Henry is 5 now, loves ice cream and The Hulk, and still digs slamming his feet down into fresh rain puddles instead of walking around them. His hazel eyes are the same as mine, and they sparkle when he sees the jungle gym at the park or a can of root beer coming out of the fridge.
In just half a decade, he has made his mark on my heart way more than I ever could have dreamed possible. Kids do that to their parents — they blindside us. We think we have an idea of how the love will feel once the kid is born, but in reality we have no idea at all. It’s all way bigger, way heavier than a hundred stars tumbling down upon us out of the night sky.
He’s got a blanket he calls “Blankie.” If you would have asked me 10 years ago whether I could ever picture myself spinning my Honda around and driving 20 miles back in the opposite direction to fetch some kid’s tired, frayed Winnie the Pooh blanket, I would have looked you in the eye and snickered my answer into your face.
There was no way. “Preposterous,” would have been the only thing I said.
Life is a trip though, and I have traveled many miles the last few years just to make sure Henry and Blankie have never spent a night apart.
“You’ll live,” I could tell him when we’re half a county away from my mom’s house and we both realize that we’ve left Blankie back on her sofa.
“You’ll be alright for just one night without it,” I’ve considered telling him, but I’ve never been able to.
And at this point, well, I doubt I ever will either.
I mean, it all comes down to me in the end. I’m the parent, and it’s my car, gas, and time. I could hammer it home that he’s getting up there in age for this whole Blankie thing. I could probably shatter the bond he has with his blanket with a few choice words if I really wanted to.
But c’mon, you can’t run around doing stuff like that. Moms and dads can’t tell their kids to lose the blanket. There’s too much at stake. Plus, I’ll admit it: Henry loves a Winnie the Pooh blanket and he sees no problem with that, and neither do I. And because of that, I love the damn thing, too.
Maybe even as much as he does.
The funny thing is, I don’t even know where the blanket came from. I think it might be another hand-me-down, a baby shower gift for his older sister back when she was born. Or his mom and I might have bought it at Target in the exciting months leading up to our first son’s arrival. It’s too foggy for me to figure out now. All I know is that Blankie has been Henry’s steady sidekick since before he could even speak.
Sometimes I wonder why kids get so attached to certain tangible things. How does all of that play out? Across the early years, every single child is presented with a myriad of stuffed animals and blankets. How do they know when one is THE ONE? Does it happen instantly? Or is it the kind of thing where familiarity and constant exposure ultimately lead to deep affection?
Either way, I couldn’t imagine Henry without Blankie. I mean, I know the day will come when he’ll likely walk away from it without a backwards glance. It always happens that way; kids drop a thing that meant so much to them once upon a time and never ever return to it again. Oh man. That day will kick up all kinds of nostalgic dust inside me …
Henry in the morning, the kitchen door creaking open, my sleepy son moving through the room with Blankie wrapped around his tiny shoulders.
Henry in the back of the old Honda, the late winter twilight glowing across his face as he snuggles Blankie hard to his chest and stares out at the bleak landscape flying by.
Henry at the pool, tuckered out from all that swimming and carrying on, his little head asleep on Blankie under the shade of a breezy summer tree.
Henry right there next to me, eyelids fighting the losing fight as he drifts off at the end of one of our days together, me smiling at the sight of my boy. Me pressing my face into Blankie so that I can smell the same smell that Henry smells all the time. It smells fresh for a while, after it’s been run through the wash, no surprise there. But its true magic lies in the faint whiffs you can catch after he’s been toting it around for a week or so. If you hold it at the right angle and draw your air in just right, you can smell the wind in it then, I swear. And raindrops and cupcakes and sunshine.
You know, I keep thinking about what I’m going to do with Blankie when Henry finally retires it. I keep thinking that I’m going to hold on to it forever and ever, or at least until I’m gone. I keep imagining myself a very old man sitting on a porch smoking my pipe, looking both ways up and down the road to make sure no one is walking on by. I pull Blankie out of an old potato sack then. Evening sun, Henry living so far away with his own family now.
I press it gently against my face, breathe it in good and deep.
And for a second there, I’m younger again. Me and Henry laughing on the couch, back when he was 5. Me and Henry — and all of our joys and sadness and hopes and dreams and tears, all flooding back to me once again, making me happier than anything else can or ever will.
Kids carry around blankets for a reason. And maybe, just maybe, that reason takes a long time for some of us to truly understand.