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Amy Brenneman: The Return of My Kid's American Girl Doll

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Amy Brenneman: Finding that doll saved my daughter from a momentary crisis. Let me explain.

american girl doll rebecca
So we arrive at Disneyland and Charlotte 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.

11 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jennifer April 26, 2010, 7:03 AM

I remember my American Girl doll, she’s in her trunk. Yes I owned every piece that belonged to my doll “Kirsten” this was way before you had the look-a-like dolls & stuff. I remember when I thought I lost her while we were on vacation, and I had a major flip out, not to mention the whole my dad yelling “we paid over 100 dollars for her & more for the clothes and you lost her spiel”. But i found her :) i know how you feel though. & i was just like Charlotte when i was younger, packing everything even though it was too much. I used to pack a backpack every night when i was little in case their was a fire and i can take all my favorite toys with me. (ever since we learned about fire safety in school) lol i still find myself packing a lot in my purse til this day. I usually pack a book with me every wear i go. Everyone looks at me weird, and thinks i’m weird.

Beth April 26, 2010, 7:46 AM

I always enjoy posts from Amy Brenneman…and I totally get this! I have a “disaster plan” in place for my little one’s blanky. She placed claim on a lavendar plush blanket when she was around 10 months old…almost 2 years later, purple blanky goes with us everywhere. So one day I was shopping at TJMaxx and saw that they had a few of the same blanket on sale for $8.00…I bought 2. So yes, I now have two extra purple blankies tucked away in the linen closet. But its insurance….good insurance. Why should she have to suffer through the “crisis” of losing or damaging her blanky? It is something I can protect her from…and completely worth it!

Guro April 26, 2010, 8:29 AM

That’s awesome that you found her doll. I had a crisis like that twenty years ago, when I was six, on holiday in Germany. I don’t remember how many toys I had brought with me on this trip, but there was this one doll that was incredibly prescious to me that I brought with me to the sandbox at the camping site we were staying at in Berlin, I didn’t realize I had left her behind until a little while after I had gone back to our caravan.

Mom and I went back to look for her, but she was already gone. However, mom, with her eternal motherly wisdom, solved the crisis by making up a story about some poor German child who probably didn’t have a doll like that and who by luck found one in a sandbox at a camping site and took it home with them. The idea that my beloved doll was making some other child happy, a child that maybe didn’t have the same great things that I had, it was enough to comfort six-year-old me. Maybe that would help you, too, should you ever end up facing the actual crisis.

Of course, in my case, one crisis was almost immediately followed by another. A day or two later my family was driving on Autobahn and we ended up colliding with the median strip. No human lives were lost, thankfully we all made it through without as much as a scratch on us, but when the carvan tipped over, battery acid ruined a lot of our things, included my other doll, Marianne, that I had brought with me on the trip… I don’t remember what mom said or did there, possibly I got so distracted by everything else that had happened that the loss/destruction of Marianne, as beloved a doll that she was, it just didn’t mean as much. Maybe I recognized that I was not the only one who lost something in that crash.

Ashley Gatewood Taylor April 26, 2010, 9:13 AM

SUCH a real story Amy. I totally related. We once left Twitches (the purple stuffed beloved bunny) in an LA hotel room…and not the fancy, ritzy, nice, 5 star hotel room that we had been staying in, but the dreaded airport hotel room that we grabbed for the last night since our flight was so dreadfully early the next morning. I say this only to magnify our panic when we realized upon arriving back home in Charlotte, NC that Twitches was not in fact with us and thinking there is no way this hotel is even going to bother looking for this bunny, why oh why couldn’t we have left at the nice place where they might actually care?? Cut to 24 hours later and a late night detour made by my fabulous sister to said hotel where Twitches was rescued and mailed back overnight to us. Phew. Major crisis averted.
Good for you all for protecting your girl and keeping her from having to learn any tough lessons right at that moment. Disney really is the most magical place on earth! ;)

Sabine May 11, 2010, 9:32 AM

Sounds oh so familiar :) The two-year-old I used to babysit had a sheep for a stuffed animal, that she named Beasty. All our attempts at Whity, Wooly, Lammy and Patrick-Henry in vain. No such thing as loosing it for over an hour. Even playing at home she couldn’t go longer than 10 minutes without looking up, raising her hands in despair and going ‘Oh! Beasy go..?’ Which then set off another tour of mine from under the table and behind the couch, along the backside of the DVD collection, to recollect a dusty sheep stuck between the freezer and the fridge.

It too came with her everywhere, even to the park (‘Hold it firmly though, Kelsey!’ which made her nod and all but strangle the sheep) where it was to stay in her buggy at all times. Except for that one time when her sis ran up a bridge and I picked her up and ran after the kid. And turned to overlook the pond. And saw something white fly from the corner of my eye.

Needless to say I took a muddy swim.

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Janice June 17, 2010, 5:20 PM

I loved your story, Amy. Now that I am a grandmother of small children, it brings it all back. Very poignant. I think you are a really good writer and I’ll keep reading your stories.

Rose June 26, 2010, 7:33 PM

Thanks Amy, really been blessed by this. I’ve been awake worried about few things, but reading this made me realise the love of God in my life, and how he will protect me (like we protect our children) from things I’m unaware of and things I’m so worried about.

Also reminds me of my 4yrs old daughter that’s very busy packking full bag of junks when going out with me, which ends up in my car most times.

You just prepared me for bed.


KWombles July 8, 2010, 12:31 PM

I’m glad Charlotte’s doll was found before she realized it was gone. And I appreciate that this moment of protection was related to the bigger picture of children who aren’t surrounded by loving and protective adults.

hearing loss prevention February 27, 2011, 2:16 AM

Hello. magnificent job. I did not anticipate this. This is a fantastic story. Thanks!

ohbabydotcom April 30, 2011, 10:39 AM

What a touching story.
And I love Amy.

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