Friday, December 04, 2009

Last night, I was talking with a classmate about books, and in particular juvenile literature. We were both recalling some of our favorite books from when we were young adults (L.M. Montgomery's books, the Little House series, the Narnia series, etc.) and trying to articulate what the experience of rereading those books was like. I put it this way:

When I was very sick at the beginning of both of my pregnancies, I could handle doing very few things. I had little energy for anything physically taxing, and even things that require mental exertion were beyond my ability. One day when I was about ten weeks pregnant with Charlotte, I was at the library (returning a movie, perhaps) when I noticed the Little House on the Prairie and Emily of New Moon books on the shelf. I checked them all out, and over the next week I read them all. I moved on to the Narnia series, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Anne of Green Gables books.

I told that story because I felt like it best illustrated what those books mean to me. I wanted something familiar yet still wonderfully entertaining, calming but still engaging. Reading those books again was like visiting with a good friend, the kind of friend who doesn't care if you don't change out of your sweatpants when she comes over.

Comfort is an interesting idea. The word comfort is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means, among other things, aid, succour, support, countenance; or, one who or that which strengthens or supports; or, the feeling of consolation or mental relief; the state of being consoled; or, a state of physical and material well-being, with freedom from pain and trouble, and satisfaction of bodily needs.

You, dear reader, might be familiar with some of its common applications, such as: Comfort food, food that comforts or affords solace; hence, any food (freq. with a high sugar or carbohydrate content) that is associated with childhood or with home cooking. orig. N.Amer.

Comfort break n. euphem. (orig. U.S.) a break taken to use the toilet.

Comfort stop n. orig. U.S. a short stop intended to give passengers a break from a (long) bus or coach journey, esp. in order to use the toilet; (hence euphem.) a short break taken from any journey or activity in order to use the toilet.

As a verb, it means what we usually think it means: To soothe in grief or trouble; to relieve of mental distress; to console. Comfort the verb also has several interesting archaic meanings, including to strengthen (physically), support; to make fast, secure; to strengthen (morally or spiritually); and, most interesting of all, to comfort in a negative sense means to encourage in, or to, that which is evil.

One of the things I think I'm most responsible for as a parent is doing something rather vague and unspecified that I think can best be described as comforting my children. I soothe them when they experience grief or sorrow. I attempt to relieve their mental distress. I console. I strive to offer them freedom from pain and trouble, and satisfaction of bodily needs. I hope I am an aid, a support, a succour.

Sam has something related to comfort that I didn't find defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, but which several parenting books I have call a comfort item. This is a favorite something, such as a doll or stuffed animal, that the child turns to to help comfort him or her, usually before sleep. Sometimes children use their comfort item at times of stress as well.

Charlotte never had a comfort item, although we tried to encourage one in the hopes that it would get her to sleep better. Sam's comfort item is his little giraffe blankie, a brown satin/velvet blanket about ten inches square. He's had it since he was a few weeks old (it was a gift from my Terlouw cousins) and I worked from the start to try to promote an attachment. I would rub it against his cheek as he nursed. I would place it next to him as he slept. When he got older and more easily distracted, I used it like horse-blinders, draping it over his head when he nursed to try to keep him focused on the task at hand instead of gawking and taking a chunk of nipple with him. Now he still nurses at night and before naps that way. And somewhere along the line, it took. Now he uses the blanket to comfort himself down, by rubbing it on his upper lip and sniffing it. I mean, really getting into it, with big, loud sniiiiiiffffffffs. It's adorable. He rests his face on it when he sleeps, and if it should happen to drop out of his crib while he's going to bed, you'll hear some genuine, full-out wailing from Sam.

Sam has his blanket. I have my old, familiar books. What's your comfort?


Audrey said...

Bennett's lovely is an orange little giraffe blanket too!

I have a blue blanket that I carry around. I fight off the kids and refuse to share.

Laura T said...

I'm so happy that the Terlouw cousin blanket has become such a treasure for the little man! I remember when my Grandma Ploen cut off a part of the edge of my baby blanket that was loose and flapping around. I was hysterical over the loss! Whoever eventually comes between Sam and his giraffe blanket better watch out!

Dale Deur said...

My recliner. A cup of coffee in the morning (or, anytime, really). A good book. Biscuits and gravy. Most of all, my family.

JSK said...

I just realized that I have no comfort item...I'm going to get one though, I think it will make this whole job thing better.