All you boomers surely remember Linus Van Pelt from the comic strip Peanuts. Linus is often seen sucking his right thumb while holding his beloved blue security blanket over his left shoulder. He takes it everywhere. Poor Linus. His sister Lucy, his “blanket-hating” grandma, and even Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy regularly conspire to wrestle that blanket away from him.
Studies have shown that up to 70% of young children develop strong attachments to objects, most often toys or blankets. What is the explanation for this out of the ordinary attachment?
The common interpretation is that these typically soft, cuddly objects give children comfort and a feeling of security, often beginning in their cribs a few months after birth. As explained in the Early Childhood Parenting Center article “Security Blanket,” these objects “remind a baby of his mother because as she holds him and cares for him, he is holding the favorite object. The baby will cuddle it, and begin to associate it with his mother. It is a symbol of her, so it is extremely comforting to a baby when his mother is not available.”
The attachment peaks in their second year when children begin to transition from dependent to independent, desiring to explore the big, but sometimes scary, wide world. If Mommy and Daddy are out of sight, beloved blanket buddy relieves their anxieties.
A study mentioned in The Guardian article “Why children become so attached to toys and comfort blankets,” suggested that “even very young children invest in such objects’ intangible qualities that cannot be replicated.” They have a life force, if you will. Evidence of that, the study found, was that “children preferred their cherished comfort blankets or favorite raggedy bear over duplicates apparently identical in every way. The children know these objects are not alive but they believe in them as if they are.”
I have two brothers and two sisters, so sharing in our family was the norm. We shared clothes, toys, roller skates, chicken giblets, and cherries in the fruit cocktail. Naturally, we never had the luxury of our own bedrooms. Only my brother Eddie, the eldest, was the lucky ducky to have his own bedroom albeit a small one.
But one thing I did not have to share was my blue blanket. The sheets and bedspreads may have been rotated, but the smallish light blue blanket was all mine. One of my first memories was my attachment to that precious inanimate object. I can still picture myself in my bed with my comforting little blanket lying atop my bedspread and me. It was there night after night during the happy times—like when my mother would storm up the steps multiple times and bark, “Be quiet; go to sleep!” We’d giggle and quiet down, but two minutes later, we would be carrying on again. Hey, how can one be quiet when you’re in combat with two other kids, throwing wet wadded Kleenex at each other and the walls?
Similarly, my comforting blue blanket kept me going through the bad times, like bouts with poison ivy, measles, mumps, vomiting . . . .
In our family, we had to be on death’s door before our mother allowed us to stay home from school. But when we were able to jump through that hoop, she followed our doctor’s advice to the letter. If we had even a slight fever 24 hours before a school day, she kept us home. Ah, how comforting it was to know that though I was feeling better, I could lounge around on my bed all day, reading The Wheel on the School or coloring in a Little Lulu coloring book or playing Parcheesi with myself and my trusty blue blanket.
I did not, however, carry it around the house incessantly like Linus does. It was strictly a source of bedtime comfort.
Now, my daughter Leslie was a different story. If Linus won the gold medal for security blanket devotion, then Leslie would earn the silver. As a newborn gift, Leslie received a pink checked, lightly quilted blanket that could zip up like a sleeping bag. It was a common style in the 1970’s and 80’s. She slept with it in her crib every night. I know, I know. Today the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no blankets or toys be placed in the crib, but we were clueless then to their link to Sids.
Confirming what one study contends, it was in Leslie’s second year that her attachment to the blanket became apparent. It was then that “Pinky” became a member of the family. Leslie was a thumb sucker, so she could often be seen, in bed or anywhere in the house, with her right thumb in her mouth and Pinky being held right at her nose. After a while, he would take on a particular smell—not necessarily a bad smell—but one that was an integral part of his essence.
Don’t ask why a pink blanket owned by a girl is a “he.” I don’t remember how that came to be.
Pinky laundry day was always harrowing. I had to sneak him away when Leslie was occupied and then wash and dry him in short order. But often, she would discover that he was missing, and when she heard that he was in the washer, she gave me no peace until the dryer completed its cycle. Sometimes she would stand sentinel beside the dryer until it stopped. A warm Pinky was the balm she needed, but his fresh smell displeased her greatly. Not to worry, his trademark scent would be back before long. She just had to give it a few days.
Her brother Frank was rarely permitted to touch her Pinky. When he did, she would snatch it from him faster than a Hungry Hungry Hippo. However, Frank disclosed today, “I remember taking it and hiding it when she wasn’t looking.” Typical brother.
One time, on the way home from a shopping mall with Leslie, the car’s muffler fell out, and I had to pull off to the side of the road. Having no cell phone in 1983, of course, we started walking down the hill to get to a business with a phone. A man I knew stopped and offered to drive us home. When we got home, I explained to my husband Frank what had happened. Horror of horrors, we had left Pinky in the mufflerless car, and when she realized he was missing, she panicked and the tears came fast and furious.
Frank got a ride and took off immediately. It was difficult to ascertain which was more urgent—retrieval of the car or retrieval of Pinky. Where was Leslie’s solace, her life preserver in the rocky seas, her best inanimate friend stranded six long and lonely miles away from home? How could Leslie and I have neglected to take Pinky on the trek down the hill?
That may have been the longest half hour of Leslie’s life, and it was no picnic for me, either. Fortunately, Pinky had not been kidnapped and held for ransom because we would have paid a pretty penny to get him back. He was returned safe and sound to Leslie’s waiting arms, where he got a plethora of hugs and was promptly placed at his rightful position between Leslie’s thumb and nose.
Now, Pinky was originally pink checked on one side and plain white underneath with light fill inside. Well, before Leslie had even reached her second birthday, the white underside had already become so ragged that the stuffing was coming out. I had a dilemma. Could I replace the underside without losing Pinky’s essence—his life force? Would Leslie accept the altered Pinky, or would I be forever known as the wicked mother who ruined her daughter’s life? What to do? I went to Jo-Ann Fabric and picked the cutest pattern that I could find to match the pink-checked design. You can see from the above photo that my plan worked. Leslie loved the pattern, especially all the kittens, and since Pinky still possessed his distinctive aroma, all was right in Leslie’s world.
Leslie not only held Pinky to her nose and slept with him, she played imaginary games with him as well:
When Leslie was two, I got some pink checked fabric, leftover pink cat fabric, and cotton balls, and made two mini Pinky’s, which she could use with her dolls or for whatever she pleased. They were a big hit!
Pinky appeared in a lot of our photos in the early 1980’s. It was not intentional on the photographer’s part; Pinky just had a knack for weaseling his way into pictures. Being Leslie’s constant companion gave him frequent opportunities to inject himself into the family’s Kodak moments.
Pinky has traveled to at least 8 states, flown in an airplane, smelled the sea air in Virginia Beach, and slept in a Disney World hotel.
I would be remiss if I neglected to tell you that Leslie rarely took Pinky outside. I didn’t allow it, and she accepted that. She had a life. She loved the outdoors and was out there every day, weather permitting. Only if she were hurt or sick would she come inside looking for some pink and white checked solace. Knowing that, you probably agree with me that Linus holds the rights to the Security Blanket Gold Medal though Leslie certainly was in competition for the silver medal.
When Leslie got older—I don’t remember the age—she no longer slept with Pinky, but she kept him close by. For years, he could be found stuffed between the side of her bed and the bedroom wall. Not surprisingly, he traveled to Houston when she moved there after college in 2004. And though Leslie is now in her 30’s, Pinky still resides in a bedroom dresser, third drawer from the top, along with some other soft and comfy blanket friends.
Do you have any security blanket stories to share? Do you know of a child who could wrest the silver medal from Leslie and knock her down to the bronze?
By the way, did you know that a wet, balled up tissue will stick to a plastered wall and stay there even after it has dried? I wonder if that was just a 1950’s or 1960’s form of mischief.
KAREN GENNARI is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.