July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

When my son Liad is hurt, he asks for Puppy, his small dalmatian-like lovey, with a little doggy head. When he finishes up a tantrum? Puppy soothes him, as he sucks away at his fingers. Bad day? Puppy to the rescue. Mid-day tired spell? Puppy is like a dose of caffeine. Intense boredom in a long airplane ride? Puppy is by his side to entertain him. Exhausted in the evening? Puppy’s most prized corner is pressed up against his nose, and magically puts him to sleep in less than 30 seconds. Puppy is the secret elixir that fixes all of Liad’s life problems. We should all be so lucky to have a Pup.

But the thing is, I wonder when Puppy should come to an end. “How about every day, we cut Puppy in half, again and again, until he is just a little corner?” I asked, trying to think of a way to ease him out of his babyish habits. Liad looked at me in horror. I thought it would be time for him, at 3.5 years old, to be less reliant on a fabric square to help him cope with the myriad of emotions that afflict him on a daily basis. Although I currently hide it after he wakes up in the morning, and return it only after his evening bath, he will frequently beg for it in the middle of the day, and will ask so loudly and stand in my way so that I cannot complete any task unless I give him what he wants. He used to freely waltz into his room, and grab it out of his crib, curling up on a rug somewhere like a little dog, and attempt to nap without me knowing, at terrible times of the day. He would also refrain from doing most other activities, or even eating meals, because Puppy was enough sustenance and entertainment to get him through the day. And so, I had to relinquish his control of his most beloved possession, and limit its usage.

One of my older children sucked her thumb as a baby. And what I learned the hard way is that kids who use a finger to self-soothe tend to use their other fingers to touch something else. If the parent doesn’t provide them with something soft, as I hadn’t, they might develop less desirable habits, such as nose digging, and this can become hard to stop. But the cloth also enables us to control how often, and in what circumstances, they can zone everyone else out and just curl up.

I have regular hiding places that I frequently use. Sometimes it’s on top of his closet, or the washing machine, or if I am downstairs, it could be on top of the fridge. But one day, in my haste of wrestling it from his arms and getting him to go to camp, I hurriedly put it in a different place. And as I did so, I told myself, “Try to remember this new hiding place…” because I knew that 10 hours later, and a million activities clogging up my memory in between, I’d likely forget. And forget, I did.

That night, at bedtime, there was the added stress of another child tantruming because I did not give her a piggy back ride up to bed. I first brought Liad up and was going to give her one after, but she just let it all out instead, and so I had to juggle the urgency he was experiencing about trying to find the lost Puppy and his impending exhaustion, and the fact that I was currently on the worst-mother-list for someone else. But I was kind of happy that I lost his special blanket, even though he was not. It would force me to force him to move on in life and in his coping mechanisms.

We had actually tried this two weeks earlier. We had gone on a trip, and as we packed for our return, he looked at me said, “I’m too big for Puppy, so let’s leave him here.”

My eyes widened at this sudden onset of maturity, and even though I wished he had come up with that himself, I knew he was parroting that which we had suggested to him on several other evenings. “You’re too big for Puppy!” I pretended to leave Puppy behind, but really snuck it into the suitcase, just in case we couldn’t handle this rash decision just yet.

That night was challenging. It normally takes him less than a minute to fall into a deep sleep, and I am required to stay in his bed with him, or at least to pretend to get something under the false pretense of “coming right back.” But these things didn’t happen, and as we curled up in his Puppy-less bed together, we read two books several times, and then he peeled off stickers and put them on his wall, jumped on his bed, looked out the window, and finally, got up and left. He seemed to have no way to wind down and get to sleep, and after 90 minutes of this, and having a cluster of other children hovering at the door, waiting for me to get them into bed as well, I caved and excitedly pulled Puppy out of the suitcase, and threw it his way. Liad’s eyes lit up, and then closed, and that was the end of it. I loved Puppy and its magical ways almost as much as he did.

Which is why when I realized that I had hidden Puppy and couldn’t find it, I was not the happiest, especially since it was not a calm and quiet night, and I did not have the energy to lie down with him for hours and hours and wait for him to sleep, while listening to my daughter rally on about the piggy back ride she was owed (because she was still crying, the Energizer Bunny that she is). Out of desperation, I took out a soft blanket, and handed it to him. Sometimes he will sub in a soft corner of something else, in place of the browned, nubbed foot of his dalmatian. He plucked his fingers into his mouth, was calm for a minute, but then sat up, and begged for his lost Pup.

Usually, when we are lying in his bed together, he doesn’t let me leave. But his sister’s crying was grating on him too, and clearly he wasn’t relaxed or feeling snuggly either, so he looked at me and said, “I think you should carry my sister to her bed. It will make her happy.” I was overwhelmed by his generosity, his kindness and the gracious dismissal from the endless bedtime routine. I got down on all fours, launched my daughter onto my back, paraded her around the house, and hoped that this was enough to satiate her piggy-back-ride deficiencies for the evening. I prayed it would stop at least one person’s tears.

As the ride came to an end, I peeled back her covers to tuck her in, and something black and white peeked up at me, it’s little head and faded eyes, not seeing nor smiling, as if it were sleeping soundly in cloudy dream. “Puppy!!!” I screamed. And Liad plucked his fingers back into his mouth at the mere sight of his beloved doggy. I arced it through the air and it landed on his lap, and for a moment, we could all breathe.

“You see,” I whispered into his ear, as he drifted off. “When you do something nice for someone else, you get rewarded.” This is not always true on a physical level, but I felt it to be an appropriate way to reinforce the importance of doing nice things to others, at his young age, and how our “rewards” can sometimes come in obvious ways, or more obscure ones. And I swore that no matter how lazy I was, I’d always have to put Puppy in the right hiding place.

Sarah Abenaim is a writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected], and really enjoys hearing from readers.

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