Last night I sat at the kitchen table and worked my way through my mending basket. First the bra that had an escaping wire got a patch. Then I modified another bra to add nursing clips (and yay! I have bras that fit again!). I patched a hole in a pair of my man’s favorite pants so his underwear don’t show at the office and hemmed a pair of PJ pants that were about a foot too long for me.
Then the hand mending: A button missing from my flannel pajama top and a stuffed chipmunk belonging to Bean that was losing her plastic glasses. Since Bean started wearing glasses last spring I have brought home a small family of stuffed animals who wear glasses, so she can see herself in her surroundings. We have a Magenta dog, a Hello Kitty wearing big Buddy Holly frames, and this girl chipmunk who sports some hip purple specs. Specs that were, unfortunately, not sewn well enough to withstand a toddler’s curious fingers. They came loose within a few days and I tossed the doll into the mending basket to deal with later.
Later became much later, as happens with the mending pile. My basket has been living on my man’s dresser, which happens to be right next to our bedroom door. Each time I go in or out of the bedroom, I walk past it. And if The Bean is in my arms it is right at eye level. “Oh, no!” she exclaims, each time she sees her chipmunk with her loose glasses. I tried to bury her better in the folds of the flannel pajamas, but one foot still showed and Bean’s “Oh, no!” reminded me day after day of my procrastination.
So last night after she was asleep I committed myself to fixing stuff.
As I sat stitching loops around the plastic frame, connecting them back to the chipmunks ears and cheek, I felt a wave of anxiety and sadness wash over me. I was a little girl again. I woke up and came out of my room and saw my favorite doll on the couch. But something was wrong with her. Her long ears were missing! Where did her ears go? My mom had cut them off, following the logic of some conversation I didn’t remember having with her. She thought she was doing what I had requested, but I was devastated that my doll had been injured at my mother’s hand.
I remember the heaviness of grief in my chest, maybe for the first time in my young life. I was inconsolable. I remember holding her and crying. I was still at the age when I believed my toys were alive, had feelings and souls. Something had happened to her when she was out of my protection and it was awful. I had not been there to protect her. I let her down. I wanted her back the way she was before and also I understood that could never happen. I was angry at my mother but also I felt guilty. Somehow the misunderstanding felt like my fault. I had done something that had lead to this grievous injury to my very favorite creature. I didn’t know how to apologize or to fix it.
Even now, 35 or more years later, I feel sadness at this memory.
As I stitched my daughter’s doll, I realized that my procrastination at her repair was based on fear of unintentionally triggering my child’s grief in the same way. It was so unlikely to happen - clearly she was more grieved by the broken glasses than she would be by them repaired - but I was afraid of making a misstep and hurting her. I know how deeply attached young children become with particular toys and it can be so fraught, as a parent, to negotiate through those feelings when communication is still so limited between us.
After I knotted off and trimmed my thread I tucked the chipmunk into the basket on Bean’s changing table, where she would be sure to see her this morning. After we got up today, both of us still in our fuzzy pajamas, I whispered to her, “I have something for you.” She stood up and grabbed my fingers, excited for me to lead her to her surprise. We walked down the hall to her room and I kneeled down next to her and pointed up at the basket. “Look, honey. Mama fixed her.” She dropped my fingers and reached up with both arms, her face open and happy as I watched her anxiously. I lifted down the doll and Bean tucked her in to her chest with one arm, swaying her body and tapping the chipmunk’s head gently in her sweet imitation of the way I snuggle her own small body to my chest in a bear hug.
This time, at least, I feel reassured that I did right by my girl.