Me and Julio down by the schoolyard / by Susie Lubell

My son sleeps with a cat he calls kitty. He got it as a present when he was born and when I decided to sleep train him at four months we did the whole nighttime ritual thing and then put him in his crib with this cat. Nursing Nina in fact. That's the name on her tag. She has three little kittens that came with her and have magnets in their little noses that correspond to the little magnets on Nina's belly. So you can stick the mini-kitties on the mama and have a nice little lesson about nursing. We figured we could also use it if we had another kid. See sweety. Kitty is nursing her baby too. When our daughter was born I tried that for about a minute but our son was more interested in lifting his own shirt to nurse the cat himself.

Anyway, it turns out Kitty is made by the Manhattan Toy Company and while it is (was) a lovely stuffed animal, it's not something you can just pick up in case you, say, misplace the original. It happened once that my husband took the kid for a stroll and returned sans cat. He did the same neighborhood loop twelve times looking for that damn cat and couldn't find it. Whatever...he'll sleep with something else. He's only had that thing for a month. He's not even attached to it. Right...

So that night we offered our son the fuzzy bee. Don't insult me. The piggy. No dice. The rabbit. Here's where you can stick your rabbit. He finally sobbed himself to sleep.

The next day I finally located a place 50 MILES AWAY that carried Nursing Nina so without hesitation we drove there, threw down $28, and that was that. We've since managed to keep Kitty in the family but when my daughter was born I vowed not to make the same mistake. So when she was about five months old we gave her Julio.

Julio is a very soft and plump rat that I got at IKEA for $4. He is named Julio because rat, in Hebrew, is julda (the "j" in this case pronounced like the Spanish jota). In fact there was a whole bin of Julios at IKEA so I bought four. Now we have Car Julio, Crib Julio, Daycare Julio and Spare Julio. It's an infestation. There are stuffed rats all over the place. And my daughter doesn't make a move without a Julio. Well, in fact, she does a lot of moving without her rat, but the minute she's grumpy or cranky or disorganized and she needs to go to her happy place, she takes Julio in her left hand, sucks on its whiskers for a moment and then puts her right thumb in her mouth. Same motion every time. And the bonus is that I can tie it's tail to her stroller and mitigate the risk of another "misplacement". We've gotten a few stares. Not everyone thinks a rat is a good friend for a baby girl. But if my son can prance around naked in my high heels and Mardi Gras beads then my daughter can chew on the snout of a stuffed rat.