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Hacktreks 2

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"Blanket Statement"
Malina Sarah Savall’s quite another to be thirteen, becoming a bat-mitzvah, shopping for training bras, getting your period and still having a security blanket.

My parents named me Linus. Well, they almost did. They named me Malina. That’s "M" plus "A" plus "Lina", the feminine form of the second declension Latin noun Linus. In any case, my parents should have named me Linus, because like that lovable Peanuts cartoon character, my baby blanket — a.k.a "Woobie"— is forever in tow. I take it with me wherever I go—to bed, on vacation, to the beach if I want to take a nap. But unlike the fictional Linus, who is forever etched in colorful comic book infancy, I do not have youth on my side.
I am twenty-nine years-old and I still have a baby blanket.

Rewind. I am two months old. Like most middle-class newborns, I was showered with the essentials—diapers, bunny sleepers, an assortment of useless albeit adorable and flame resistant Dakin stuffed animals.
And a blanket. A simple, pale-yellow, cotton, waffle-print throw with satin piping around the edges. Perfectly functional and snuggly all at the same time. Probably from Carter’s or Child World or the linen department at Bed & Bath. On the surface nothing that special. Yes, there were others. There was the hand-knit crotched quilt with my name in flourishing baby pink cursive from Great Aunt Gladys who would die years later from a brain tumor. And the blue and white gingham plaid comforter monogrammed with my initials—MSS—from Great Aunt Gertie who, too, would pass away from cancer.

But it was Woobie who stuck. Blame it on my parents’ reluctance to take the other blankets out of their protective plastic wrapping—what mother wants drool on something that took an entire nine months to knit?—but it was Woobie to whom I immediately took a liking. It was Woobie who would later stay with me through the long, unmanageable years, suffer with me through the failed relationships and the job rejections. Woobie who would later celebrate with me through times of rejoice—the college acceptance letters and the publications of magazine articles and those backpacking odysseys across Europe.

Mind you, Woobie wasn’t always Woobie. On the contrary, before my beloved blanket squeezed his way into the world as Woobie, he was known by the less spectacular, far more commonplace moniker of "Blankie." Plain Blankie, simple Blankie. But, somewhere along the way I decided to change Blankie’s name. Somewhere between that summer when I was twelve years-old and in bunk eight at Camp Pembroke and spilled puffy paint all over poor Blankie when we were decorating T-shirts for Color War, and the following Thanksgiving when Blankie and my luggage got lost during a stop-over on a flight from Boston to California and wound up on a plane to Tokyo (I got both Woobie back and accumulated 1,000 bonus miles on American Airlines), I decided that Blankie needed a new lease on life.

A few days after reaching this realization I was watching Mr. Mom, a delightful movie in which Michael Keaton takes over the domestic role in the household. In the film there’s a scene in which Keaton sits down his adolescent son, Kenny, who couldn’t have been more than five or six, and explains that it’s high time he wean himself away from his own blankie, which he had affectionately dubbed "Woobie". Kenny was heartbroken, but ultimately consented. I, of course, identified with Kenny’s predicament. And so from that day on my blankie, a movie star in its own right, became Woobie as well.

At first, a young girl with a baby blanket, whatever its name is, doesn’t pose a problem within her social circle of pre-school chums. And even at South Elementary, it wasn’t so much of a big deal. It helped, of course, that I was determined to remain "out of the closet" about having a baby blanket, and acted, in fact, proud of it. Some kids had stuffed animals; I had Woobie. There really wasn’t much of a difference.
Sure, there were moments during sleepovers when I’d undergo the occasional teasing—"Malina’s got a blanket! Malina’s got a blanket!"—but for the most part, the kids in the neighborhood were rather cool about me toting Woobie around with me (leading me to suspect that they, too, kept their own baby blankets stashed away at home). I can remember one instance during which Kelly Fitzpatrick from Miss McNulty’s third grade class actually asked at the end of the year if she could have a small piece of Woobie by which to remember me because her family was relocating to St. Louis. I snipped off a small scrap of Woobie and gave it to her as a keepsake. After that, the rest of the kids in our class thought having a "Woobie" was right up there with owning Malibu Barbie’s townhouse. Before too long most of my classmates were buying baby blankets of their own. Woobie and I had started a trend.

But as I got older, things got increasingly more complicated. It’s one thing to be six years-old and learning your ABC’s and having a security blanket; it’s quite another to be thirteen, becoming a bat-mitzvah, shopping for training bras, getting your period and still having a security blanket. My friends at Stoughton Junior High didn’t exactly know what to make of their classmate who aced her PSATs, was captain of the Debate Team, and curled up with a blanket she dubbed of all things "Woobie" during the spring break camping retreat to the Berkshires. And yes, Cameron Cohen might have fancied it just a tad odd when his date for the United Synagogue Youth Matzoh Ball dance and sleep-over bash at Karen Yanoff’s house to follow turned up with her sleeping bag, pillow, and…her baby blanket? "Don’t you think you’re a little old for that?" Cam cracked, stifling a laugh. That I never sucked my thumb and started reading Shakespeare when I was seven and won a state-wide spelling bee at ten—and on the word "theriaca" I might add—came as little consolation to Cameron, who kept making fun of me all night. But whatever, little Cam wasn’t all that cute anyway, and he wound up married to some manicurist and now pumps gas at the local Sonoco in Randolph, Massachusetts.

In college, there was even more blanket backlash. My Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority sisters were, in perfect ra-ra-ra sorority sister fashion, supportive of my having a "Woobie" (they all had their own set of problems to deal with—eating disorders, upcoming MCATs, student loans), but I can’t say the same for my professors. Professor McFadden, who taught my American Ethnic Literature seminar was especially baffled when I, his seemingly sophisticated student (and the girl with whom he was having an affair, I might add) was both writing my senior thesis on "Anti-Semitism in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms" and snuggling with a security blanket during our nightly rendezvous in his off-campus apartment.

I came close, once, to giving up Woobie. It was for Michael, my first real love, and the strikingly handsome Canadian hockey player with whom I was browsing for engagement rings during the summer after college graduation. He’d try and hide Woobie on several occasions—in the laundry hamper, in the garage, under the bed—and even jokingly threatened to dump me if I didn’t "burn it" by the time our autumn nuptials rolled along. "You can give it to our baby when it’s born," he suggested, as if to strike a compromise. But it got me thinking. Was I ready to trade in babyhood for a bridal veil? Was my refusal to give up my blanket symbolic of me clinging so desperately to my youth? It did seem strange, after all, that where toddlers had long since accepted the natural rite of passage from infancy to adolescence, I was still fighting it every step of the way. That this reluctance to dive headfirst into adulthood took the form of a raggedy old shmata, and only when I was sleeping, was especially peculiar. What did it mean? Fortunately, before I had enough time to sort out this emotional conundrum, I caught Michael cheating on me with a half-blind Laotian supermodel, and never had to face the issue. She wound up on the cover of Italian Vogue; I wound up keeping Woobie.
But, though Michael and I parted ways, there arrived a time in my blossoming adulthood when I was continuously begging the question: Are blankets just for babies?

My friend Lisa’s five year-old daughter Noa seemed to think yes. In a world where plenty of other five year-olds had long given up their security blankets, Noa thought it strange that I still had mine. "Why do you have a blanket if you’re so old?" she asked me one afternoon when I was babysitting. Lisa, herself, suggested it was something I take up with my therapist. Maya, Lisa’s three year-old, said the only other person she knew who had a blanket was Tess, her younger—at two-and-a-half years-old—best friend from school. It never dawned on me that there might be something seriously wrong with a twenty-nine year-old having a "Woobie" until so many people started to ask me why I still had one.

So how did I go from being a mewling, puking infant with a baby blanket to a bright-eyed, professional writer with a…well, baby blanket? For starters, unlike little Kenny in Mr. Mom , my parents never did try and wean me away from Woobie. A poor sleeper from the get-go, my parents were keen on anything that would shut me up. They tried pacifiers, warm milk, buckling me in the car seat and driving around the block a hundred times in their old rusty brown Cutlass Supreme. When we were living in a cramped basement apartment in East Boston right next to Logan Airport my mom used to walk me in the stroller down near the runways during especially fussy nights just to quiet me down. "The jet planes were the only thing louder than you," she has quipped. For some reason it was only Woobie that would eventually put me to sleep. And, maybe by blind omission, maybe because they accidentally skipped past some pivotal chapter in a Dr. Spock book, my parents never took it away. Even today, the only thing my mother seems to care about is that Woobie is clean. When I come home for a family visit, the first thing my mother does is grab Woobie out of my suitcase and toss it in the laundry.

And so, here I am, twenty-nine years old and still stuck on what is now a worn out, ripped, stained, smelly and looking-more-like-a-dishrag-than-a-blanket, blanket. And yet, despite all this, I love "him" (yes, I am hetero-blanket) all the same.

I can’t sleep without Woobie. It’s been with me for so long, that by sheer matter of habit, if I curl up in a fetal position at night and Woobie is not there to cling to, or I can’t stuff it in the crook of my arm and rub my cheek against the hanging-by-a-thread satin piping, I lay awake tossing and turning all night.

I take Woobie with me when I crash on a friend’s couch. I take Woobie with me when I sleep over at a boyfriend’s place (if he doesn’t like Woobie, then I don’t like him). If I meet a guy and the mood is right and he invites me back to his place and I don’t have Woobie, then I generally don’t go. You could say that Woobie has saved me from more than one potentially disastrous one-night stand.

Will I ever give up Woobie? It would certainly prove itself a struggle. After twenty-nine years, having a blanket is a habit I’d find harder to kick than, say, a hard-core drug addict does crack. Perhaps it’s a matter of trust, of my reluctance to let go of the past and plunge forward into the future. Perhaps it’s an issue of comfort, of wanting to create for myself one tiny pocket of stability in a world teeming with chaos. And yes, perhaps having a baby blanket is all about desperately wanting, in the face of life’s many adult-like obstacles, to stay forever young. For no matter how I act during the day, when I go to bed each night, I am always still a child.

Lastly, sometimes having a baby blanket even makes me feel special, like I’m part of an exclusive club, a Blankets Anonymous sort of thing. It’s a defining characteristic, something that separates me from the crowd. And so I embrace it, and sometimes I even say it out loud: Hello, my name is Malina. I’m twenty-nine years-old. And I have a baby blanket... *

© Malina Sarah Saval April 2003


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