"Where is Elephant Lovey?" I call desperately from the top of the stairs. I'm hoping my big girls will do a sweep of the family room, checking under the couch and behind cushions. If he's not there, they'll move on to the dining room where Lilah's play kitchen commands its own corner. Sometimes Elephant Lovey is in the microwave.
Meanwhile, Lilah is jumping up and down on her bed showing no signs of sleepiness. I need Elephant Lovey pronto with his smushed trunk and half-closed embroidered eyes. In this house, he is the toddler version of Ambien.
Lilah's not the only one addicted to her lovey. I'm a user too. Lilah doesn't know it, but I almost always grab Elephant Lovey on our way out the door, just in case she becomes restless at Target or face plants at the playground. If she pulls at the straps of her car seat on the verge of a meltdown because we've been in the car too long, I can magically produce Elephant Lovey and we both feel our hearts slow down and the panic retreat. Turns out Elephant Lovey is also an effective variety of Valium.
I think Lilah and I both use Elephant Lovey in the same way. She needs him to soothe and calm her when things get a little rough -- when she's cranky and tired or gets hurts or has to transition from being with me to being at preschool or with a baby sitter. She's not ready to tackle these situations on her own. Having Elephant Lovey helps.
I use Elephant Lovey as a crutch, too. Three kids and 12 years of parenting under my belt and I still get flustered when things get rough for my littlest girl. What if my kisses don't make the hurt go away? What if my promises of "just five more minutes and we'll be ready to go" don't do the trick? Then there's the bit about just how much fussing and tantrum throwing I'm willing to endure or willing to let her endure. It's so much easier to pull out Elephant Lovey and watch her face light up as she grabs his once blue, now grayish, body and rub her cheek with his trunk.
Lilah didn't become attached to Elephant Lovey until she was almost 2. Before that, it was all me. And it was exhausting -- sweet, but exhausting. I know Elephant Lovey is a transitional object that helps her with separation and anxiety, but I'm still a little jealous of him.
The truth is, from the moment they're born, our children are growing up and away from us. Elephant Lovey is just helping Lilah on her journey. For now, he snuggles up to Lilah in her sleep and trails after her on her way downstairs for breakfast. One day, though, he'll be left behind as she bounces out the door to school or a friend's house. Her need for him to comfort her will wane, but I know her need for me will never fade, just change and shift as she grows up.
When the day comes for Elephant Lovey to find a cozy resting spot on the closet shelf, I hope I'm ready to do without him, too.