When does a boy give up his lovey?
If it were to be decided by the condition of the lovey alone, then Eli’s beloved Rita should’ve been discarded long before now. In her prime, she was a beautiful lady(bug). Pretty and soft and utterly precious in the chubby hands of a baby.
My nephew left for college in August and tweeted a picture of his mom and sister in the back seat of the car. Between them? His LEGO Yoda, buckled for safety. I had to ask the more pressing question.
“Yes, but did you bring Ja?”
Ja being his lovey, something that was a bright and soft approximation of an elephant at one time. Now it’s a grey and tattered approximation of a dishtowel that’s seen better days.
“Of course Ja came,” he tweeted back. “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind.”
Funny, it was because a lovey got left behind that we ended up with a Rita at all. I first bought Eli a different lovey. I can’t remember the details, but it was also a towel doll. Maybe it was a sheep? I was feeling guilty about having weaned him at 3 months, after being felled by my fourth case of mastitis. He needs a lovey, I thought. That will make it better. I kept forcing this lovey on him, but it wasn’t taking. Or maybe I just forgot that 3-month-olds can’t really hold on to things that well yet. On a string of errands she was lost. It was days before I noticed.
I set about to order another when she caught my eye. Where the sheep was bland (or is it blaaaaaand?), she was vibrant. Now there’s a lovey a boy will notice! We knew she was the one when she arrived and we saw the tag with her factory-given name: Margarita. A ladybug, a lovey, our official drink of parenthood.
Eli took to Rita instantly. It helped that she had a “nose” that was eerily similar to a nipple. He’s been sucking face with her ever since.
Unfortunately, five years of making out and heavy petting have not been kind to Rita. At one time we had 3 of her. We had too! Not only were we fearful she would be lost, but she also took on an odor and needed frequent washings. We knew it was time for the wash when we would mistake her fragrance for a loaded diaper. She had some work done as well (face “transplants” courtesy of my seamstress mother), including one facelift that went horribly wrong. Eli’s scared of that Rita, and while I keep her as a backup for spare parts, he won’t so much as look at her.
She holds on for dear life, though. Or perhaps she holds on for the boy that holds her. He’s not a baby, or a toddler, or even a preschooler anymore. He’s a boy. A boy who is probably too old to make out with a stuffed animal. But she comforts him, and for a boy that seems to find accidents wherever he goes in this world, that’s probably a good thing. When Eli wakes in the morning, the first thing he does is fold his big-ish body into my lap and suck on Rita. You know the sound Maggie from the Simpsons makes with her pacifier? It sounds just like that. And I love it. It’s totally gross and I love it.
Like our Thursdays alone and snuggles in my lap, I know the days of him needing his Rita are numbered. She doesn’t go everywhere with us anymore, and if she turned up missing at bedtime it wouldn’t be a state of emergency. Still, I hope she holds up as long as he loves her. I’ll even send extra quarters so she can get a few baths in at college.