by LAUREN INCOGNITO
There’s a literary term known as personification, which means to attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects. We learned the psychological implications of personification the day “Dirty Blanche” entered our lives.
My sons were given matching blankets when they were born. One side was supple blue, the other pristine white. Early on it was obvious that one son favored his blanket more than the other. My son’s affection, especially as he aged, teetered on obsession. He wouldn’t leave the house without his blanket or eat a meal; he wouldn’t go out to play or to bed without it. We were living out the Disney version of “Fatal Attraction.”
My boy would tell me his blanket was his best friend and that he was going to marry it. Adorable and slightly creepy, right? I might not ever have grandchildren, but I also wouldn’t have to give a wedding envelope.
One Saturday morning, I yelled to my mother to throw me my son’s blanket so I could wash it.
Israel and Palestine haven’t fought as violently as the day my son overheard that his beloved was about to get tossed in the wash. Tensions escalated. There was yelling, screaming, crying and that was just me, never mind my son’s reaction.
From that day forward, whenever my son’s blanket had to be washed we spoke in code. We referred to her as “Blanche.” When she had cedar chips stuck to her fabric from the daycare playground and her edges were brown from being dragged along the floor, she was “Dirty Blanche.”
The name stuck.
Dirty Blanche became part of our morning routine; the fourth child; if I began backing out of the driveway without her, my daughter would call out frantically, “Wait, you forgot Dirty Blanche!”
All the teachers at preschool knew Dirty Blanche. The times I did make it home without her, a teacher would call and wait for me to race back. Dirty Blanche had become an inanimate student at school and a family member at home.
That sickening feeling in your stomach when you turn your head for just a moment in the store and don’t immediately see your kid when your attention is directed back—that’s how life with Dirty Blanche was becoming.
“Get her out of the car, it’s too hot!” my mother yelled through the screen window one summer afternoon when I forgot Blanche in the backseat. Or me, “Where the hell is Dirty Blanche; I have to leave for work!” Or my son, “I need an extra slice of cheese so I can feed Dirty Blanche.”
Then it happened—the night I forgot Dirty Blanche at school and didn’t realize it until everyone had gone to bed. Most nights I leave the school schlepping 47 pounds of backpacks, sheets and pillows, lunchboxes, and art work while my sons carry a piece of paper or a twig they found on the playground.
That evening the house was still. I was enjoying a rare moment of reading in bed just before the nausea swept over me. I realized I hadn’t seen Dirty Blanche at all that night and immediately knew she wasn’t in the house. I prayed to God that my son would stay asleep.
But because I live my life like Wile E. Coyote, he had fallen asleep that night before 6 p.m. and shuffled down the stairs shortly after 11 p.m., hungry and looking for his blanket.
He cried for two hours, demanding that I go back to the school. We argued into the wee hours of the morning. No, I couldn’t use my car keys to unlock the door as he suggested, and I wasn’t going to call the police and say it was an emergency, and I certainly wasn’t going to crawl through the window as he requested.
He was relentless, wailing, out of control, exhausting, and quite frankly I didn’t know whether it was his or Dirty Blanche’s neck I wanted to wring.
My sons’ preschool is located inside a popular exercise facility that opens at 5:30 a.m. I was there as the doors unlocked. I was led down a darkened hallway to the classrooms and there, on a beanbag in the reading center, lay a crumpled Dirty Blanche against a backdrop of early morning light breaking through the windows.
When my son was learning to walk he used one hand to steady himself;