When I was growing up, dolls were not my thing.
Baseball, roller blades, a real, working telescope? Yes. Barbies and babies? No, thanks.
So it didn’t occur to me that my daughter might be interested in dolls until she discovered one at our local library. Immediately she scooped it up, nuzzled it on her shoulder and began gingerly rubbing its back.
I made it my Christmas mission to buy her the perfect first doll. The one I chose was soft and snuggly and came with a magnetic, plush baby bottle that stuck to the baby’s lips when positioned just right.
Unbeknownst to me, however, several other loved ones had also bought my daughter dolls for Christmas. Her favorite was a plastic, life-like one that came with its own folding stroller.
The doll had not been out of the box more than a day, however, before our beloved family dog took a large bite out of the doll’s right hand.
My first thought: Great, now I need to figure out where the doll came from and replace it.
My second thought: No. People have accidents every day, and we don’t replace them. Here’s a chance to teach my daughter that we should love and play with everyone—regardless of the shape of their hands.
Here’s a chance to teach my daughter that we should love and play with everyone—regardless of the shape of their hands.
The lesson was an easy one for my daughter. She noticed the injury, but her love for the doll remained unchanged.
For me, the lesson was harder.
The next thought I had after deciding to keep the doll was not about my daughter but about me and my own insecurities: What kind of mother will I look like if my daughter carries this doll around? Who lets their daughter play with a half-eaten toy? Who lets a child share a home with a dog who can’t keep his teeth off the play-things? Will people think I can’t afford to replace it? If I look like I can’t afford a new doll, what else do I look like I can’t afford?
Keeping the doll was an exercise in teaching myself about what really matters. It’s a process spiritual writer Richard Rohr calls “shadowboxing”—living in the “liminal” space between our true selves and the selves we are attempting to present to the world.
“Instead of ego-confirmation,” he encourages “struggling with the dark side of things, calling the center and so-called normalcy into creative question.”
After all, who am I—or anyone else–to decide that a doll with two hands, a doll free of the scrapes and scars is “normal,” anyway? Or that there’s a certain set of criteria that makes me a “normal” or “good” mom?
I can’t help but think that if Jesus were choosing between dolls, the perfect, plastic-wrapped one still in the box wouldn’t be of much interest.
But the one that’s stared down a canine’s incisors and made it out alive?
That sounds like a toy Jesus might be interested in.
Sarah Carson is associate editor of Gather magazine.