Friday, August 27, 2010
There's a reason for that.
I call them "family artifacts".
I keep stumbling onto them as I clean and sort and clear and pack - or, pitch.
This is one of them.
Well, not this exact one, but it's the closest image I could find to the original.
Yes, it's an African American Baby Doll. Our youngest daughter, Mia, had one. It was her very first doll.
I clearly remember the day she asked for it.
She was almost three years old. Christmas was coming. We were out shopping, she strapped securely in the shopping cart, and happened to wander by the toy section of the department store. Suddenly, she gasped.
"There she is!" she said.
"What, darling?" I asked.
"Right there! Go! Go! Go, Mama!" she squealed and wiggled in excitement, pointing her finger to the rows and rows of baby dolls on the shelf.
"This one! This one! This one!" she pointed as we got closer. It was hard to tell among the rows of "newborn infants" - looking still and quiet, so unlike a real newborn - in their plastic and cardboard boxes, but promising to "burp" or "giggle" or "wet" or "drink from a bottle or a cup". Just like a "real live baby."
Her choice surprised me on two accounts. First, because she clearly wanted the African American Baby Doll. And second, because this baby doll promised to do absolutely nothing. No bells. No whistles. Just a cute, cuddly baby doll.
Mia spoke in such hushed, reverent tones, it was almost like a prayer. "Could you please ask Santa to bring me that Baby Doll for Christmas, Mama? Please?"
I looked at our youngest child in utter amazement as I realized that this was, in fact, a prayer. "Well, I'll see what we can do," I said. I had learned long ago to never make a promise that I knew I couldn't keep. Anything could happen in the six weeks before Christmas. That particular model could be sold out.
Of course, I resolved right then and there to go back to the store the very next day to buy it for her.
You should have seen her face when she opened the package on Christmas morning! She stood still in utter amazement. Her mouth stayed open long after she gasped in surprise. She actually got pale.
Slowly, slowly, she opened the box as if savoring the magic of the moment. It seemed obscene that her Baby Doll was tied down to a cardboard cradle with those little plastic ties. Arms. Legs. Neck. Waist. As if this doll might run away before she could be purchased and brought to her new home.
I carefully undid each tie as Mia did a "happy-happy-joy-joy" dance in place. As soon as the Baby Doll was free, Mia took her into her arms and hugged and rocked her with such love and gentleness I thought my heart would break.
"What are you going to name her?" Ms. Conroy asked.
Mia picked up her head, pulled back her shoulders, and said, as if she were announcing the Queen, "Baby Kaeton."
Not "Suzy". Not "Anabelle." Not "Carrie". Not "Betsy".
And, so it was.
And, rightly so.
Baby Kaeton was soon introduced to "Bun-Bun" - a small blanket in the shape of a bunny that had been Mia's "blankie" since she was an infant. All along the border of the small blanket was a silk ribbon which Mia used to take between her thumb and index finger and rub repetitiously, the way some kids suck their thumb or twirl their hair.
She used to call it "softing". She'd say to her siblings, "Please be quiet. I'm 'softing'." Or, she'd announce in the middle of the afternoon, "I need to do 'a soft'"
Bun-Bun and Baby Kaeton slept with her every night and kept vigil on her bed every day of her life until she was 10 years old. When she had sleep overs at her friends homes, Bun-Bun and Baby Kaeton had to be packed in her overnight case. I suspect Mia waited for everyone to go to sleep before she got up and sneaked them out of her bag and into bed with her.
Then, one day, without any warning or drama, it stopped. Baby Kaeton and Bun-Bun were moved from their residence on bed and onto the chair in her room. A few years later, when Mia went off to college at age 16, they got packed away in a box where they've stayed all these many, many years later.
Mia never made an announcement about it. Never talked about it. We all knew. It was time. Not necessarily to "put away childish things" - but to begin to move on. Grow up. Become more fully the person God created her to be.
And, so it was.
And, rightly so.
Shortly after the sun sets on August 28th, and as the wanning gibbous moon begins to rise in the sky, Mia Conroy Kaeton will be married. She is taking the last name of her new husband.
She has made her own wedding gown - even covering the buttons with material from her 8th Grade Graduation Dress - and festooned with lace and pearls from her future mother-in-law's wedding gown. She will be wearing my pearl necklace and earrings.
She and her beloved have made the cords they will use in the Handfasting Ceremony they have created.
And as I see her coming toward her husband to be, I will think to myself, "There she is! Right there! Baby Kaeton!"
So it once was.
In my heart, so it will always be.
And, rightly so.