Monday, November 10, 2014


        "Security" is a good word. Its uses are legion in advertising and government because it is such a good word. It’s a warm and fuzzy word that conveys competence, protection, reliability, trustworthiness, and makes us feel, well, secure, especially about things that are scary or worrisome. Thus, our masters in Washington use terms like "National Security" when talking about spies and the military; "Social Security" when talking about old people; "Border Security" when talking about illegal immigration; "Homeland Security" when talking about terrorism; and "National Security Adviser" when talking about a deceitful sycophant. All of this despite the fact that none of these things provide all that much security anymore. The military is being gutted; Social security is bankrupt; the border is as porous as Sponge Bob; and Homeland Security is now primarily an excuse to frisk our two-year-olds at the airport.

Still, security is a great word because we all desire security. From the eighty-year- old granny worried about her fixed income to the traumatized five-year-old sucking her thumb on the first day of school, security is an important human need. Kiley, like every human, craves security, but, unlike us adults, she doesn't need a military, or a border patrol, or an airport frisker to provide her with the security she needs. All she needs is a little eighteen-inch-square piece of cloth with the tiny head and arms of a bear sticking out of the center of it, (kind of like a stuffed bear with a little blanket for a body), to provide her with all of the comfort and security she requires. It provides no protection. It provides no competence. It provides no reliability or trustworthiness. The only thing it provides is a sense of security, and it does that one thing extremely well. It is security incarnate, and its name is "Snuggy".

From time immemorial small children have been using inanimate objects to provide them with a sense of security. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Neanderthal Baby had an old piece of Wooly Mammoth hide to cling to at naptime. In the past, I'm sure everyone remembered them fondly, but the "security blanket" was something that was merely tolerated by parents, sometimes even discouraged as a sign of weakness. It wasn't until the comic strip Peanuts highlighted Linus's obvious addiction that the security blanket became an American icon. Ever since then the "blanky, or "wooby", or "lovey" or whatever name we or our toddlers came up with, has been an indispensable item, an integral part of the family.

How important a part of the family it is can't be overstated. Kiley loves Snuggy. Kiley needs Snuggy. Kiley cannot be without Snuggy. When she is hurt, or sad, or sick Snuggy is a helpful assistant in making her feel better. Any other time Snuggy is simply out of mind. You might find poor Snuggy on the floor, or under the sofa, or carelessly cast aside anywhere at all when Kiley is busy with other things in her life. At naptime or bedtime, however, Snuggy is absolutely indispensable. There is no sleep without Snuggy. There is no peace without Snuggy. So Snuggy has to be available at all times and nothing must ever happen to Snuggy.

Because of its indispensability and the duty it is required to perform, Snuggy is often, shall we say, less than perfectly clean in appearance. Despite the fact that Snuggy is the recipient of numerous unsavory substances – puke, pee, snot, tears, milk, jelly, or just plain old dirt – getting it into the washing machine is a difficult thing that requires subterfuge and misdirection to accomplish. Small children are often extremely protective of their woobys and if they become aware that you are about to do anything as drastic as putting their most precious possession into the washer, they are often horrified, and will have none of it. I don't know if this is because they think the washing machine will hurt Blanky or that they merely prefer a dirty Wooby to a clean one. Snuggy's familiar smell, I believe, is half the appeal.

Needless to say, nothing must ever happen to make Snuggy unavailable when called upon to perform its duties. I once made the mistake of letting that unfortunate circumstance occur. It was an accident, an oversight. My husband (Uncle Tom) and I had taken Kiley on a trip to the mall. (Taking Kiley to the mall is like taking Kiley to the zoo. We're not there to shop, per se, we're there to show Kiley a good time.) We took her to the Disney store, which she loves. Uncle Tom pushed her in the stroller real fast, making the sounds of revving engines and squealing tires while making turns too sharp for my comfort and popping wheelies by the fountain, all while Kiley shrieked with delight. We sat her on the coin operated rides without turning them on. We took her to the bookstore, Uncle Tom's favorite store, and rode up to the second floor in the elevator. That's where the children's books are, which never made any sense to me. Why put the children's books on the second floor, which requires herding children onto the escalator in order to get to them? Then we stopped of at the food court for a snack, and went home. Perfect!

The trip to the mall was, indeed, perfect. We all got out of the house for a while, Kiley had lots of fun, and she was now primed for a good, long nap. Except for one thing. As I am unloading the car, I cannot find Snuggy! Panic sets in and I become more and more frantic as I tear the car apart in search of what cannot, under any circumstances, be missing. But it is! The worst has happened! We lost Snuggy at the mall! I briefly entertain the possibility of returning to the mall and searching it from top to bottom but abandon this as impractical. There is nothing else to do except attempt naptime without Snuggy. This, of course, is doomed to failure. Kiley eventually cries herself to sleep but it doesn't last long, and she soon wakes up miserable. Added to this unpleasantness, I now have to face her mother and inform her of my incompetence and the unforgivable thing that I let happen. Fortunately, her mother was not upset. In fact she has a spare Snuggy at home for just such an occurrence. The wise mother is prepared for all contingencies.

The fact that an inanimate object can cause such potential trouble and be so important to our children and our selves is remarkable. What is it about a stuffed animal, blanket, or sometimes even a favorite toy that makes it indispensable? What magic transforms lifeless matter into a beloved friend? In the world of psychology these wondrous things are known as "transitional objects" and the psychology explanation for them is complicated but fascinating. Apparently, as far as I am able to understand it, infants do not initially see their mothers as separate entities but rather as merely a different aspect of themselves (not hard to understand since it was just a short while ago that they were actually physically connected). During this early phase, mother brings to the infant whatever it needs and desires. Because it sees the mother as just another part of itself, this creates the illusion that wishing for a thing creates the thing desired, and with this illusion comes a sense of power (referred to as subjective omnipotence). As it grows, the child begins to realize that things are either "me" or "not me" and that the mother is actually separate from its self. With this realization comes a sense of loss, the loss of part of itself, the most powerful part, and therefore, a loss of power. The child becomes aware that it is dependent on others to satisfy its needs and with this realization comes anxiety. It takes an extended time for the child to fully separate itself from the mother in particular, and to bridge the gap between the "me" and the "not me" in general. To relieve the anxiety that accompanies this transition a child will often create a "transitional object" (Snuggy) that embodies all of the attributes of the part of itself that it has lost – the mother. Not only does creating this "transitional object" temporarily bridge the widening gap between itself and the mother, but also returns to the child a sense of power, the power to once again, through fantasy, create what it desires. As the child develops further it is able to bridge the gap between the "me" and the "not me", between the self and the mother. At this point the transition is complete and the "transitional object" is no longer needed. Snuggy once again becomes inanimate. Even so, it often retains sentimental value for the child, which is understandable considering all that they have been through together.

So, with all of that under our belts, let's all enjoy, indeed love, Snuggy while we can, for "Snug" will not forever be what it is now. The magic will inevitably fade, and whatever pixie dust it is that lends it those special powers of security will dissipate along with Kiley's need for them. And remember moms, it isn't that often dingy, smelly old rag that holds such a special place in your little ones' hearts. That sometimes nasty, though beloved, object of affection is merely an icon, an avatar if you will, a symbolic representation to all the Kileys of the world of something far greater. Its not Snuggy that they long for, and cling to, and can't be without – its you.


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