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Why our childhood keepsakes still mean the world to us

An exploration into the endearing connection between young adults and their transitional objects

A girl and her come-to-life stuffed monkey get ready to catch a flight. Together, Zoya and Bobby Jack would travel back to Alaska each year to see family. // Illustration by Isabella Doughty.

From the moment we are born, we seek out comfort from the world. As helpless as we are as children, we crave a mother’s touch, a father’s embrace, and in many cases, the love of a transitional object.

According to Peyton Osgood, a psychology graduate of McKendree University, a transitional object is “an item a child forms a particularly strong attachment to during childhood as [they begin] to grow more independent from their parents.”

Matt Lundquist, founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy, explained that at each stage of transition in our lives, we need to be able to internalize a loving, healthy parent. The purpose of a transitional object is to act as a physical manifestation of this parent, and the support they once gave us. 

In their senior thesis, Osgood cites a 1965 study by Harry Harlow on monkeys in isolation. Through this study, Harlow found in the monkeys an innate desire for comfort — a quality similarly present in humans.

For Zoya Kulikov-Wickizer, an undergraduate student at the University of Washington, this comfort was found 16 years ago in a stuffed monkey named Bobby Jack.

“I wasn't one to throw tantrums, but I was at the mall with my cousin's ex-girlfriend. She was taking me around and I saw Bobby Jack on the display in a Macy's or something,” she said. “I remember I wanted him so bad… poor thing… she ended up buying him for me so I would stop crying.”

From then on, Kulikov-Wickizer and Bobby Jack were thick as thieves. Through 12 moves, too many hospital visits and the general strifes of growing up, he was always there to lean on.

Much of the current literature on transitional objects points towards an eventual reconciliation of the object around the age of 7, according to Osgood. As such, there exists some stigma around those like Kulikov-Wickizer who still have their keepsake.

“I think that [transitional objects] are related to as babyish. There's a part of ourselves that wants to not think about our own dependency on other people, our own regressions, the ways that we can all be children at times,” Lundquist said. “We see something in ourselves, a certain childishness or a vulnerability and neediness — all of which are very normal, appropriate and healthy things to be in touch with — and we want to pick on that.”

Still, for Kulikov-Wickizer, every bad day, scraped knee and tear shed was felt by Bobby Jack, and she felt his pain right back. When Bobby Jack fell off the bed at night, she was there looking to scoop him back up, apologizing profusely for letting him fall.

“I remember when I would talk to him when I was little, I would [tell him], ‘I will always have you. I'm going to take you to college’ … that I would never give him up,” Kulikov-Wickizer said.

This was a promise well kept. 

Across cities and states, Bobby Jack would move with Kulikov-Wickizer. On her family’s yearly visit to Alaska, Bobby Jack would even evade being trapped in a suitcase (it would be inhumane). Instead, Kulikov-Wickizer would keep him on her person, leaving airport security to ask more than once where his ticket was.

To Kulikov-Wickizer, Bobby Jack was and is more than just a stuffed animal, and even now they look out for each other.

“What college students are doing, almost always for the first time, is being completely away from home and having to take care of themselves in all kinds of ways,” Lundquist said. “The idea of making use of these remnants of [childhood] is a wonderful, healthy thing.”

In many ways, as Kulikov-Wickizer described, Bobby Jack is an extension of herself. Not just a form of comfort, but an encapsulation of the memories she’s carried with her throughout her life. 

“I would never give him up,” she remarked.

So why do our childhood keepsakes still mean the world to us? Because they are a reminder of home, of the world through the lens of a child’s bright eyes, of fond moments we all need to lean on sometimes.

Morgan Merriam

Morgan Merriam (she/her) is the Campus News Editor for The Front this quarter. Previously, she has been a reporter for Campus News, as well as Managing Editor of The Front this part summer quarter. Morgan is entering her third year at Western, majoring in journalism - public relations with a minor in sociology. Outside of the newsroom, she enjoys jewelry making, baking and hiking. You can contact her

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