More on Knuffle Duckling and Attachment

September 9, 2011

First, a book plug:

In my last post I referenced Mo Willems’ tremendously good childrens’ book, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale.

For me, one of the greatest joys of parenting a living child is sharing books and reading. I say this even though Dot is very active and busy and I’ve had to become something of an expert on reading abridged versions of many of her favorite books. It’s fascinating to see how powerful illustrations are to her right now. She isn’t very interested in lyrical language unless she’s tired enough to relax into it. While rhythm is appreciated, she’s much more into the meat of things – “Cat. Black. Mee-ow!” is a typical comment right now. But she loves Knuffle Bunny‘s illustrations and language, and seems to have a keen understanding of what is going on in that story. Knuffle Bunny is about a lost toy, about communication and language, about parent-child relationships, and it’s one of those magical books that is both meaningful and fun to read for adults as well. I remember one of my best mentors from my Library program talking about the importance of this when I took a class on children’s literature, and it’s true that if you’re going to end up reading a book over and over and over, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor if you pick out something really good.

Now, onto some deeper reflections about Dot’s Knuffle Duckling (also known as KD):

I was probably more upset that her toy had been left behind during their trip to the park than she would have been. I was, seriously, ready to cry. And, even though I am now in the process of finding some duckling replicas, I know in my heart that if KD is lost, permanently lost, a replacement won’t be the same, even if it satisfies Dot.

I have always been this way. I cling to things – old email messages, old shoes, clothes I’ll never wear again, old letters. When I was very young and my mom helped me rearrange my bedroom furniture I was unable to sleep until we moved it all back. I took my security blanket with me to college. I’m a clinger. I’m attached. I’m the opposite, I think, of an enlightened Buddhist. I imbue material objects with meaning and then I clutch them to me until they crumble away.

I think in some cases, this has gotten worse since Teddy died. I couldn’t hold onto him, but I still try. I hold onto every memory and even onto a lot of the pain because that is what I have left to hold on to. I’ve relaxed my grip some as the years passed, but that’s never been intentional, and I think I’ve tightened my grip at times, too. We will probably never scatter Teddy’s ashes because I will probably always need to know that I can clutch that little urn to my chest like some melodramatic maternal character from a Dickens novel.

When we had cable, I would watch Hoarders and, of course, be horrified by the mess and the dirt and the way that belongings can take over a person’s life in such debilitating ways, but I felt real and deep sympathy for the hoarders themselves. I understand the attachment to things, and how things can be more than just things. And while I could see that the people helping to clean the sagging, overflowing houses were being helpful and caring and sensible, I hated them a little for the ruthlessness it takes to look at something that is precious and meaningful to another human being, and call it junk, even when that junk is harmful.

What saves me from becoming a hoarder, besides a husband who is vehemently opposed to clutter (and who already puts up with a lot of it out of love for me) is the fact that I give so much emotional energy to selected objects that I don’t have enough energy to spare to engage with the quantity of objects that would turn my home into material for reality television.

I’m pretty nonchalant about most of Dot’s toys, but the ones she has started to favor are a different case. To me, KD is now a sort of person. A small, yellow person with orange feet that Dot will move back and forth while she says, “Wiggle, wiggle.” A small, slightly dirty little person that Dot has “taught” to give high fives. If I could install a locator chip in KD, I would do it in a heartbeat. When I think of KD getting lost, I get a strange hollow feeling in the bottom of my stomach.

I’m pretty sure I’m over-reacting, in addition to anthropomorphizing and projecting. After all,  we don’t know if KD is a passing crush or a long-term love for Dot; it’s impossible to tell right now.

This may all be a long-winded way of saying, I hope that losing Teddy doesn’t exacerbate some inherent, lurking craziness of mine into full-blown craziness, making me a crazy mother. Making me a bad mother. I worry to see my grief sneaking so insidiously into such small daily aspects of, not just my life, but Dot’s life. I do know, after all, that toys (and hats – we’ve lost three this summer) come and go and get lost and that the only reason for me to be truly upset about this is if Dot is upset; it’s my job to sympathize and provide a safe place for her to express her feelings. If KD becomes her true toy love and traditional object, and becomes lost, I can’t be the principal mourner because I will need to comfort the principal mourner.

I guess I should feel  lucky she didn’t fall in love with a teddy bear. That would just be too damned Freudian.





  1. Love abridging. This has had me murmuring, “precis, precis” at my poor father trying to read J ‘The Enormous Crocodile’! I haven’t come across ‘Knuffle Bunny’, I’ll have to seek it out as I totally underestimated the number of times I would have to read certain books. It is definitely worth investing in good ones to start off with.

    I often wonder if I am teetering on the edge of full-blown craziness, or of making an appearance on Hoarders.

  2. I totally related to this post! Even as a child if I would lose a ‘part’ of a toy, such as a Barbie slipper, or piece of a puzzle I remember this huge sense of unease. Like I had failed to keep the toy ‘together’ and it would bother me endlessly. I have the same feeling as you about my Aidan’s urn. I cannot let go of it. I don’t know if I will ever be able to bury him or scatter his ashes. I figure whoever dies last of my husband and I, gets to be buried with him.

    I struggle with clutter (although not in a reality TV way). I have a hard time throwing out things from my past, hence my overly full basement. I am working on it though…but since my daughter was just born I think it’s going to get worse. Because now it won’t just be stuff my childhood in the basement, it will be stuff from hers! Yikes!

    Great post.

  3. Oh yes, so much to relate to in here. We couldn’t hold on to them, so instead we hold on to stuff. In many ways I think I am a hoarder, but in other ways I know Hope’s death has taught me to let go and I part much more easily with useless and old possessions these days. I guess it is just different when it comes to items that belong to any of my babies and it is why all three of their memory boxes are HUGE!

  4. I’m in a getting rid of stuff phase, but I can only seem to let go of baby stuff if I give it to someone. Four boxes of boy clothes to my friend pregnant with twins. I know that I have already set aside the clothes that Henry wore that I most associate with him, yet I wanted to open up all the boxes just to check again, to make sure I didn’t part with something I “needed.” Stuff is tricky.

    Love Knuffle Bunny. It was one of our must read books for a while, though it seems to have fallen out of favor (along with many others) as we’ve been trying more books from the library. What other books have you found that you love?

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