When I was a child, another Deaf family came to visit us one day. They had two daughters, and the youngest never let her favourite cuddly toy – a tiny pony – out of her reach.
At the end of a long day of play, the family decided it was time to go home. Cue hugs, goodbyes, and waves, as their car drove away, a lot like the bit in films just before the picture fades to black and the end credits start to roll.
Then, a few minutes later, the credits stopped rolling, as the doorbell rang and a sequel began.
The father was holding the youngest daughter, who was crying hysterically, arms flailing all around.
We all thought something terrible had happened. Like they’d crashed just around the corner. Or maybe she’d trapped her arm in the car window.
But nothing bad had happened. She’d simply lost Pony.
We searched our house for what seemed like hours, and finally found Pony in the space between the sink and the wall in the downstairs toilet. By that time, the girl was blowing huge snot bubbles out of her nose as she screamed the house down.
Sometimes, being Deaf is an advantage.
Anyway, a minute after Pony was back in her arms, she was transformed. Calm, happy. Content. No more snot bubbles. Cue more hugs and waves and goodbyes.
I’ve thought about that day a few times since my daughters came along, perhaps a little smugly. For they’ve never seemed quite so attached to a toy or comfort blanket.
When our eldest was a baby she used to spend all day chewing the tail of a cuddly monkey, and when the tail became smelly, despite trying to wash it a few times, we decided the safest thing to do was cut it off. We braced ourselves for her to get upset the next time she tried to chew it, but when she realised it wasn’t there anymore, she looked momentarily sad, but quickly moved on and found other things to chew. Simples.
Sure, there was a point when she became very attached to Kitty, a cuddly toy which was a tiger, but with the size and dimensions of a cat. Though she didn’t mind if Kitty wasn’t there when we went away, so we never had to worry.
But recently, things have changed.
Now, suddenly, Toddler can’t live without one of her toys. This one is called Dog, and he, as the name suggests, is of the canine variety.
Toddler really, really loves him.
If she goes to bed, and she’s all sleepy, but Dog isn’t there, then she gets upset. She soon stops being sleepy, and you have to find him, deliver him, then start the slumber process all over again.
When she is asleep, Toddler dozes with her arm over him in a vice-like hold, the kind of headlock which used to lead to the referee slamming his hand down to declare a winner in a wrestling match.
Despite this, sometimes Dog comes loose. If Toddler wakes in the night and she can’t find him, our buzzer goes off and we’re forced to wake up and search the side of the bed in the dark, while also placating her.
Ok so we’ve had the odd interrupted night’s sleep, but we’ve managed to keep things under control.
Until two weeks ago.
Picking Toddler up from her nursery in the snow, I struggled to get both girls up the icy steps to the car in the dark without slipping over.
I’d just got them both safely seated and buckled in the car when Toddler said a word I’d been dreading.
She also signed it, insistently.
That’s when I made a mistake. I tried to take the easy way out.
Never, ever do this.
Not wanting to get them unbuckled and back out into the snow,to repeat the whole slippery charade again, I tried to talk her out of it.
“Dog can sleep at nursery tonight, can’t he? He’ll be nice and warm.”
I thought I was being clever, selling it as the opportunity for Dog to have a sleepover.
There was a moment’s silence. A pause, a beat.
Then howls and tears.
Even when I’d got the girls unbuckled, picked them up and staggered back down the steps in the snow, even when the staff had found Dog and returned him to Toddler, even when we’d all got back in the car, Toddler still didn’t stop crying.
It was the kind of crying that came from the heart. Punctuated by gasps for air. It made sitting in the traffic on the way home agony.
Fatherhood lesson number 1: Never be smug.
And never, ever, downplay the importance of knowing where your child’s favourite cuddly toy is.
Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned My Song, Coming Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.
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