Home on the Range 

Lark has a lovey. Lark is my 3-year-old daughter, and her lovey is Kapi. Kapi is short for okapi, and if you don’t know what an okapi is, well, you really need to get to the San Antonio Zoo more often. An okapi looks like a cross between an antelope, a giraffe, a zebra, and a mule. It’s said to be the only animal that can lick its own ears. Native to the rain forests of the Congo, the elusive “African unicorn” was also the last of the great mammals to be discovered in the 20th century. All of which is very good information to have at the tip of one’s tongue while at a cocktail party, but is of no interest whatsoever to Lark.

Lark loves her Kapi because he lives to be loved. It’s what loveys do. If you don’t hang with little kids, you might think that “lovey” is just a term of endearment favored by ascot-wearing, lock-jawed millionaire types. But if your nightstand has ever overflowed with dog-eared child-rearing manuals, you know that a lovey — or a “transitional object” — is the accepted term for that damp, unappetizing blob, oozing stuffing and usually eyeless, which you see clutched in the fist of a small child.

The lovey has been mythologized in literature: Linus had his blanket. Calvin had Hobbes. That poor little rich kid with scarlet fever had the Velveteen Rabbit. And in the world of parenting advice, loveys enjoy a reputation as a cure to all your woes: Baby won’t sleep? Give her a Lovey. Can’t “self-soothe”? Lovey. Weaning? Lovey. Afraid of babysitters, doctors, monsters under the bed? Lovey, lovey, lovey!

So when I was pregnant with my first daughter, Dale, I relentlessly pursued this precious object. Like some starry-eyed romantic dreaming of her future prince, I wondered who Dale’s lovey might be. I envisioned something charmingly folk-arty, handmade of Icelandic wool by a cool collective of female artisans. I also discovered a whole transitional-object market serving newborn needs — the clever Taggie blanket, the appropriately named Silky, and those stuffed-animal/blanket hybrids. You can even get a lovey custom-made with a hunk of your own hair! I bought what seemed like a reasonable number of snuggly candidates — and so did a lot of other folks.

As the firstborn grandchild for three sets of grandparents, Dale was inundated with choices, and she failed to make a lovey connection with any of them. I was despondent over her fickle attitude, the way she flitted from organic baby doll to silk blanket to plush unicorn and back again. I was driven to some fairly desperate measures — like sleeping with a lamb stuffed in my nursing bra because I’d read that transferring my scent might enhance its lovey-ability — but it was hopeless. At last count, Dale has 183 stuffed animals, and she remains stubbornly egalitarian in her treatment of them.

Lark, however, is a monogamist. A gift from a friend on her first birthday, the cute-enough-but-seemingly-nothing-special Kapi immediately shot up the stuffed-animal hierarchy. She has slept with him every single night since. She’s taken him to school where he even had his own ID so he could check into class each day. He has accompanied us on every plane trip and virtually every car ride. She has dropped him in mud puddles and vomited on him. His fur is matted and grey; his eyes are scratched-up, but still attached. He looks like hell, and it doesn’t matter.

I’ve discovered there are plenty of downsides to living with a lovey. To survive, you must develop an inner radar enabling you to pinpoint the lovey’s location at a moment’s notice, especially when your kid is an unrepentant scamp who intentionally puts her lovey in a lunchbox inside a stockpot deep in the back of the pantry just to test you. “Where’s Kapi?” is something my husband and I say to each other more often than “Hi, how are you?”

I’m not complaining. I don’t know if Kapi alone is responsible for Lark’s independent personality. I don’t know if he really was the sleep-training silver bullet that made every transition seem so easy. But to honor his second year with us, I’ve commissioned a painting of him by Jennifer Maher, a talented artist in upstate New York who’s cornered the market on lovey portraits (customtoyportrait.com).

To give Jennifer more to go on than just a few snapshots, I attempted to get to the nub of Kapi’s appeal. What’s your favorite thing about him? I asked Lark. “His ears,” she said. Why do you love him so much? She stared at me like I was crazy. “He’s my best friend, Mama.” Aw, jeez — any best friend of hers is a best friend of mine and deserves to be immortalized on canvas. Merry Christmas, Kapi. 

Home on the Range appears the third Wednesday of each month.

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