The Happiest Face on Earth: Long Live Loveys

mickeytoy1Mickey likes waffles for breakfast. And, surprisingly, he never gets cold outside, even though he always wears shorts. Mickey also enjoys the occasional ride in the stroller. In our house, Mickey enjoys VIP status. But, Mickey isn’t our child — he’s our 3-year-old son’s cherished “lovey,” Mickey Mouse.

We made it through infancy and toddlerhood without any meaningful attachments to inanimate objects. Sure, there were lots of random flavors of the week. But, after a few days our son would move onto the next toy, book or kitchen implement that captured his attention (what, actually use that whisk for cooking?!).

So, when my husband arrived home from a business trip with a plush Mickey Mouse in tow, I figured the Disney fella would take up residence on the bedroom shelf among the other stuffed animals.

Boy, was I wrong.

Mickey is rarely out of E’s sight. In fact, the only time they’re apart is when E is at preschool. And, even then, Mickey waits patiently in E’s car seat until he returns. When they are together, Mickey is always tucked in the crook of E’s right arm; our son does virtually everything one-handed since he’s holding Mickey constantly.

When our son is misbehaving, the one true way to snap him to attention is to threaten a “Mickey time out,” meaning he gets separated from his buddy. E’s affection for Mickey has extended to Mickey-themed T-shirts, pajamas, books, music, utensils, puzzles, stickers, iPad apps, Crocs Jibbitz, you name it. I can’t even begin to imagine how catatonic he’ll be when we finally visit Disneyland.

Sound familiar? I know the experiences we have with Mickey aren’t unique to our house. However, I was interested to learn the specific psychology behind and ramifications of being attached to a lovey. Recently, the New York Times’ Well blog featured a post, “A Firm Grasp on Comfort,” in which Dr. Perri Klass delves into how so-called transitional objects can help ease a child’s separation from a maternal figure.

Dr. Klass writes, “the specificity of the child’s preference — and affection — parallels the developing ability to feel a strong specific attachment to particular people.” Dr. Klass quotes infant mental health expert Alicia Lieberman in saying the transitional object is “a bridge between the mother and the external world.”

Since the Mickey fixation first began we’ve found it endearing — occasionally maddening! — and delight in watching the relationship develop. Mickey started as primarily a comfort, now he’s grown into a full-fledged playmate. I’ll never forget the time when Mickey was riding in the stroller and E said to him, “It’s okay Mickey, I’m right here.”

After reading Dr. Klass’s post, I’m even more enthused about how Mickey can help E begin to nurture healthy relationships. Our son is particularly mommy-focused at this stage, and I was genuinely surprised that his connection to Mickey actually deepens his connection to me.

While conventional thinking might lead one to believe that a transitional object would stifle a child’s ability to cultivate additional relationships, especially those outside the nuclear family, it is reassuring to learn about how instrumental Mickey can be in E’s emotional development.

While I’d be surprised if Mickey retained his status into the teenage years, it’s sweet to know that at this moment in time, Mickey is fulfilling such a meaningful role. (Dr. Klass does cite research that indicates a full 25 percent of women going off to college bring a lovey with them and holds up this fact as a reminder that the anxieties of separation extend well beyond a child’s first years.)

E will never be at this age or stage again. Yes, it’s easy to get frustrated at the end of a draining day upon being asked to arrange Mickey just so that he may watch E take his bath. But, E’s love for Mickey is what makes him unique. Someday when he asks me to drop him off five blocks from the spot where he’s meeting his friends as to avoid being seen together, I’ll long for the days when it was all about Mickey and mommy.

Until then, I’ll be the mom making sure Mickey has his breakfast just the way he likes it.

199Amanda Stoffer is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle.  In her previous life as a trade journalist and public relations professional, she used to wrangle real estate executives and clients for interviews. Now, in her current role as a stay-at-home mom, she frequently wrangles her two sons into their car seats. You can follow her on Twitter at @AmandaStoffer.

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