Parent Moments: Whoa, Bitty!
As every parent learns at some point, there's a fine, whisper-thin line between that's normal and whoa! when it comes to the quirks of childhood. Especially when it comes to blankies, binkies, and thumbsucking.
My son Henry's blanket fixation started innocently enough. At 4 months old, he became infatuated with a long, tan, fleece blanket with stitched, black trim. His sister Julia, had named her own special blanket "Bitty,'' so we shared that name with Henry's new fabric friend, too. Had we been a little savvier, we might have nudged him toward a smaller, more baby-sized blanket -- maybe something light blue with a lamb print. Perhaps then things might not have lingered in quite the same way. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Bitty became a lifesaver during Henry's toddler years -- for us as well as him. During long car rides, dinners out, or post-birthday party lulls, a little time with Bitty let Henry calm down and recharge. I used to watch him in the rear-view mirror while I drove, waiting for that wonderful little-sleepy-boy expression as Bitty rested on his cheek. That tan fleece was woven into Henry's life, traveling with us everywhere and rarely out of sight.
One day, when Henry was about 4, I stubbed my toe. As I stood there howling, Henry walked up with Bitty. "Here, Mommy, put your toe on Bitty and it will feel better." And that was when I realized that for Henry, Bitty was no ordinary blanket, and theirs was no ordinary bond. And yes, my toe did feel better. Henry's relationship with Bitty even helped him empathize with the world around him. If another child lost their "special" stuffed animal or soothing binky, Henry would lead the rescue party to find it. When we went to see an exhibit of handmade quilts at our local museum, Henry asked what the collection was. "Famous Bittys," Dave responded and Henry thoughtfully admired each quilt in the exhibit. "Why do you love Bitty so much?" I asked one day, curious as to what he would say. "Because he's Bitty," Henry said simply.
Now, there's nothing wrong with a little blanket canoodling in the privacy of one's own home. But toddlers grow up -- and take strides into the big, wide, non-blanket-toting world. Fast forward to Henry at 6. He was obsessed with baseball, he still loved Bitty, and the outside world had begun to take notice. Grandparents, friends, and neighbors made pointed comments about Bitty -- "Boy, he sure loves his blanket." Or "He's still using Bitty?" And even, "When is he going to get rid of that?" We knew what they meant. At 6, Henry's quirk had crossed the line to whoa!
Then Miles was born, and one day, in a swell of big-brotherly love, Henry announced that he would bestow Bitty unto Miles when the baby turned 1. "That's great! We'll wrap it up especially for him. Miles will be really happy," Dave replied encouragingly, running with the ball. I was too shocked to speak. As the months ticked by, I pondered Henry's decision to surrender Bitty. Would he still do it? He seemed set on it each time we brought it up.
The birthday of reckoning came -- and we asked Henry if he still planned to give Bitty to Miles. He hung his head and said "No." Of course it wasn't Miles, who already had a special blanket, who was disappointed, it was me. Julia thought quickly: "Why don't you give Miles half of Bitty?" Henry agreed and Bitty was halved with a pair of shears. Like someone who feels compelled to assassinate the heirs of overthrown royalty, I shoved Bitty's other half in the back of a closet when no one was looking, instead of giving it to Miles. The thought of two Bittys was too much -- divided as the blanket now was, it was on a course to conquer the household.
After Miles' birthday party, I watched Henry cuddling his little brother on the couch, one hand on Bitty and the other on Miles and smiled.
Perhaps I'm not really ready to see the last of Bitty. Yet.