November 11, 2012

Motherlode: 'Lovey' repair service takes job security to new level

By K.J. Dell-Antonia

All of my children have "loveys" in one form or another, and in varying degrees of wear and tear. Not one adopted the "lovey" presented to him or her by me in the hopes that it would serve the comforting lovey purpose: persuading a child to go to sleep, alone but not alone and happy. No, they all embraced other, odder, more awkwardly shaped things, and getting our lovey collection to a vacation spot requires a full duffel bag.

My oldest son embraced an object that was never meant for a child at all – a small, sachet-like pillow that I told him, at an impressionable age, was filled with lavender and would make his sleep deep and pleasant. He tucked "little pillow" under his cheek nightly, until the fabric on little pillow wore clear through and the lavender began slipping out and collecting in the bed. Little pillow was retired, not without grief, to my closet shelf and a vague promise on my part to "fix" him.

But how to fix an aging, threadbare pillow? I tried a few stitches on the barest spots, but I only made things worse. Little pillow sat. Occasionally, my son would come into my room, pick him up, sniff deeply and sigh.

I wrote a post on loveys, uncomfortably aware of little pillow's state, and embarked on a determined search to find a way to return little pillow to my son's bed. I'm not sure what inspired me to run an online search on "New York City" and "lovey" and "repair," but the result was instant: NYCLoveyRepair. Its blog featured freshly stitched teddies and bunnies, so why not a pillow?

I wrote to Rebecca Benghiat, who runs NYCLoveyRepair with her 7-year-old daughter, Amalia, asking if I could possibly mail in a "patient." Days later, she'd discovered that little pillow's magic lay in his chamomile, not lavender, and very soon, he was repaired and back in the hands of my very surprised, very sentimental boy. Meantime, I asked as I awaited little pillow's return, how can I pay you? PayPal, she answered, for the chamomile and the postage. And a fee?

No fee.

"All repairs free of charge," she wrote. "I tell Amalia it's a priceless business, lovey repair." They share the sewing and the gentle deconstruction, washing and reconstruction of each toy. Recently, the two repaired and dressed Doggie for a wedding appearance. The groom once told his then-girlfriend he'd had a dream in which his childhood lovey was all new and fresh at their wedding. Benghiat and Amalia, with the help of a doll tux and a crocheted kipa, did what they could to make that dream come true. "You just don't meet people like them very often," said Amy Kisch, the bride. Like me, she'd been on a quest to find the right place to repair a beloved toy, and she stumbled across NYCLoveyRepair by chance, not realizing until after she'd involved it in her story that she wasn't entering into a traditional consumer relationship.

Before I sat down to write about NYCLoveyRepair, I asked Benghiat if she wouldn't be afraid of being "inundated" with requests for free services.

The answer? "It always seems to work itself out," she said. "The not charging thing actually can freak people out – I think there's a security in the quid pro quo of capitalism that some people need."

The unexpected result of what began as a project to keep Amalia quietly busy while recovering from pneumonia, Benghiat says, is that Amalia is "on the receiving end of a lot of genuine gratitude. I think it's a pretty powerful place for a kid to know they're doing something that's really of value ... (I can't think of the last time I was actually grateful for the actions of a 7-year-old!)"

Got a lovey in need of repair? Visit NYCLoveyRepair's blog and make an appointment at its "clinic." Same-day service, it promises, for those who can't sleep without their friends. At one small place in Brooklyn, a mother and daughter are giving a whole new meaning to the now-cliched word "priceless."

 

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at: kj.dellantonia@nytimes.com

 

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