Friday, December 9, 2011

Blanket praise

Last month, according to the Boston Globe, USA Today and numerous other news sources, the Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York, inducted three new items: Hot Wheels, the dollhouse and the blanket.

According to the article I read, “Curators said the blanket was a special addition in the spirit of two earlier inductees, the cardboard box and the stick. They praised its ability to serve either as recreational raw material or an accessory transformed in myriad ways by a child’s daydreams.

‘Blankets have been keeping people warm for centuries, but they have also been heating up kids’ imaginations,’’ serving as superhero capes and tents, said Christopher Bensch, the Rochester museum’s chief curator.”

If it were up to my 9-year-old daughter, blankets wouldn’t just be in the Toy Hall of Fame; they’d be in the Hall of Fame of Life, if there is one. Yes, she uses it as recreational raw material and for the traditional purpose of staying warm. She also uses it as clothing, napkin, apron, shroud, umbrella, puppet, carpet, slide and imaginary friend. Sometimes she even spreads it over puddles before she walks across, as if she’s a gallant knight offering the height of chivalry to herself.

Each of my children has one comfort object from which they have been inseparable since toddlerhood, but the two objects are very different. Tim’s is a pale green stuffed frog named Ba; Holly’s is a faded fleece baby blanket that once had a print of light brown puppies with red bows, though the pattern is all but indistinguishable now. At the ages of 9 and 13, the kids still need their objects close at hand; when we leave on overnights of any length, the first question I ask once they’re in the car is “Do you have Ba and Blankie?”

As Tim has pointed out, though, I don’t hide my biases well. He occasionally quotes me on a regrettable outburst in which I said “Ba is a member of the family; Blankie is just a blanket.” The kids were shocked that I could compare the two and announce which I preferred, almost as if I had just baldly announced which of them I liked better. But I maintain there’s no contest. To my mind, Ba just has a lot more character. He’s a creature, not a blanket. He has a name that isn’t the same as the name given every other copy of his kind. You can love a frog, whether it is alive or inanimate. But a blanket? Ba has eyes, a mouth, an expression. (These days, he doesn’t have much else; he’s so ragged after 13 years of affection that his limbs and torso have shredded into strings. But he still has a face.) Blankie has just….a lot of square inches of dirty gray fleece.

But Holly loves Blankie, and for that reason alone, I do too. She drapes Blankie over her face while she sleeps at night; when I go to wake her in the morning, I like peeling Blankie back slowly as if I’m opening a present, with Holly’s sleepy face under the wrapping. She totes Blankie down to breakfast with her and holds onto it (“Him!”, she insists on correcting me. Him? No comment.) until it’s time to leave for the bus; then she drapes Blankie as close to the door as she can in anticipation of a reunion in the afternoon.

A few days ago, I saw Blankie lying on the staircase in the middle of the school day as I was throwing a load of laundry into the washer, so I scooped it up and tossed it in along with the other dirty items. By the time Holly got home, Blankie was already in the dryer, but she was horrified by my temerity nonetheless. “You have to ask me!” she chastised. “What if I had needed him sooner?’

It didn’t help for me to protest that she was at school. To her, there’s always that chance that some kind of emergency will necessitate immediate contact with Blankie.

So I suppose the Toy Hall of Fame designation serves as something of a gentle rebuke to me. Blankie is more than just a scrap of material. Holly has insisted that for years, and now toy curators are backing her up, calling it recreation, comfort, an accessory to imaginary play and an agent of warmth. I should really try to appreciate Blankie a little bit more. And for the moment, freshly washed, fluffy and smelling of clean laundry, Blankie has my affection. Blankie, you’re no frog. You’ll never have a stitched-on smile or shiny glass eyes. But to Holly, you’re perfect, and that’s good enough for me.

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