The night shift at the Sleep Inn in Cinnaminson, New Jersey was stoned. Or so we inferred after our second trip down to the front desk to request a roll-away; they all stifled giggles when we interrupted their Batman viewing. The roll-away appeared in our room minutes later, courtesy of a sweet pony-tailed guy named Jake who wished us a blissed out goodnight before taking his leave. Aside from the awkward start, the Sleep Inn won us over. Whether it was the extreme mellow vibe, or hard-boiled eggs at the continental breakfast (never a given), we left feeling good about our stay.
The plane was beginning its initial descent into Chicago when my eldest son Oliver called my name. A fifth grader newly independent through the use of headphones, he had spent most of the flight reading and listening to music. But now he was rifling through his bag with a look of consternation on his face.
“Mom?” he said with some urgency.
I was seated in the window seat across the aisle from him and had to lean around his two younger brothers to see what was bothering him. “Mom” he said again, this time with a tone that made me think he was going to be sick.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Mom, I think I left Lambies at the hotel.”
To convey the importance of these words, I can only tell you that had he uttered this same sentence three years earlier, I would have singlehandedly forced the pilot to turn the plane around. Lambies, while only a scrap of fabric (printed, as you might imagine, with small lambs and lined with a synthetic silky blue border), was in fact the ‘that without which’ . . . . the sine qua non of sleep, equilibrium and happiness in Oliver’s life since birth. In our early parenting, John and I would run down a list when leaving on a trip: Wallet? Phone? Lambies?
Everything else could be figured out on the road.
So there we were, descending into Chicago without Lambies. A fifth grader in mild panic; his mother not far behind.
Our first call to the Sleep Inn (made from our Uber ride home) yielded the very sober, very polite day shift who assured us that they would locate lost Lambies and contact us once it was found. With this promise in hand, and a full week of school activities leading up to Oliver’s fifth grade graduation, I pushed the whole thing to the back of my mind. It wasn’t until bedtime that the distress of Lambie separation crossed my mind again.
At 9:30, Oliver came ambling out of his bedroom and into ours to talk. “Um,” he interrupted, “I’m having a little trouble falling asleep without Lambies.”
At this point in the story I feel it is important to share that eleven year-old Oliver is uncommonly tall. He could easily pass for a freshman in high school. He also has a kind of quiet maturity typical to many first-born children. So the whole Lambies thing was a bit of an exception to the general rule of Oliver. A small chink in the armor of this kid who presented much older than he actually was. Perhaps this was why Lambies was also important to me. This small scrap of a blanket offered tangible proof that the little kid I loved was still right there under the surface—even as he careened toward pre-adolescence. Lambies reminded me of how vulnerable he was, even as he sought to prove to me how safe and big he could be in the world. And Lambies revealed in him a need for comfort and love, even as my hugs from him got fewer and hollower with each passing day.
So I seized this opportunity to get a real hug. A real chance to tuck him back into bed and to offer real calming assurances.
I then hurried back into my room to ask John why he thought the Sleep Inn hadn’t called yet.
John followed up with them the next day, only to be told that Lambies were nowhere to be found. Gently, I inquired with Oliver after school if he was “100% sure” that he had left Lambies in the hotel room, and he was. He gave such precise coordinates that it was impossible to doubt, not that I ever doubted him anyway. Lambies was most definitely at the Sleep Inn Cinnaminson.
John came home with a new plan. “I think we need to call during the stoner shift,” he told me. “I think we need to talk to Jake.”
At 10:30, after another fitful bedtime for Oliver, I rang up the front desk, and as soon as I heard the voice at the other end, I knew I had Jake on the line.
“Hi,” I explained, “We were just there two days ago, and . . .” I launched in. Luckily for Oliver, his two younger brothers served as cover. Assuming that the blanket belonged to my youngest son Elliot, Jake was all sympathy.
“Yeah—I totally remember you guys. I remember that little dude. Wow, yeah. I feel you with the whole blanket thing.”
I crossed my fingers, hoping he would volunteer to look for it himself.
“I will definitely leave them another note to look for it. Room 233, right?” My heart sank. Yes, I told him. We were in Room 233. But a note would surely send us straight back to the day shift. It was time to move on.
The next night, during yet another extended goodnight with Oliver, he called me back into his room just as I was walking out the door.
“Mom, about Lambies. I guess . . . I guess I am just wondering if you think I'm going to get it back.”
Here, perhaps, a questionable moment of parenting on my part. I asked Oliver if he wanted an honest answer. And when the big kid in the bed in front of me—the big kid who was graduating from fifth grade in two days—said yes, I gave him one.
“No, Bubs,” I said. “I don’t think it's coming back. The Sleep Inn can’t find Lambies. I don’t think it's coming back.”
“Okay," he said. “Goodnight.” He leaned over and switched off his own bedside light. Big kid.
No sooner did I cross the threshold of my bedroom when I heard the quiet rhythmic sound of muffled sobs coming from Oliver’s room.
My sister is a community organizer who works in the prison system. When you want something done, she’s the person to call. Plus, we had been guests at the Sleep Inn after attending her 40th birthday party, so she had some skin in the game. I wrote her the following texts:
Can you work a miracle? Oliver left Lambies at the Sleep Inn but they're telling me they can't find it. He is sobbing in his bed right now.
Could you go in person and shake the bushes? We were in Rm 233. They have been super nice over the phone but they might be more responsive in person.
Two minutes later I received the following response:
Ok—will try to go 2moro.
When my sister showed up, the impenetrably polite day shift was on the front desk. They assured her that they had looked, but the blanket was simply not at the hotel.
“Mmm-hmm. That’s one answer,” my sister replied. She didn’t move.
After a little more loitering, she followed a Latina housekeeper up to the second floor of the hotel, much to the amazement of the front desk workers who watched her go. Using hand gestures and her minimal Spanish, she explained the situation to the housekeeper who nodded encouragingly and beckoned Margaret down the hall toward a large set of double doors. She entered, and beyond a few shelves of linens, were a set of shelves lined with items that hotel guests had left behind.
After a good ten minutes of searching through the random belongings of Sleep Inn guests—single flip flops, phone chargers—she began to compose a text to me in her mind, telling me that Lambies was gone for good. She reluctantly began her retreat toward the doors, when a small scrap of blue silk fabric peeking out of the corner of a tote bag caught her eye.
Five minutes later the following text appeared on my phone complete with photographic proof:
I HAVE LAMBIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lambies made a triumphant return home to a subdued Oliver who smiled a genuine smile, inhaled the familiar scent, and thanked his aunt via text from my phone. The following day, Lambies even made a downstairs appearance during Saturday morning cartoons.
But here’s the kicker. Oliver left for his first-ever sleep-away camp two weeks later. After a tearful goodbye (mine, not his) at the bus that would ferry him five hours north of us and into the radio silence of the woods for two weeks, I returned home. Once back in the house I made the first natural stop, which, as any aggrieved mother will tell you, was his bedroom. And there, lying in the middle of his unmade bed, was Lambies.
Had he left it on purpose? Or was this another accidental leave behind? And if so, how was he going to make it through two weeks away from home without it? Could I Fed Ex it? Should I Fed Ex it?
But in truth, there was simply nothing I could do. Nothing. And it was in this particular moment of paralysis that I finally saw it. The loss I had been so torn up about, the same loss that Oliver had wept over, was not so much Lambies itself as it was the loss of something bigger. The loss that comes with moving on from a particular chapter of childhood. I wasn’t ready to let it go. I called in reinforcements, and Lambies came back.
But Oliver: so much wiser and braver. Simply put, by leaving Lambies on his bed, accidentally or not, he rendered it inessential. Not valueless—I didn’t find it in the garbage or hidden under his bed—just inessential. It was a slight push forward into new territory, and this time I had no choice but to follow him there.
I picked up Lambies and held it for a minute as I stood next to Oliver’s messy bed. Then I folded it, laid it in the spot where his pillow would have been, and quietly left the room.
Guest post written by Susannah Pratt. Susannah is a Chicago-based working mom and writer whose work has previously appeared on the website Full Grown People.