One night, when I was a teenager, I got a phone call.
“Hi. Do you know where Baba is?” a panicky, too-loud voice asked. “Did you see it when you were here? Did you take it outside at all? It’s OK if you did. We just need to know. We can’t find Baba, Kate. Where is Baba?!”
It was the mother of the children I’d spent the afternoon babysitting. Baba was the trusty-crusty lovey of one of those children, and she couldn’t sleep without it. As a teenager, I knew nothing of the strife, the struggle, the horror of a lost lovey at bedtime. I felt bad for the parents of course, and the little girl, but I thought the idea of an adult getting so worked up over a missing stuffed animal was kind of silly.
Now that I have kids of my own, I can tell you this: The struggle is real. Losing the lovey is serious business, and this is the ridiculous shit that happens when the lovey is lost:
1. You feel that the universe has turned its back on you. You were this close, so very close, to getting all of the children in bed. All you had to do was finish the brushing of the teeth and then it was story, song, lights-out, see you later, bye, it’s grown-up time now, baby…
Instead, it turns out that the lovey, the precious, is missing. You can feel your beautiful dream of quiet and wine slipping right out of your grasp. The chill of despair sweeps through you as you drag yourself back downstairs to begin the search.
2. Your eyes stop working. The lovey, because it eats, sleeps, breathes and drools with your child every day, is the color of everything. And nothing. All loveys become the same shade of everything-nothing, regardless of their color of origin. You could look, with your eyes as wide-open as possible, at every surface in your home and still not even know if you were looking right at the damn lovey.
3. You realize that your child may love the lovey more than she loves you. She can go to sleep without you, but not without that crusty scrap of puppy/bear/blankie/kitty. Fine. Screw you, puppy/bear/blankie/kitty. Why don’t you make all the lunches and do all the laundry and buy all the school clothes from now on if you’re so great.
4. You get angry. This is a really frustrating kind of anger, because you can’t direct it at anything. No one is to blame here, so you lash out at the Little People House and the Talking Elmo kicking them over (“Tee hee! That tickles!”) as you stomp around looking for the lovey. If your spouse happens to check the same spot you already checked, you snarl, “I just looked there, you fool. It’s not there. It’s not anywhere. GAAAHHH, EVERYTHING IS THE WORST!”
5. You start wheeling and dealing like a maniacal salesman. “How about, just for tonight, for a super special treat, you get to sleep with the amazing, the delightful, the just-right-for-cuddling…Purple Pony!” Your eyes are too bright, your smile too big. You make Purple Pony dance around on the bed and maybe even throw in some jazz hands, but your kid is not having any of it—which you knew would happen, but you’re desperate. You figured it was worth a shot. It wasn’t.
6. You rally all the troops to aid in the search-and-rescue mission. You shout some nonsense about battle stations and “all hands on deck.” Your 2-year-old paws through the garbage and helpfully calls out the contents: “Old toast! Something wet!” You waggle another child’s lovey under the dog’s nose and encourage him to “Go find it, boy! Find the lovey! Good boy,” but he doesn’t even move, because he’s not a search-and-rescue dog. He’s a spoiled suburban moocher, and he would rather lick his nether parts and fart on your sofa than actually do anything useful.
7. You find the stupid lovey. (You always find it, eventually.) Maybe it was hiding somewhere tricky, like inside one of Mommy’s rain boots, or maybe it was somewhere fairly obvious, like stuffed into the Little People House that you angrily kicked earlier, but at this point, it doesn’t matter. You’re so relieved that the search is finally over that your body goes kind of limp, and you don’t even have the energy to celebrate. You toss the lovey onto your child’s bed, hit the lights, and collapse.
So now I get it. I get why that poor mother was so frantic when she called me all those years ago. My bewildered and not-quite-serious-enough teenage attitude in the face of such a desperate situation was totally unhelpful, and for that, I am sorry. Because, as any parent knows, a lost lovey is no joke.