into adulthood? It would be seen as quaint, and perhaps frowned upon, but it would still not hurt anybody. As such, it’d be considered a personal choice that she had the right to make for herself. Why not respect the (safe, age-appropriate) choices she is making now? She’s only doing her job; she’s learning to be who she is.