You’d think, after three children, I’d have this mothering thing down pat a little better, and yet I continuously misjudge my youngest son. Experienced parents will agree with me here, but each child is just so different. And what works for one child may not work for another. And blah, blah, blah. … Excuses abound. …
But here’s how I misjudged my son most recently: It all involved three huge misconceptions: (1) that little boys don’t feel attached to toys anymore, (2) the forgotten power and reality of unconditional love, (3) the betrayal of a mother who is always supposed to have your back, and (4) the long-forgotten truism that little pitchers truly do have big ears. …
One night, a couple of years ago, when all my book club friends were over at my house, one friend plopped onto my couch and accidentally found herself perched upon the rubber carcass of what once had been a baby doll, but whose soft, hollow hands were missing. She pulled it out from under her. Startled, she took a closer look and peered at its misshapen little body, at it’s missing hands and toes, at the ballpoint pen marks over its torso. And then … She gasped.
“Oh, I know,” I said, sliding the dessert platter between the coffee cups on the coffee table. “That’s Baby. It’s Nathan’s. He’s had it almost since he was born.”
My friend covered her mouth and stared again at the doll. At first I thought she was covering her mouth in horror, but then I realized she was actually laughing quietly – in a sort of half-horrified, half-incredulous way. She held Baby with careful fingers. She laid Baby on the couch. But every time she looked back at the doll, she began laughing again. Soon, the entire book club was joining in, passing Baby around to take a closer look.
“How can he find comfort in this? It’s actually scary.”
I do know.
Indeed, Baby is mortifying. She used to be a “Baby Born” doll, given to my daughter for Christmas when she was about four, but for some reason, Nathan “adopted” her when he could barely walk. Maybe it was her strange weight that felt comforting to him in his stroller? Or maybe it was her plastic body that kind of warms and molds when you sleep close? Or maybe it was the rubbery texture of her fingers that he could suck on while he fell asleep? I’m not sure. But Nathan took her over at about 1 year old and hasn’t let go since. He’s always called her “Baby.”
Now, nearly a decade later, Baby has seen better days. Both of her hands have been gnawed off, and one of her feet is missing. She has no clothes (and hasn’t for 8 of her 9 years), but instead has faded blue pen marks all over her torso where a 3-year-old Nathan drew on her with a ballpoint and triumphantly showed me her “tattoos.” She’s been colored in purple marker, dragged through the bath, rolled over by skateboards, and even landed in the dryer once, which gave her “tattoos” a strange fuzzy look to them. She’s lost some of her “air” so her body is flat and weirdly misshapen, and her eyes and plastic “hair” have faded, almost to the point of nonexistence, so she has a strange alien look about her.
As she was passed along the couch during the book club (mostly held at arm’s length), my friends had tears coming out their eyes from laughing so hard. And, as Baby continued to make her way from one hand to another, even I joined in. When looked at from the perspective of an outsider – which I rarely did anymore – Baby was, truly, horrifying in a very hilarious way.
But then I heard a sound at the base of the stairs.
And I turned around.
And on the bottom stair, staring at us in silence, was Nathan.
He was carefully assessing the situation. Clearly, he was unsure whether he should rush in and save Baby, or run upstairs. You could tell he was uncertain if he should be embarrassed, and didn’t really know why he should be. He looked at me sort of imploringly – why are you laughing, Mom?
One of my friends caught sight of him, and the laughter slowly died. She bit her lip and walked over to the base of the stairs and handed Baby back to him, then tried gallantly to save us all by saying she was so sorry, she didn’t mean to laugh, and she thought Baby was quite lovely.
Nathan gave a brief nod, but simply took Baby in his arms and rushed upstairs.
I felt terrible. I really did. I felt like I had betrayed Nathan – not defending the love of his life against my friends. I felt like I had opened a door that didn’t need to be opened. I knew he wouldn’t know whether I was laughing because it was silly that he had a lovey or if Baby was just silly looking. I knew he wouldn’t know if I was as horrified at Baby as my friends were, or if I loved Baby as unconditionally as he did. It was as if Baby was his child, and he truly couldn’t see any ugliness in her, and his own mother was making fun of his unconditional love.
Baby is still around. I see her lying on my bedroom floor sometimes, or sometimes she’s lying half-in/half-out of the boys’ closet. She came along to all of our vacations up to the year 2008 – sort of stuffed into the top of Nathan’s suitcases, along with his other “lovey,” Buddy. She came to Texas with us in 2007 and to Ohio in 2006. In recent years, she’s not so much super-needed as there just in case.
But she didn’t come along to the last vacation, I noted. Instead, her little tattooed body lay cast on the floor upstairs, staring at the ceiling with her fading eyes, maybe wondering what happened to that little boy she’s seen through many a night, through many a scary movie, through scary noises and long walks in strollers.
That little boy who learned that love truly is blind. … And taught the rest of the family so.
Does your family have stories of “loveys”?
For more, check out my story of my other kids and their loveys (including Ernie, Pooh Bear, and Buddy …)