At mass today while bowing my head after communion, I glimpsed a little child going by holding her precious blanket. Her father was holding another corner of the blanket, as if it were an informal leash connecting him to his progeny. That one little fleeting vision transported me back a quarter of a century to when I had two little boys with precious blankets, simply called "bee"s, and I smiled at the recollection of the importance of a bee.
John's blanket was a thermal one in pastel stripes. He liked to finger the satin binding on the edges, and when he was distressed he would chew it. Once he fell and bit his tongue quite badly, and after that the chewed binding was so stained with blood and disgusting, that no washing would make it better. So, thinking that he was in need of a little nudge toward less dependence on the bee, I made a tactical and possibly traumatic error. I cut off the binding, which meant that the blanket became a little smaller by the width of the binding on all four edges. Then I added new binding to the shrunken comforter. The idea was to begin replacing the binding regularly, shrinking it each time, until... it was gone! John was upset and horrified with the first binding replacement and he never chewed the binding again. But he didn't reject it entirely. And his mother didn't shrink the bee out of existence either.
All of our children had a bee, and we encouraged it. When mom or dad couldn't be there to help, a bee was a consolation, and probably a relief to a babysitter who just wasn't what the child needed. It was always there when we snuggled up at bedtime or for story time. It was the first aid applied for any bump, scrape or disappointment. Often after a tumble, the child's first cry on catching his breath would be "BEEE!" and we would run to find it. And when laundry day came, I could count on the pattering of running feet when I called out "warm, clean bee!" Nothing compares to a freshly washed bee straight out of the dryer, all warm and fuzzy and soft and all-encompassing.
When our children got older they graduated from a bee to a real, handmade quilt. We still call them bees when they come out of the dryer. I love to pull them out and deliver them to their owners, calling "warm, clean bee" as I toss the quilt at them or over them. These quilts were not meant to be bedspreads. They get dragged around the house and usually left at the latest spot the owner was reading, watching a movie or playing a game. When one gets raggedy and too patched to repair, a new one is usually requested for Christmas or a birthday. One young lady just received one for Christmas--her first one--since she is marrying my son next summer. For me, it was the best way I could think of to say, "You're part of the family now." Whether or not this couple creates a family that includes bees is yet to be determined, but it was a landmark moment for me when I decided to make one for my son's beloved.
Bees are like receiving absolution in confession. You are distressed and unhappy, and you need to be comforted. You sob it all out with your bee, and it engulfs you and consoles you. Of course, there is more to confession than just getting something that makes you feel better. You have to acknowledge that you have sinned and want to amend your ways. God, like a bee, is merciful and enfolds you in his arms. Someone once told me that when he left the confessional he always wanted to call back to those still waiting in line, "See ya later, sinners!" I laughed at the jeering tone in his voice, but my temptation is to call out, "Warm, clean me!"