the love object

Do fancy blankies and expensive toys equal good mothering?

The mother pushed a British pram, her baby seemingly aloft in a cloud of white downy blanket. We chatted. I wheeled my secondhand stroller with its coffee-splattered sunshade onward, tired blankets swaddling my baby inside. It was a bad mother moment.

The cure: shopping. Forty dollars later, I had three new fleece blankets — naturally — in different colors and patterns. Sure, I already had enough baby blankets for a small country’s baby boom. But these were super-naturally soft, the best for baby’s downtime. And, well, they made me feel like a better mother.

This recalls only one of my forays into the land of better-parent consumerism, often inspired by the sight of a mother whose baby stuff suggests that she’s plugged into some kind of parenting-information vortex that I’m not. In fact, a whole range of items can be discovered by engaging in what one mother calls “the playdate game”: spotting baby paraphernalia, questioning your own choices and inferring that another parent makes more intelligent and developmentally sound selections.

After one baby gathering, I spent $100 on brightly colored, intelligently designed playthings, thinking, “Why risk anything less?” A similar scenario played out over a pair of $20 moccasin socks on a baby whose mother swore these could never be sucked into the black hole where millions of slipped-off infant socks and shoes have disappeared. I bought a pair, thinking, “At least now strangers won’t point at my baby’s naked foot to alert me that a shoe and sock have slipped off.” We had the moccasin socks, oh, maybe four months before one disappeared, which was brought to my attention by a well-meaning passerby. Miraculously, my friend’s baby still dons his pair.

Meanwhile, the blankie experience (a hallmark, I’ve always thought, of a baby’s ability to form attachments) has totally eluded my baby and, by association, me. A friend, whose daughter’s love object is a velvet blanket, suggested that maybe I haven’t found the right tactile match for my baby’s nerve endings.

My search for the perfect blanket has been like looking for the Holy Grail. Metaphorically speaking, I am looking for the Holy Grail equivalent: a parental security blanket. I want a guarantee that the ideal bedding, the ultimate developmental toy, the right attachment object will predict a successful outcome: a perfect child. Or at least a happy, healthy one.

Babies, fickle creatures, have their own ideas. While my baby has bonded with no fabulous blanket or adorable cush toy, it seems a de facto love object has emerged from the trenches of domestic life. This came to my attention when I noticed her grabbing the damp dish towel looped through our oven door handle. She lovingly caresses it, drapes it around her head, chews on it and, when I hold her, spreads it over my shoulder, strokes me through it and then rubs her face on it.

This upends my romantic vision of baby love objects, but I’m adjusting. At all times there is a dish towel or washcloth in her car seat and stroller. When we go to a friend’s house, she howls until our accommodating hostess donates a dish towel. We now have appropriated a collection of borrowed dish towels, but I try ditching them now and again, hoping she’ll forget her obsession for these microbe magnets.

Of course, having your kid run around with a rag is embarrassing. So the frantic search for blankie nirvana continues. My latest quest is for a cashmere baby blanket, which I hear is the ultimate bonding blankie. I mean, what baby in her right mind would pick a damp dishrag over cashmere?