I'm late. I'm running around the house trying to find Black Doggie. But Black Doggie seems to have gone by the way of Loni Anderson's career. It's disappeared! I plead with my two-year-old daughter, "Pink Poodle? Baby Owl? Spotted Seal?" Maxie shakes her head no. Nothing else will do. Maxie is one of those kids who does better in the car, going to bed, with thing-in-hand, something she can hold tight in her vice-like grip. I'm sure the books will tell you thing-in-hand offers security, gives the child a sense of control. But I'm not a mommy who reads those books. I just know the car ride goes much smoother when thing-in-hand is indeed in hand. Her things-in-hand are small plushy representations of the animal kingdom, usually canine, most of them pink or black, her favorite colors. (Possibly a future career in international fashion? The funeral service industry?)
I'm usually pretty good at finding things-in-hand. While making breakfast, say, I happen to spot Black Doggie on the cookbook shelf, and make a mental note. Then, later, I can successfully execute the perfect mommy swoop, keys, diaper bag, thing-in-hand in one fluid motion and not be late. But today, Emeril and Barefoot Contessa haven't seen Black Doggie on their shelf. I'm pulling items out of the toy drawer, sweat at my brow, kitchen floor getting cluttered when...aha...I find my quarry hiding in a Hello Kitty purse. Fucking Kitty. I hold it up with the triumph of an Oscar winner. But Maxie, once again, shakes her head no. I had found Mommy Black Doggie. She wants Baby Black Doggie.
My six-year-old usually likes to hold an item of transport: car, airplane, train; or an action figure; or a toy cell phone; or a pirate's eye patch... Doesn't really matter what thing-in-hand he chooses, it invariably becomes a pretend gun shooting pretend bullets. From his booster seat he carefully aims Thomas the Train or Spidey at the back of my head. Pssshew, pssshew! "Stop trying to kill Papa while he's driving."
When he was a baby, before his interest in firearms, Sebastian's first thing-in-hand was a lavender monkey with a big pink heart on its chest. It had actually been mine, an opening night gift for a play, in which I played Oscar Wilde. (It occurs to me Oscar might have appreciated a frisky monkey with a big pink heart on.)
One hellish day, Monkey went by the way of Steve Guttenberg's career and trauma ensued. I desperately searched every nook and cranny. Did the play date take it by accident? Did the housekeeper steal it? I call our housekeeper and make her retrace her steps. "We have to find Monkey. We just have to!" She felt obliged to come by and help us search. The pitch in the house was decidedly frantic. Was it washed in the laundry? Flushed down the toilet? You would have thought I had lost a winning lottery ticket, upending the house, calling out "Monkey" as if the stupid thing would respond. We never found it.
Decades before the Monkey fiasco, my first thing-in-hand was Beaver, which ironically mirrors my first sexual experience. But unlike that furry plaything, Beaver had a flat tail, buck teeth, a necktie and a pork pie hat. Sometime after Beaver, I was introduced to Dolly. She was light blue all over and soft. There were no hands or fingers or feet or toes or even hair on her vague body-like form. The one incongruity amongst the plushness was her hard plastic face. She had beautiful long eyelashes and her eyes magically closed when I lay her down. I was smitten. I then rejected Beaver, which ironically I also did later in life. I carried Dolly everywhere. One evening, I was spending the night with my older cousins, Dolly in tow, and they told me boys don't play with dolls. I was crushed. This was my introduction to socialized shame, at the age of three. Dolly was placed on the shelf, banished with Beaver.
I turned from my Dolly disgrace and poured my energy into song. We had a player piano, which presently lives in my house in disrepair. I couldn't read the song titles of the piano roll boxes, but by the shape and length of the words I could always find my favorite song. Hello Dolly! My three year old voice warbled about the friend I had rejected. "So nice to have you back where you belong..."
Oddly, I don't remember a special thing-in-hand after that. Well...maybe at thirteen, when I locked myself into my room and thing-in-hand took on an entirely different meaning. But as a kid, was there anything after Dolly? A special car or baseball mitt or pencil? I don't think so. I can't imagine my father tolerating, nor my mother helping me find my favorite Hot Wheel. Which makes me query, are today's parents too indulgent?
There's a boy at Maxie's pre-preschool who carries around an old wig. (Future hairdresser, perhaps? Drag queen?) It looks grotesque, binkie in mouth, gnarled wig dragging behind. I'm sure health codes are being violated every time he steps onto school property. I can't help but wonder how did this attraction start? Was it thought of as cute? Is that why his parents indulged this bizarre perversion? And now is it too late to take "Wiggie" away?
Maybe we were lucky Monkey disappeared before Sebastian's attachment was too deep. I remember tucking him into bed that night, hoping he wouldn't ask. But he did. He asked for Monkey. A gelatinous mess on the inside, I calmly spoke the truth, "I don't know where Monkey is." Sebastian was perturbed for a moment, then he shrugged, rolled over and went to sleep.
Were Michael and I feeding into a simian obsession that wasn't there? Is that what today's parents do? Encourage dependence? Black Doggie, Monkey, Wig. It's adorable, it's individual, part of their unique personality, and before you know it your kid is dragging his filthy hairpiece through Safeway. If so, we're a sick lot. It's time to rip the Band-Aid off. Take that pacifier out of your kid's mouth. Get rid of blankie. And no more things-in-hand.
I look at my two-year-old. I'm empathetic but firm, "Black Doggie is gone." She seems perturbed for a moment, then she looks me in the face and screams. That's when my cell phone rings. I jump up and run to my bedroom. It's Mother. "If it's all right with you, I think I'll give you money for Christmas." Maxie still screaming in the background. "You don't think that's too impersonal, do you?" Hold up. I have an honest to God smack myself in the head V8 moment. I just abandoned my distraught daughter, went sprinting through the house like Carl Lewis because I couldn't do without my thing-in-hand. Holy crap. "Unless you want me to go out and buy you something." And we all have them. iPhone. Blackberry. Trio. Sidekick. We say they're our lifeline, but be honest, there are very few emails, few phone calls or texts that are that important. They are the adult binkie.
I spy Baby Black Doggie partially hidden under the covers of my bed. "No, money will be fine, Mom. I gotta go." I put down the phone and head to the kitchen. "It's okay, sweetheart. Look what Papa found."