The first thing M does in the morning is crawl over to her stuffed animals, turn them upside down, and pull on the tag, as if to say, “just checking this is still here.” Perhaps she is thinking, “Wow mom, I am so glad you bought this fair trade replica of an endangered lynx (made in the USA) that goes to help save their remaining habitat in the northwest and Canada. Thanks.”
Or do babies get the sense from us adults that the tag is really off limits—not the toy part of the toy—and thus it becomes attractive? (Like when my husband nervously hovers over M when she pulls up and slobbers on his record player?) Personally, I don’t think they care about our feelings. It may be something else.
Toy and baby clothing marketing gurus have noticed this tag phenomenon as well, trying to sell us new toys that have more tags built into them—little orange and blue ribbons are sewn into the side of our stuffed donkey—hoping that babies will notice. We even have some “tag” pajamas. But of course, the real tag is the most interesting thing to play with. Adults have not yet fathomed the depths of this mystery.
Indeed, this tag fascination may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowing why babies do what they do. It may be as simple as “this white thing sounds cool when I flick it with my fingers, and it has some interesting symbols on it”. However, I suspect a deeper connection. I have been reading that babies are excellent at noticing similarity and difference from the early months of their lives. For example, they can see the one white fleck of cheerio on the huge multicolored carpet, or focus only on the new toy grandma brought over, or only put the one red leaf in her mouth at Ives park, when all around her lie brown leaves. Perhaps as cave babies, they had to learn the difference between the many unripe green berries on the bush, and that one that is red and edible. Difference is interesting.
But so is similarity amid difference. Every toy, piece of clothing, pillowcase, even car seats, have tags. We live in a society where very little of what we touch is home or hand made. Tags mark us as consumers. Our stuff tells a story. The baby may ask him or herself, “What is so important about these things that are attached to everything?” Well, good question baby!
So I’ve started to tell M what tags are for. I tell her, “This is a bit of fabric that says where this thing was made, and what it is made of, and how to clean it when it gets dirty” I say, laughing at bit at myself. It’s just in case she really wants to know.