Losing Leumi: A Child's Transitional Object

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is everything going smoothly for you and yours as your transition to the New Year? I do hope nothing serious happened to you and that all celebrations have been and remain happy and "uneventful."

Ours, unfortunately, has been quite EVENTFUL, as our youngest granddaughter, Stella, visiting from Berlin (Germany, not New Jersey) with her parents and sister (and 11 other adult "children" and theirs visiting from DC, NY, and here, Philly) lost her Leumi under our watch. Oy vey!

For those of you who are not following my shorthand, Leumi is Stella's transitional object, which means that it is an object (a stuffed animal, blanket, etc.) which represents a connection to her mother, helping her to endure separation until she learns she can, simply put, endure separation. About 60 percent of little ones insistently claim such an object.

Stella's Leumi, a ragged, torn, small, seemingly dirty (though washed innumerable times) doll that no longer in any way, shape, or form resembles one has been a bed time, nap time, and sad time comforter for as long as I can remember.

I know perfectly rational people who go out on the coldest nights, even sifting through trash, to see where a blankie, or dugie, or something else of enormous importance with a totally ridiculous name could possibly be hiding. My husband, Stan, and I are now two of them.

I know others who have tipped enormous sums to messengers and cabbies when a transitional object is left behind. Stan and I have been two of them for years.

Stella was three years, three months, and 25 days old when catastrophe hit, and the episode belongs in the "no good deed goes unpunished category." All other members of our family had plans, and we arranged for our daughter and son-in-law to have an evening just for themselves. We would plan one for their seven-year-old, Lucy, and Stella.

And so, Lucy, Stella, Stan, and I enjoyed a lovely picnic supper with innumerable goodies in front of the fireplace. We also had tickets to a child friendly movie, "The Princess and the Frog" (great fun!), and planned to be home and have the children asleep before their parents got home.

We found a cab to take us from downtown Philadelphia, where we live, to the theatre in the area of the beautiful, inspiring University of Pennsylvania, an urban community that is rich in vibrancy and diversity. We had so much fun telling our granddaughters that two of their aunts were graduates of the undergrad school, and that one of their aunts and I went to graduate school at Penn. And also that their great grandfather was an alum.

After the film, where popcorn was an extra bonus for all, we had trouble getting a cab back to our Philadelphia apartment. It was close to nine o'clock, and very cold and icy, when luck came our way, and we poured into the cab and buckled in.

My granddaughters have a tradition. They like to take a small pocketbook from my closet and keep Kleenex and chapstick in it. I held Stella's small purse in my larger one throughout the film, but she asked for it in the cab. It was complicated getting out, handling the children, paying the driver, navigating the snow, etc. And when we reached our apartment my husband realized that my purse, the one Stella chose, had most likely dropped to the floor of the cab as we exited.

I was not alarmed, as the purse was unimportant to me. But instantly, my mood changed, as Stella began to cry, telling us that Leumi was in the cab. Which meant that Stella had placed Leumi in the small purse.

As far as I was concerned Leumi was where I had last seen him/her, on my husband and my bed, with toothbrushes, toothpaste, jammies, one pullup, etc., awaiting our return. But a trip outside (explained above) showed me how wrong I was and would remain.

We could not remember the parent taxi fleet. However, in seasonal spirit, I was sure the taxi was red, while Stan was sure it was green, and Lucy remembered blue. As Stella kept telling us sadly (but not hysterically) that Leumi was in the cab, Stan called every Philadelphia cab company, telling each our story. (He also managed to get the number of the city's lost and found for all cabs.)

We explained that perhaps someone took the purse but dumped the "doll" in the cab, and the driver would know to rescue him/her. In retrospect, this was truly faulty reasoning, as Leumi looked more like dirty keenex than anything else. Anyway, we were told by a very sympathetic lost and found contact, a grandfather himself who definitely felt our pain, not to hold our collective breaths. Right he was, for from that day to this Leumi has been gone.

But much to my surprise on that fateful evening Stella went to sleep fine, without Leumi, and her parents did not banish us from babysitting. Not once did either brand us incompetents.

Stella has asked her mother for Leumi one time since this episode (that I know of). Guilt forced me out of hearing distance, and I never asked the response. But Stella found me soon after. She neither growled nor scowled. Instead she asked for a story.

Still I offer the following advice to all parents and grandparents and caretakers: Always have a Leumi/ Blankie/ Ahnie, Dugie backup!

In my heart of hearts, I think that Stella used us to dump Leumi, not needing his/ her
presence any longer.

Still, I wish her decision had been under someone else's watch.