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.
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.
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.
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.