Ever have one of those discussions with someone else and discover the formative, normative experience you should have had like theirs was anything but? I ran into that not long ago, when I had a group of female friends over at my house.
Talk turned to sensory issues that sometimes characterize Autism, attraction to certain fabrics, as well as the comfort afforded by particular textures. That, in turn, led to a discussion of comfort items in general favored by small children.
Mothers shared tales of their children’s battered, one-eyed Teddy bears; grimy, decapitated and broken-limbed dolls (injured from being pried from growing children’s hands?); stained scraps of former satin-bordered quilts; and Elephant-man misshapen past pillows possibly headed with grown children on their honeymoons.
Neither of my children had a security item. Sure, there were a few toys they favored, but nothing they couldn’t leave home without. Not like my niece’s favorite doll up to about the age of eight, the name of which still haunts me. Christened not Barbie, Chatty Cathy, Raggedy Ann or Mrs. Beasley, this doll answered to “Naked Baby.”
It was definitely truth in advertising. My niece’s medium-sized baby doll had long lost luster, along with her clothes, due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s a good thing she wasn’t a talking doll or she might have cried foul play. Then, again, she might have been able to scream for help before it was too late.
At any rate, the doll was as naked as the day she had been manufactured. By the looks of her, it had been a traumatic delivery. Her full head of blonde, matted, acrylic hair stood straight up in tribute to Don King. One eye refused to stay open unless you jerked back her head by the hair at just the right angle. And Naked Baby was forever filthy, as if the OB nurses had refused to clean her after birth, dooming her as a magnet or doormat for the world’s dirt; pariah of the playthings.
My niece didn’t see the flaws, only the comfort of cuddling with the once soft plastic and cloth. She loved her rag-tag companion and valued its companionship above that of all others, especially Aunt Kristy. For although my niece and Naked Baby enjoyed the Sunday afternoon they spent at my Kalamazoo home 35 miles from home, the world stopped for at least one of them when Naked Baby accidentally missed the return trip.
I received a cranky phone call at work the next morning from my sister. “You sound like you haven’t slept in days,” I told her. My read was accurate, as no one in her household had got any shuteye due to Naked Baby’s absence. Could I please find it in my heart to drive to Battle Creek during lunch and deliver Naked Baby to the construction site my brother-in-law was supervising before total family breakdown occurred?
The security guard at the construction site shouldn’t have granted me access, but he readily let me pass when I held up the dirty, disheveled doll and communicated my sister’s desperation. My story was too pathetic to be a lie. A few grizzled looking construction types actually bowed their heads as my brother-in-law gently received Naked Baby from me and threw her into the cab of his pick-up.
Now that I think about it, my children did have their own version of Naked Baby. It came in the unlikely form of a small plastic bag of cocktail stir sticks they spotted for three dollars at an antique store and cherished for years after purchase.
These weren’t the flimsy plastic swords my sisters and I used to fight for and with from the rare restaurant cocktails my parents consumed in my youth, but a collection of sturdy, colorful advertisements from the 1960s Las Vegas strip. The Desert Inn, Sands, Stardust, Aladdin and Dunes lived on in my diaper bag.
I remember being in church when someone commented on the teething toy in Kate’s mouth. My child proudly waved a bright red plastic rod gold-emblazoned with “Caesars Palace.” It’s a good thing her mother doesn’t give a Rat Pack’s behind about what people think, for life is full of Naked Baby moments.