Nighttime is when the curious creatures come out at the Glamore house. All of my kids sleep with something at night. Finn has slept with his teddy bear, Jenny, since he was born. (When he has friends over he puts a tiny Auburn jersey on her and calls her “Superman” so no one will think he’s dependent on a female bear for comfort.) Drew sleeps with a small pillow with his name on it (“Little Pillow”) and an orange fluffy duck he got in his Easter basket one year (“Easter Duck”).
(My children are strangely unimaginative when it comes to naming their stuffed animals. I don’t understand it. For years I slept with a small stuffed bunny named “Roquefort Coconuthead” but my children don’t have my talent for distinctive names.)
Porter, however, sleeps with a strange menagerie of items, all specially chosen for their softness, their tags, or that special something that only he can identify. He sleeps with his little monogrammed pillow, a two foot long rocket he got for Christmas, a very small stuffed bunny like the one in “Goodnight Moon” (“Blue Bunny”), a small brown blanket with fringe and a really big consumer tag, Panda Bear, a red chenille turtleneck I got at Kohl’s and intended to wear all this winter until he surreptitiously stole it and hid it in his bed, a soccer medal, and his most prized possession: Naked Baby. Someone left her at our house when Porter was 18 months old. She’s a baby doll and she has no clothes.
When we go somewhere overnight, it’s okay if we forget the rocket or Blue Bunny, but Naked Baby is almost like a fourth child. She has eaten with us at restaurants. Porter sticks her head through the handlebars of his bike when he rides, and although it would choke a lesser companion, Naked Baby doesn’t seem to mind. She’s been to the soccer field, the grocery store, the beach, the doctor’s office, and pretty much anywhere Porter has gone. When Porter gets upset, he doesn’t cling to us and cry for long. Instead, he disappears, and a bit later I’ll look in his room and see him cuddled up on his bed with Naked Baby, peacefully sucking his fingers.
Porter is six now, and it doesn’t bother him a bit that he sleeps with a baby doll. In fact, one day he and Drew each got to have a friend over and I learned just how comfortable he is with his feminine side.
Will and John came rushing into our house and the twins started the obligatory tour of the house, showing off the pantry, the bathroom, and the kitchen. Finally they got to Porter’s room. All four boys were so excited they were running in circles and climbing on Porter’s toy chest and jumping off, over and over and over.
I was listening from my room nearby. It didn’t take two seconds for John to spot Naked Baby on Porter’s bed.
“Hey, you sleep with a baby doll!” John yelled.
“Yes, that’s Naked Baby,” Porter said nonchalantly. I steeled myself, because I knew what was coming next.
“Only GIRLS sleep with DOLLS!” Will said accusingly. I stretched my head closer to the door to hear how Porter would respond.
“No, that’s wrong,” Porter said dismissively. “I sleep with Naked Baby, and I am a BOY!” he said, and I heard a loud THUD as he jumped off his chest onto the floor.
“No, that means you are a girl!” John insisted. “My sister has dolls and she’s a GIRL.”
I was bracing myself for Porter’s tears, but they did not come. Instead I heard Drew speak up in his brother’s defense. “No, Porter is a boy. He has a willie, and only boys have willies.”
“Yes, I have a willie,” Porter agreed. “My mom doesn’t, though. She wears bras on her bosoms.”
Apparently Porter’s willie settled the issue, because Will moved on to his next target. “You have a nightlight!” he said. “Only babies need nightlights!”
Porter and Drew were unperturbed. I began to realize that there really is strength in numbers.
“No,” said Porter, “I am not a baby. Naked Baby is a baby.”
“Yeah, I have a nightlight, too, and we are boys, not babies,” Drew emphasized. “Wanna see my nightlight? It has a baseball on the front.”
“YES,” everyone screamed, and the house shuddered as eight feet ran into Drew’s room to examine his nightlight, his clay pot, and his karate uniform.
The boys had handled Naked Baby’s first social hurdle, but I couldn’t help wondering whether Naked Baby was becoming a problem.
So I called my pediatrician, a very wise man who was my pediatrician, and who knows the boys very well. I described all of Porter’s sleeping companions to him, and he thought a minute.
“Well, the soccer medal needs to be hung on the bedpost, because I don’t want it to choke him. And the rocket sounds uncomfortable, but if he likes it, it can stay. But I am afraid Naked Baby must disappear.”
“Are you sure?” I pressed. I was dreading the thought of upsetting our evening routine, because I get very crispy and short-tempered at night. I like to tuck everyone in with a minimum of fuss, get in bed and read. Naked Baby’s absence was sure to cause a ruckus.
“Yes. He’s six years old. Is he playing with trucks and things, too? Not just dolls?”
I could see where this was heading. “Yes,” I said firmly. “He digs in the dirt with shovels, he dismantles all our small appliances and puts them back together, he makes parachutes out of pipecleaners and paper, he has a collection of Hot Wheels, he rides his bike and his scooter and he loves Lego’s. He doesn’t have any other dolls. Only Naked Baby. Oh, and sometimes I see him rubbing his penis in the bathtub,” I added helpfully.
“Sounds like a normal growing boy to me,” my doctor said. “Get rid of the doll.”
Getting rid of Naked Baby was going to be harder than it sounded. It wasn’t the actual kidnapping; that was easy. I simply waited until Porter was at school, took Naked Baby off his bed, and hid her in the depths of my closet. But dealing with her disappearance would be difficult, and I wasn’t sure how to manage it.
So I did the only thing I could think of that might help. After dinner, while Bill oversaw baths and showers and I cleaned the kitchen, I had a little prayer time.
“Dear God,” I prayed, with my eyes open and my hands covered in suds, because I don’t think God cares if you multitask when you pray– isn’t he the Ultimate Multitasker? “Please help Porter get through the loss of Naked Baby, and give me the wisdom to say the right words to comfort him when he figures out she is gone. Amen.”
That night, I tucked Porter into bed. He gathered all his animals and toys around him, we said his prayers, and kissed him and tiptoed out. Naked Baby wasn’t mentioned.
When I left the room I looked up. “Thanks, God,” I whispered. You’ve got to remember to say thanks when your prayers are answered.
Two nights passed before Porter seemed to notice Naked Baby’s disappearance. Just before bedtime, he came striding into my room, clutching Panda Bear and his rocket. “I can’t find Naked Baby,” he announced. “Have you seen her?”
“Well, she’s certainly not in here,” I said cheerfully, and then I caught myself. I was lying! In fact, Naked Baby was in my closet. I glanced over to make sure the door was closed. It was. “Wow, it’s bedtime already!” I chirped. “Let me tuck you in.”
I did, and he immediately started sucking his fingers, and his eyes grew droopy, and in a moment he was asleep. We had made it through another night. I had asked God to pave the way for Naked Baby’s permanent vacation, and He had. I hated to doubt, but part of me wondered, Could it really be this easy?
Of course not. Nothing in mothering is that easy. Two weeks passed, and I had promised Porter that I would cuddle with him in his bed before bedtime. We lay there in the dark, and I heard the regular slurping sound he makes when he sucks his fingers.
“Mom?” he asked. I stiffened. I felt like a criminal. All I could think about was Naked Baby, alone in the top of my closet. I knew my time of reckoning was at hand.
“Yes, sweetie?” I said.
He took his fingers out of his mouth and looked at me. “When can we get a real monkey for a pet so I can take it to school and show all my friends and it can carry my backpack? When?” He replaced his fingers and continued sucking.
“Never, honey. I already have you and your brothers. We don’t have room for a monkey.”
“Oh,” he said. “I wish we could have one and he could sleep with me. I do.”
“Me, too,” I said. “I’ve always wanted a monkey.”
Then he started to cry.
“Mom?” he asked.
“Yes?” I whispered.
“Do you think Naked Baby is ever going to come back? Because it’s been a long time and I really miss her,” he said. I looked over at him while I thought of what to say. I looked up at the ceiling, silently reminding God that He had promised to give me the right words when the time came.
“I’m not sure she’s ever coming back, honey,” I said.
“Why not?” he asked.
I put my arm around him and hugged him tight. “I just don’t think she is,” I said, hoping I sounded wise and comforting at the same time. “Sometimes mothers just get a feeling about things.”
He continued to cry. I hugged him, feeling like a poor excuse for a mom. I had kidnapped his favorite doll, and now I was dealing ineptly with the aftermath.
“Do you think she died?”
I thought wildly. Did she? “I don’t know,” I answered honestly. We snuggled deeper into the covers, and his sniffles started to dry up.
“‘Cause if she died, I hope she’s in heaven so I can see her when I get there,” Porter said. And he put his fingers back in his mouth and started sucking.
“Me, too,” I said. “Are you ready to say your prayers?”
So we prayed, Porter out loud, and me to myself, thanking God we had weathered another day without Naked Baby.
The next morning, all three boys were in the kitchen getting breakfast. Drew was fiddling with his cereal, Finn was microwaving some grits, and Porter was wolfing down a bagel. He chewed and swallowed, and announced, “Naked Baby is in heaven, and when I die I am going to see her. I am.”
I wasn’t sure when Porter had decided that
Naked Baby was actually dead, but this seemed like a good solution to
the whole affair.
“What?” Finn asked skeptically. “What happened to Naked Baby?”
“She died. And Porter’s right. She’s in heaven,” I said. Finn looked at me like I was nuts. I motioned to him to stay quiet. “We sure did love Naked Baby, though, didn’t we?” I added. Porter nodded.
I didn’t want to dwell on the death too long, so I switched back into Morning Mom mode. “You’ve got four minutes before Mrs. Sherlock comes,” I said. “Everyone clean up your breakfast and let me check your face.” The boys got up and picked up their dishes, and I kept up a constant “Do you have your homework have you brushed your teeth are you sure your bed is made up” patter until the boys’ carpool came.
And that was the end of Naked Baby, at least as far as Porter was concerned. He occasionally mentions her when I tuck him in at night, but he’s sure she’s in heaven, waiting for him. He seems peaceful about it.
I can’t bring myself to throw her away, so she remains on the top shelf of my closet. After all, she was a big part of the Glamore family for years. Although Porter has recovered nicely, I still
have occasional pangs of guilt about my role in her demise.
Just this morning, when I was getting dressed, I saw her plastic head peering out
from behind my purses. I got a little wistful about the fact that Porter is too old for dolls. But if Porter can be strong, with God’s help, so can I.