I think that's why I especially love M's doll affection. It's purely, delightfully her thing, not one bit influenced by my or her sister's preferences. Her doll Emily has logged as many travel miles as M has...we have pictures of Emily peering out of the window onto Niagara Falls, propped up on a pillow in the hotel in NYC (poor Emily has a delicate constitution and quite often needs to stay back at the hotel, napping. Quite often I wish I could join her.) and traipsing through airports peering from M's backpack.
Once several years ago she accidentally left her at a park playground. We were on our way home and I heard a sharp intake of air and M's squeal, "Oh, no! Emily! I forgot her!" We had only been gone about 5 minutes so I did a U-turn, pulled up at the curb, and the two girls tumbled out to go fetch Emily. What happened next deeply affected M. And us all. L returned first, tears streaming down her face. "Emily's hurt!" was all I could get from her. As I got out of the car, M came around the fence, sobbing, with sticks in her arms. But not sticks. As she got closer, I could see they were two arms, two legs, all independent from the head and sweet little dress M had put on Emily for her outing to the park.
It took me weeks before I could think about this incident without tears. Yes, it was just a doll. Not a living thing, not irreparable or even irreplaceable. But M's knowledge of the world expanded that day to know that there are people out there that would pull the arms and legs off of a doll. Just because. All the way home, 6-year-old M breathed in that post-cry, hiccuped rhythm. "Why would anybody do this? Do they not like me? Or Emily? " While she wanted to hold her, it was just too upsetting "I can't look at her...she's not herself." We tried to reason that it could have been a dog but there weren't any teeth marks, just clean tears of her limbs. Eventually, we got her fixed (actually AG dolls did a whole new body but M doesn't know this) and Emily has continued her almost mascot status in the family. And my mother bear tendencies have softened so that I don't need to find out who did it or to demand apology and contrition. In one corner of my heart, though, I hope the kid who did it grows up to have a daughter who arranges her dolls in little scenes, who nurtures and washes and feeds them with the dedicated devotion of a first-time mama, and he (or she) remembers. And realizes.