It happens at the same time every single night in our house. Just as the baby’s about to go to bed - chubby little legs squished into her sleepsuit like a pair of dinky sausages - the entire household goes into lockdown as we engage in a frantic, frenzied game of HUNT THE DUDDLE. Forget the zombie apocalypse; that's got nothing on the frankly terrifying possibility of losing my daughter's beloved Duddle.
Because without Duddle the youngest member of our household simply cannot sleep, and - as any parent knows - if the youngest doesn’t sleep then the rest of the family can kiss goodbye to much chance of shut-eye too.
So who or what is Duddle, and why does it wield so much power?
In our house Duddle is a rather lovely stripy muslin swaddling blanket from Aden and Anais which was a gift from a friend when my daughter was born. For the first few weeks of her life she was pretty much snuggled up inside Duddle 24-7 and then, as she gradually grew out of needing to be swaddled, we kept it close at hand as a useful, lightweight blanket.
But somehow, gradually, things changed.
*Insert smooth and sultry Marks and Spencer ad voiceover here*
It soon became clear that this was no ordinary baby blanket.
This was the kind of blanket that a baby forms a deep and meaningful attachment to. The sort of item that you consequently live in morbid fear of ever losing.
Which is great, when it comes to comforting your child or helping them get to sleep with minimal effort. I don't think it's any coincidence that my girl sleeps for 12 hours a night every single night and has done since she was tiny - such is the power of her Duddle.
It’s not so great, however, when you realise that there is only *one* of these beloved items on the planet - no other contender could compare - and that without it, your baby’s entire world would come grinding to a halt.
Indeed, Duddle is so named because that’s what my daughter wailed the first time we couldn’t find her special blankie. She only had a few words in her repertoire at the time, so I thought it was painfully cute that in her hour of need when what she really wanted was her blankie she gave it the very best name she could think of.
Cuddle. (She still hasn’t quite mastered the letter ‘D’.)
"Du-ddle... DUH-ddle," she wailed, in a tone more mournful than me on a Friday night when the husband's out and the kids are already in bed and I realise I've forgotten to buy gin.
Thankfully we’ve never yet lost Duddle* (I realise I've just jinxed myself...) but I’ve toyed with the idea of investing in a spare one just in case that dreaded day should ever come.
(*Edited to add: I wrote this at my Mum's house while she minded the baby. You can guess what happened next. I left Duddle behind when we went home. Twenty minutes of mind-bending panic ensued, the likes of which I never want to repeat. That's the last time I write here about anything I wouldn't want to jinx...)
Anyway, all of that to say that I never really appreciated, until my daughter formed her attachment to her beloved Duddle, just how important such things can be to certain kids. One of my boys has never in his life shown the slightest bit of interest in any kind of security blanket or cuddly toy, while the other had a brief and fleeting dalliance with an old maternity dress of mine which I clearly kept wearing for way too long after giving birth, but he flung it aside pretty much as quickly as he took up with it.
I think, though, that in years to come we might look back with real fondness on the days when Duddle could solve all my daughter’s woes.
I hope, when the day finally dawns that she no longer needs her precious Duddle, that there will always be someone in her life who will make her feel as safe and secure as Duddle does just now. And I hope to goodness that anyone ever replaces Duddle in her affections will understand how truly fortunate they are.
Until then, I must confess to quietly dreading the day that Duddle is no longer all it takes to make everything in her world right again.
Oh, and after today's experience I am totally buying that spare...