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Recently, while sorting laundry, I came across a scraggly, well-worn piece of fabric. It was a pale, muddy grey colour, with hints of the off-white it once had been. Holes everywhere. An unusual seam down the middle. An odd shape, as though it had been stretched much more in one direction than the other.
This scrap of fabric could easily be mistaken for a rag one might use to wipe a dog’s wet paws before letting it into the house.
I was very familiar with this piece of fabric. It had history. It had memories. Believe it or not, it had purpose. So into the washer it went, along with some sheets and a duvet cover.
This shabby wool-blend mess actually started off as a lovely open front cardigan. Years ago, I’d found it hanging on a sales rack in a store, the only one left, almost calling my name. I had no way of knowing then that it would become so much more than a wardrobe staple.
In its prime, it was lovely. A soft, lightweight cashmere blend, in a neutral off-white hue. So stylish in its simplicity - a well-designed piece of knitwear magic that effortlessly pulled together T-shirts, leggings, jeans and dresses.
Can a sweater make you happy? This one sure did. It made ordinary outfits look cool, especially at a time when I felt anything but.
I wore this sweater during and after my first pregnancy. That was until it proved magical in another form several months after my son was born.
He refused to nap during the day and didn’t want to sleep at night. There was too much going on he didn’t want to miss.
For most of his first year, I would rock him to sleep at night. I take full responsibility for those early sleep issues. I didn’t know any better. Inexperienced, first-time mom that I was, the idea of letting him fall asleep on his own was quite foreign to me at the time.
I’d gently place his sleeping form into the crib and attempt a silent exit from his room, only to be busted time and again by creaky floorboards. I tried tiptoeing. I tried quietly hopping over the floorboards. I even tried spreading my weight and crawling out of the room. It was useless. If he wasn’t sound asleep, those floorboards gave me away every time.
It got to the point where I’d sit in his room and play Scrabble on my iPad, long after I was sure he was asleep, just so I could finally make a clean getaway. T-R-A-P-P-E-D.
One February evening, I was determined to get him to sleep early. I wanted to watch the Academy Awards in its entirety, including the red carpet preshow. I was long overdue for an evening of Hollywood glitz and glamour.
But my son showed no signs of settling down. He pointed to my lovely, perfect, go-with-everything sweater. For whatever reason, probably desperation, I took my sweater off and handed it over.
He settled down in an instant. The Mommy Sweater was born. Of course, it also meant my favourite sweater would never be mine again.
At the time, I thought it was a one-night wonder. Great. Whatever worked. It soothed him to sleep. I would just retrieve my sweater in the morning. But the Mommy Sweater kept my sleep-resistant toddler company every night from then on.
In its new role as crib blanket and chew toy, it didn’t take long for holes to form. First in the arms. So, off they came. It was still just as effective at helping my toddler settle down each night.
Whenever we travelled, the Mommy Sweater came with us. There was one close call at a hotel in Vancouver, where we nearly lost the Mommy Sweater forever when it was accidentally mixed in with some towels and ended up in the hotel laundry.
Tears ensued from my son, and a few silent ones from me. Thankfully it was retrieved (and cleaned) in a thorough search and rescue operation by some very understanding hotel staff.
When we returned home from that trip, the Mommy Sweater was cut in half to create a back up. It never hurt to be prepared. One half stayed with my son. The other was stored in a drawer, just in case.
For a few months, around the time my son was 5 years old, he developed an interesting habit of twisting the Mommy Sweater and sticking one end in his ear before going off to sleep. This meant the Mommy Sweater had to be washed more frequently.
My son had so much love for this ever-shrinking remnant of fabric. Grandparents, aunties, uncles, housekeepers, babysitters were all alerted to the importance of the Mommy Sweater. God forbid it was mistaken for an actual rag and thrown away.
Of course it eventually did fall apart. So out came the back up.
When my son was 6 and headed off to his first week of sleepover camp, there was some discussion over which toy he would bring to snuggle with at night. He decided the Mommy Sweater would stay behind because it was too important to lose. His words, not mine. So Lambie went to camp instead.
We thought he’d forget about the Mommy Sweater over the course of a week at camp. But on that first night back in his own bed, the Mommy Sweater was right back there tucked safely between his chin and his pillow.
Over the years, the Mommy Sweater has endured. But even the backup is looking worse for wear these days. Like its predecessor, it is filled with holes and stretched out in different directions. Long strands extend from the edges. It is discoloured from being tossed in the laundry so many times. It no longer travels with us.
My son, now 10, has long outgrown the need for the Mommy Sweater. Yet, he continues to sleep with it every night. I still find it tucked somewhere between his chin and his pillow when he is sound asleep.
One night, not long ago, I asked why he liked it so much.
“It’s cozy, and it reminds me of you.”
Shawn Heissler lives in Toronto.