“I think you’ll need Tiny for rest, don’t you?” I said to my five-year-old son Oliver as we made the final preparations for his first day of Kindergarten. Without waiting for an answer, I grabbed the worn security blanket from his bed and shoved it into his new red backpack. Then, along with his older sister Ellie, we ran up the hill to the bus stop at the end of our road.
“Tiny,” as Oliver’s well-loved security blanket is called, is an 18-inch square piece of chocolate brown fabric with royal blue dots, satiny on one side, plush on the other. Tiny has been Oliver’s near constant companion since he was a baby, accompanying us on errands and long trips, across the country and around the block. Pictures show a baby Oliver sleeping with Tiny in his crib, two-year-old Oliver running in the back yard holding Tiny in his fist, Oliver napping in the stroller with Tiny draped over his face. Like any transitional object, Tiny has the power to soothe and comfort, its distinctive scent and texture prompting an almost Pavlovian response: as soon as Tiny comes within reach, Oliver will clutch it to his face, pop his thumb in his mouth and calm down instantly.
I was aware as we walked to the bus stop that I was doing something suspect. I would never have suggested that Ellie or my oldest son Sam bring their security blankets to Kindergarten. Both of them had had their own transitional objects, but I had always been impatient for them to move through that developmental stage. Not Oliver. I can honestly say I would be happy to watch Oliver suck his thumb and stroke Tiny until he was ready to leave for college. So of course he needed to bring Tiny with him on the first day of Kindergarten. He was still practically a baby after all. Wasn’t he?
When Oliver came home later that day, I assumed Tiny was in his backpack. It was only later that evening, as Oliver was getting ready for bed, that I discovered that Tiny was nowhere to be found. I pulled Ellie aside.
“Did Oliver have Tiny on the bus?” I asked her in a hushed voice.
“I think so.”
“Well, did you or did you not see it when he was on the bus?”
“I saw it when he was waiting on the bus line…”
“I was using it as a cape!” Oliver chimed in.
I turned quickly and began firing questions at him. “Did you bring it with you on the bus? When do you last remember seeing it?”
He paused, thinking. “I was standing on the bus line and Tiny wasn’t in a good place.”
“What do you mean Tiny wasn’t in a good place?”
“Well, he wasn’t in my backpack, he was back here.” He pointed to his upper back. According to his pantomime, he had laced Tiny in between his backpack straps and had not zipped it securely in his backpack. Tiny had not been in a good place and now, neither were we.
After a few tears, some of them from exhaustion and a few for Tiny, Oliver fell asleep. I had a harder time. Why had I sent him to school with that damn blanket? It served me right, treating him like a baby when I should have been applauding his independence. I kept picturing him on the bus line, swinging Tiny over his shoulders and behind his back. Then, in another frame, I saw him drop Tiny, watched it flutter to the ground like an autumn leaf while Oliver pressed through a crowd of kids and up the stairs of the bus. He didn’t even look back.
I woke up the next morning, determined to find Tiny. I emailed Oliver’s teacher and paid a visit to the school office to let the administration know that Tiny was missing.
Finally, I called the bus lost and found, a drab office on the far side of town. I’d only been there once before, when Sam had left his cello on the bus. We’d had to wait on a bench for the bus to return to the depot with Sam’s instrument. As we sat there, the winter sky darkening, I’d noticed the metal bins that were used for lost and found—cages really—piled high with dirty grey hoodies, lone gloves and stray sneakers. They were sad, abandoned items, the detritus of careless adolescents. It was no place for Tiny.
“I’m wondering if you’ve seen a blanket my son may have left on the bus?” I asked the seen-it-all man who answered the phone.
“A blanket? No, I don’t have any blankets here. Check with the driver this afternoon. It may still be on the bus.” I clung to hope.
I called my husband, Ken. “I can’t believe Tiny, which has traveled the flippin’ world, couldn’t survive a day of Kindergarten.”
“Maybe it was time,” Ken said.
“Maybe he doesn’t need Tiny anymore. I mean, he’s in Kindergarten now.”
I hung up on him.
Later that day, I headed over to a baby gear superstore. I thought it might have a replacement for Tiny, if such a thing existed. I realized as I walked in that I hadn’t been there for a long time, since my children were small. Walking through the store now, the shelves stacked high with diapers, thermometers and bouncy chairs, I was flooded with memories of those early baby years and was amazed at how unceremoniously they had passed. I didn’t know this was over! I wanted to shout at the women around me, babies strapped to their chests like flotation devices. And you won’t either! I grabbed a green and brown blanket, about the same size and texture as Tiny, paid for it and left.
When Oliver came home, I handed him the new blanket—“For you to keep until we find Tiny,” I told him—which he accepted quietly. He plopped down on the couch to watch television. His dark brown eyes were red rimmed and sleepy; even his hands seemed tired as they lay at his sides, idle. I pulled the tags off the new blanket and shoved it at him. He held it for a moment and then let it fall beside him. I thought he was handling Tiny’s loss so far with courage. Perhaps it hadn’t really hit him yet as he processed all the newness around him. Or—the thought hit me like a brick—maybe I was the only one who cared about Tiny because I feared that if Tiny left, it would take my last baby with it.
Perhaps the story should end there, with the loss of Tiny on the first day of Kindergarten, the symbolism so obvious to everyone, tragic only to me. But Tiny was found the next day inside the bus which had broken down on the first day of school and had been parked since then in the lot on the far side of town. The man in the office had offered to look inside the bus for me after my third phone call. Then he called me back with the news.
“Lady, this isn’t just a blanket, this is a security blanket. That poor kid! And you must not have slept for days!”
I drove over to the cinderblock office to pick up Tiny while Oliver was still at school. The seen-it-all man announced my arrival.
“Hey guys!” he said. “This lady hasn’t slept in days! Look at the bags under her eyes!”
I held Tiny up to my face and inhaled. It smelled the same, a strangely comforting combination of laundry detergent and dirty thumb.
When I got home, I threw Tiny into the washing machine and sat down at the kitchen table in my unusually quiet house. I realized I would always mourn the passing of Oliver’s milestones just a little more than his siblings’ because his marked the end of my experience with that slice of childhood. Sometimes I looked at Oliver and wished he would stay little forever, that the colors and textures of his childhood would never fade with time. Babying him—and that is what I did—was my way of doing that. I plopped myself in front of the washing machine and watched Tiny spin around and around, tracing invisible circles in the dark drum.