Amy Brenneman: Finding that doll saved my daughter from a momentary crisis. Let me explain.
So we arrive at Disneyland
is choosing the toys she wants to cart around. This is not unusual. Often the child will pack a backpack filled with books, toys and dolls and haul that sucker up Topanga Canyon. I don't know if she's afraid of being bored or being trapped in the Donner Pass, but very rarely will she go anywhere possession-free. (I guess I can't blame her. She watches every morning as her father and I load up backpacks, purses and lunches and stumble into our cars like overloaded yaks.) The scene is always the same:
Me: "That looks like a lot of stuff, Sweetheart!" (Respectful pause. Breathe. Remember the parenting books.) "You sure you can handle all that?"
Char huffs and puffs, shoving another Beanie Baby in.
Me (not wanting to say this, but): "Char? I'm not going to carry all this, remember? You can bring whatever you want, but we're going to be walking all day and I don't want you to get tired."
Char (grunting, attempting to zip): "O (grunt) KAY, MOM!"
CUT TO: Me with the backpack, waiting in line for the Dumbo ride.
It's gotten better, really it has. She tries, but damn if those toys aren't heavy. This time I found myself holding her American Girl doll, Rebecca all day. Don't get me wrong, I like Rebecca. And now that my babies aren't babies anymore, I unconsciously cradled her a couple of times when the crowds were stressful. It was a win-win for Charlotte and me.
The next day, we sprang into action to get out of our hotel room. Checkout time was 11, but we would leave our stuff at the bell desk and not have to come back. We threw in bathing suits, sweaters and sneakers willy-nilly, toothbrushes and books tossed in the duffel. We were Dorothy and the twister was a-comin'.
Walking around the park later, I thought, Sh*t. Where's Rebecca? She wasn't in my arms or in Charlotte's, and I couldn't remember packing her. The whispered conversations began.
"Brad!" I hissed as the kids walked ahead of us. "Did you pack Rebecca?"
His eyes panicked. "No. Didn't you? She was under the bed ...."
"I know, right? She was under the bed, I saw her, but I have no memory ...."
"Well, she must be somewhere, right? I mean, she's somewhere ... shh ...." He cautioned because Charlotte was looking our way. We had a saintly guide named Matt. "Matt," I whispered, as the kids laughed at a guy in a Mickey suit, "is there any way you could call the hotel to see if we left Rebecca in the room?" (Matt was by this point also on a first-name basis with Rebecca.)
Saint Matt soothed us: "No problem. I'll get housekeeping to put her with your bags." I had no doubt that he would.
But he didn't. In one of the rare Disney moments when employees actually get ruffled, I saw his eyes go wide after he answered a call.
"Not there?" I mouthed over the endless "Small World" theme.
Matt was stricken. "We'll find her," he mouthed. We really are in the Donner Pass now, baby.
My greatest fear was that I actually had packed Rebecca but forgotten all about it. As much as I fight my husband on this point, I am getting mighty forgetful these days, and my recent six weeks of post-op painkillers didn't help my cognitive fog. But Rebecca? Those American Girls are big! It's not like losing an infinitesimal LEGO piece, for God's sake! It's the size of a nine-month-old child!
We returned to the hotel. The plan was to let the kids relax in front of a TV in the lobby (playing, shockingly enough, classic Disney cartoons), while Brad and Matt scoured the hotel for Rebecca. Charlotte was oblivious. She had casually mentioned wanting to hold Rebecca in the car ride home, assuming -- as any well-adjusted child would -- that she in fact would be there. That her parents, in fact, hadn't LOST her favorite toy.
I stayed with the kids. I was receiving texts from Brad: "Going up. Looking under the bed. Not there." My heart started to beat fast.
I talked to myself. "Charlotte's a big girl," I told me. "She used to tantrum about stuff like this, but she's older now. And if she does freak out," I tried to convince me, "then it'll be a learning moment about Things Not Always Working Out." This, while I was checking to see if the American Girl store was open on Sundays.
And then, like the rock rolled away on Easter morning -- a miracle. Saint Matt floated through on his "I studied theater at USC" legs and placed Rebecca into the arms of Charlotte, who did not even look away from the TV. She hugged her dolly into her chest, the most natural thing in the world.
Tears came into my eyes. "Housekeeping had to look a third time, don't know why they didn't find her the first," Saint Matt explained. But that wasn't why I was crying. I was crying because a child had been protected from a crisis that she didn't need to know about, by adults who worked hard to protect her. I was crying for all the times that I was protected, and all the times I wasn't. I was crying thinking about all those children who will never be protected, and whose every waking minute is crisis. And I was crying because just once more, we protected Charlotte so that she could have the privilege of obliviousness. She's strong, my girl. She has already faced many challenges that other kids her age haven't faced. So forgive me for wanting to protect her just a little while longer.