What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon
[p.157]My four-year-old son wants a doll he once saw on television for Christmas. There are those who would say that this means I am a very successful parent, that I have managed to raise a non-sexist male child who is in touch with the sensitive side of himself—the side that wants to love, to nurture, to take care of a doll, even though he is a little boy.
Actually, he wants the doll because it burps.
I’m not kidding. This doll is called Baby Burpee, and when you hoist it over ye olde shoulder, then slap it on the back, it belches—belches, for petessakes—just like your standard-issue teenage boy in a junior high school cafeteria.
“Now who thought this up?” I asked myself in a state of total shock the first time I saw the commercial. Who really and truly thought we needed more things in this world that burp in public?
Geoffrey, on the other hand, thinks a doll that burps is a swell idea, rating a big ten on the Toys that Make Disgusting Bodily Noises Scale, right up there with whoopie cushions and so forth. Geoffrey, along with his four brothers, is heavily into bodily noises—a guy thing for sure—which is why he wants a doll for Christmas, a doll that burps, thereby leaving all the guys who live in this house on the floor, laughing and snorting hysterically.
Oh well, I tell myself. I suppose there are worse dolls on the market today. Take Tattoodles, for instance. My friend claims she saw this doll complete with its very own tattoo kit advertised in a local circular. And then there’s Totally Hair Barbie. Totally Hair Barbie has very, very Big Hair. Serious Hair. Buffalo Hair. Hair Down to There. The Greatest Hair on Earth, just like all that hair you see on Texas drill teams. Totally Hair Barbie makes country western singer Crystal Gale’s hairdo look like a very short pixie cut. To tell you the truth, Totally Hair Barbie gives me a serious case of the willies.
Still, I know what it feels like to want a doll. The Christmas I was six years old, I wanted a doll, only I didn’t know exactly which one [p.158]because I hadn’t been to the toy store. I hadn’t been anywhere, in fact, not since September when I was diagnosed with acute nephritis.
Sometimes I wonder how kids with nephritis are treated today, although since I am (a) lazier than I am (b) curious, I’ve never bothered to find out. However, in those days—shortly after man discovered fire—they packed you off to bed with a pharmacy full of penicillin and told you not to get out again for months and months.
So there I was, languishing in my bed, all pale and wan, just like some suffering child in a bad Victorian novel. Meanwhile it was December, and outside my window neighborhood kids were building snowmen, making snow angels, tossing snowballs. The last time I’d played with them, the aspens in the foothills behind our house were barely tipped with yellow.
The week before Christmas my parents said they had a surprise for me. They bundled me in blankets and drove me to Salt Lake City where we went to the Cottonwood Mall to look at toys. Dad carried me in his arms so the two of us looked just like Heidi’s invalid friend, Clara, and her father, Herr What’s-his-face.
I found the doll I wanted.
When Christmas Eve finally came, I said one of those secret kid prayers, wishing with all my heart that I might receive her. I went to bed early that night (no big deal—I was already there), waiting for morning to come, when my parents slipped into my room to listen to Dad’s brand new Nat King Cole record. The family’s only hi-fi stood right next to my nightstand.
I became increasingly agitated as Nat’s honeyed voice filled the air. “You need to leave,” I told my parents, who gave me indulgent smiles.
I persisted. “If you don’t leave, Santa Claus won’t come!” He won’t come and give me my beautiful doll. Just leave. Please.
“Of course, Santa will come,” Dad soothed. I could tell he really wanted to listen to that new record, but in the end Mom made him leave. They kissed me, then shut my door softly behind them.
I received the doll that Christmas, all right, but in retrospect I am a little hazy about her features. Was she big or small? Did her eyes open and shut? Did she burp?
I can’t remember.
What I do remember about that Christmas is the look of pleasure [p.159]on my father’s face as he dropped his new record onto the turntable. He was so young then. Much younger than I am now.
So please don’t leave, Mom and Dad. Stay with me this Christmas Eve, with the snow lying silver on the ground beneath a wide holiday moon. Stay with me by the fire here and let us listen together to Nat King Cole and Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, too. To carols. To all our half-remembered tunes.
To all the wonderful old songs.