At the time, it didn't seem at all outrageous for Laurie Bunting to be digging through a Dumpster, in a desperate search for a little white, tasseled pillow. Not when she could still hear her 2-year-old whimpering from his car seat: "Piwwo? Piwwo? Piwwo?"
After six days of tireless searching, her husband gently pressured her to accept their loss — it was time to move on. But Bunting refused to abandon her quest for Piwwo.
When a child loses a lovey, parents often stress as much as the owner of the precious toy, triggering frantic searches throughout the house — and points far, far beyond. When they come up empty-handed, many parents go on a mission for a replacement, even scanning eBay and posting ads on Craigslist, willing to shell out hundreds of dollars — anything to bring Lovey back.
"A lot of parents will go to great lengths, mostly because their kids have such a meltdown," says Lisa Boesky, a child psychologist in San Diego. "It's more for the sanity of the parent than anything else."
For Rosemary Bouchet, restoring sanity to frantic parents all over the country has become an accidental hobby. She runs what's become a virtual, nationwide lost-and-found for lovies — a blog called the Plush Memories Lost Toy Search Service that lets parents post about their frantic searches and happy victories. The idea for the site came to her after placing on eBay a blankie she'd found at a thrift store. A bidding war ensued, and the blankie sold for $125 to a desperate parent. (Bouchet had purchased it for 79 cents.)
One of Bouchet's favorite stories is that of an Ohio mom who's still searching for her son's pink patchwork bunny, lost on a trip to the park on a spring day — in the early ’90s.
"He has gotten over it, I'm pretty sure, but I haven't!" the mom wrote recently in a post on Bouchet's site. "And I probably won't be able to stop this obsessive searching until I find another 'Bobbity'!!"
What would drive a parent to continue a search for a stuffed toy, long after the child's lost interest? Bunting's theory: It becomes a personal mission to fulfill a promise to your kid.
"Something intuitively took over — and not really because he was screaming or crying," Bunting says. "It was more to communicate to him, 'I’m being mindful that this is important to you, so it’s important to me.'"
'Have you seen this pillow?'
Piwwo, she rationalized, had likely slipped out of 2-year-old Ryan's little fingers and out the window on their way to a neighborhood park. And so for nearly a week, Bunting traipsed around their neighborhood, sweating through the South Carolina heat as she pushed her two young sons in a double stroller. She pestered landscapers, security guards and neighbors she'd never even met with a homemade poster and the same request: Have you seen this pillow?
Finding a replacement, she says, was neveran option. "It's not gone," she remembers saying to her husband. "It's got to be here, somewhere."
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It's great to validate how much these lovies mean to your children — and at no point should you try to soothe their cries by minimizing the stuffed toy's importance. "Don't ever say, 'Well, it was just a stuffed animal,' or 'Oh, you're too old for it anyway,’” Boesky says.
But there comes a point, experts say, when you've got to give up the search. “It’s OK to recognize how much value they have,” says Paul Donahue, a psychologist in Scarsdale, N.Y. “But if it's overboard on a ship, or if it just can't be found, you have to accept that.”
After Kent Butler's 2-year-old son, Simon, lost his favorite stuffed cat on the way home from a family vacation, he embarked upon a frantic search to find Gigi.
Butler drove more than three hours back to the airport in New York, armed with posters of the lost stuffed animal that he hung at the airline's lost and found. He handed out his phone number and the photograph of Gigi to any staff member who looked helpful, even enlisting non English-speaking janitorial staff in the quest.
After a week without the original Gigi, he turned to the Internet to find a replacement for the cat, searching eBay and posting an ad on Craigslist. "It's crazy to say, but I was prepared to pay anything," says Butler, who never found an exact replica. "I would've paid up to a couple hundred bucks."
A lovey by another name
But a tyke who's lovingly devoted to one lovey is usually able to transfer that love to something else, experts say. Butler stumbled upon a possible replacement in his own home — a bear with a similar look and feel to Gigi the cat. He christened it “Gigi Bear,” handed it to his son and held his breath.
"Gigi Bear," Simon said thoughtfully. "Gigi Bear." The little guy sized up the replacement to his beloved stuffed cat — and then embraced it with a grin. "Thank you, Papa!"
"The kids who really have that kind of attachment generally are the kids who are going to be able to find something else eventually," Donahue says. "But rather than going out and buying a new one, most kids will transfer naturally to something else, something they already have."
Reunited and it feels so good
On the sixth day that Piwwo was missing, Bunting's entire family seemed to have abandoned the cause — even Ryan, who was beginning to think that Bankie and Baba were OK substitutes.
But Mama Bunting wasn't ready to quit. She loaded her boys in their double stroller again and tried one of the few places she'd left unchecked in their neighborhood — a bike path in the woods next to the subdivision. And there on the side of the path was a filthy, tattered, little white pillow.
Ryan hugged his friend, greeting Piwwo happily but matter-of-factly. It was his mom who let out a whoop of relief.
“I was the one who was like, ‘We’re going to find Pillow,’” Bunting says, every detail of that day a decade ago still fresh in her mind. “It was more like a mission and a quest. For some reason, I just believed I could find it.”
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints