The Objects We Hold (and the ones that hold us)

When Smoke, my first son, was one year old, I wanted him to attach to a lovey. I had read somewhere on the internet that it was a useful thing for your child to develop an attachment to an object, that it would help him feel more secure when you couldn’t be physically present. I pictured him taking comfort in it when I left him at the daycare center. I pictured him snuggling with it as he slept.

I bought a special lovey for the purpose, as if none of the stuffed animals or blankets we owned would do. It was a small velvety toy, a cross between a blanket and a doll with a wooden ring to hang onto. I would put it between us as we nursed, hoping that it would take on smells and associations, that it would transform into something magic, but it never did. Smoke never gave a shit about his lovey.

Nearly two years later, I met with a new therapist and mentioned that parenting a toddler sometimes exhausted me. She asked me about my bedtime routine with Smoke and I explained that I read him a few books, turned out the light, and then lay in bed with him until he fell asleep. She cocked her head, furrowed her brow, and commented, “Oh, so you’re basically a human teddy bear.” There was contempt in her voice, as if I should have known better, as if I were letting my kid pull one over on me.

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I carried her comment around with me for days. I still carry it. It seemed she thought that the teddy bear was the real thing, that my body was the substitute, and not the other way around. I never went back to her.

Stump attaches to objects in ways that Smoke never did, but they are never soft things. He attaches to plastic Nerf guns, to measuring tape, to wooden hammers, to a golf ball that he found in the middle of a field. He attaches to things he can throw or things he can use as a weapon. He takes these items to bed, and cries in the middle of the night if he wakes up and discovers they’ve left his grasp.

These items don’t replace me. Instead, they seem to provide yet another layer of security; they give Stump a sense of dominion. The message is: I can defend myself at any time.

saber

I’ve been wondering what it means that when it comes to object attachment I am more like Smoke than Stump. If you ask me what three items I’d save from a fire, I will draw a blank. If you ask me how attached I am to my current home or my childhood home—the two places where I’ve spent over a decade of my life—I’d say “not very.”

I say this about myself, and yet—and yet—I have a hard time letting go. Sometimes I still think about a tank top that I left behind at a hotel in France fourteen years ago. It had no sentimental value, but it was flattering. There’s an envelope with twenty-five dollars in cash that I misplaced somewhere in my house long before I had children. I still keep an eye out for it.

This house that I live in, the one I claim I’m not attached to, seems to also be a house I cannot leave. I spend energy daily resenting this house for its shortcomings. The bedrooms are tiny. There’s no storage, no privacy. Our kitchen table seats three people, and we are a family of four.

table

But so far I haven’t found a house that I will leave it for, not easily at least. For years, Kellie and I have looked at homes, toured places with guest rooms and built-in drawers. But the yard is always too small, or the neighborhood’s not quite right, or the living room floor is Pergo, or there’s no good place for the dogs. I start to wonder how anyone buys a home ever, how anyone with kids manages to upend their life, pack all their stuff, and move to the other side of town.

I often blame Kellie, who is openly attached to every single thing she owns, for our lack of action. But if I were being honest I’d tell you that something in these walls must have a hold on me.

I have a belt.

I moved forward in the TSA line with caution, confused because the rules had changed since the last time I traveled. At the back of the line, a friendly officer had given us the lowdown: You can keep your shoes on unless you think they will set off the metal detector. If you have a belt, you might want to remove it.

This is my belt.
This is my belt.

I paused just before I reached the conveyor belt. I had a laptop to unpack from my carry-on, but there were none of the usual plastic bins. The officer manning the x-ray stood there waiting for me. “Just leave your laptop in there,” he said. He was gruff.

He hung onto a mid-sized plastic bowl for jewelry. I looked at it. “I have a belt,” I told him. “Good for you,” he answered. My throat made a tiny noise of hesitation. “Let me see it,” he said, throwing me a bone. Flustered, I raised my shirt.

Just above my belt sits my pouch of a belly, totally white and totally stretched out, like a deflated balloon. I could see it. He could see it. I had raised my shirt too high. I took off my belt and placed it in the bowl, avoiding eye contact.

On the other side of the metal detector, I looked at no one as I gathered my suitcase and my carry-on. The belt came through last. As I strung it through the loops, I tracked all the other bodies in my vicinity, careful this time not to lift my shirt too high.

Once I put myself back together–my bag strapped across my shoulder, my suitcase rolling behind me–I had a small revelation: that wasn’t my fault. I noted that my automatic reaction was to assume that somehow “I have a belt,” was an incredibly stupid thing to say, that my choice of words had plunged me into an unavoidable sequence of shaming events, and I was being punished by someone far smarter than me.

But he was just a snarky TSA guy trying to make his job more interesting.  He would have found a way to tease me no matter what I said. And if my flash of belly embarrassed him, then good.

Note to self: not everything is personal.