When I was a little girl — about Helen’s age, actually, I had a Madame Alexander Baby Huggums doll.
I loved that doll — carried her everywhere, chewed on her hands, slept with her. She started out a pretty fleshy pink, and I turned her brown — to the point that I called her “Brown Baby.” And legend has it that she had a fragrance. I don’t remember that. I just remember loving that doll.
My grandmother Hammond came to visit, and she and my mother hatched a plan to wash Brown Baby. They carefully picked out some of the stitching on her cloth body and pulled out her stuffing, and then they mixed up a batch of a very concentrated Borax solution. They put the Borax solution into an aqua Tupperware cup, and dropped Brown Baby’s deflated little body down into the cup. To keep her head from dropping into the solution, Mom and Grandma criss-crossed some pencils and balanced Brown Baby’s head on the pencils at the lip of the cup.
I remember running inside from playing and seeing my poor Brown Baby in that cup of nasty water, soaking up high and out of my reach. It seemed like it took forever, though I’m sure she was back to her pretty pink color within a day. Mom and Grandma stuffed her with fresh stuffing and carefully sewed her shut again, and returned my precious Brown Baby to me.
Except she wasn’t the same. She didn’t smell right or look right anymore. I was never as attached to her again. And I have that flashbulb memory of the baby in a cup (I remember that she was on a windowsill, but it may have just been the countertop), head braced with a matrix of pencils.
After six weeks of being awakened three and four times a night by a teething and miserable Alice, I feel like Brown Baby. All my stuffing is out, and I’m resting with my head out of a cup, soaking in muck. I have never been this completely exhausted in my life. Moreso than when I was in early pregnancy, since this isn’t just physical exhaustion.
I’ve heard that it gets better in about 18 years.
Until then, just call me Brown Baby, I guess. I just hope I don’t get abandoned by those who used to carry me everywhere (and chew on me?) when I’m done soaking with my stuffing out.