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Before my family of origin reached a certain level of no-return disintegration, we had Christmas, and I had birthdays; and I could count on getting presents as naturally as I could yams and can-berry sauce on Thanksgiving. The red bike that Dad had to put together after I was packed off on Christmas Eve. The microscope. The doll (“Beautiful Crissy”) whose hair grew as you yanked it out of her head through a foramen previously unremarked (now in Gray’s as the sulcus crissaeum). The hair was auburn, her eyes were violet, and she succeeded at being almost alive.


The sorts of physical things I wanted and did not get were ephemeral child-wishes, unfulfilled because they were just that. I don’t remember any particulars, just that there was a whole layer of the world marked “Baby Stuff,” meaning that they were appropriate enough for my age–but not for Mommy and Daddy’s prodigy, “4 going on 24.” I was taught to scorn and to sneer at other children and their puerile little urges: I was going to Johns Hopkins by way of Barnard, boy howdy!

As might have been predicted, this attitude and the fact that my Stanford-Binet IQ of Far-Too-High might as well have been tattooed on my forehead made me unpopular. So the thing I wanted more than anything else was a sibling, so that I’d have somebody to play with.

But my mother’s uterus was tilted, so none were forthcoming. I grew up alone and lonely–no living dolls to help diaper and love, to boss around, to bring into my complicated universe of talking animals and superheroes.

It worked out in the end, I guess. I had imaginary friends instead, which became the bedrock of my growing up to be a writer. (So much for med school–as it turned out it was Harvard (English) by way of the University of Wisconsin (Art)–I really do wonder if my father, had he lived to be in the audience in Harvard Yard, would have thought the PhD to be as satisfying as an MD. Probably not.)

As a matter of course, my daughter had to have a sibling, so my own far superior uterus plopped forth a little brother for her. And she hated him on sight, and has more or less hated him for the 23 years since. Very little playing together; and her deep mournful desire was to be an only child. I’m told that that’s the way it goes: When dolls become really and truly alive, they bring a world of complications.

As for me, some things never change, and the thing I wanted for Christmas this year was that rubber-band loom I kept seeing in the toy and craft stores. Baby Stuff; I think it’s marketed for the 8-12-year-old market. Instead, I got a superabundance of very nice soap and a beautiful candle holder shaped like a lotus. (My daughter has bad taste in perfectly lovely little boys, but excellent taste in tchachkes.) And thus adulthood–one is very clean and has pretty things, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Especially when one has a little slab of plastic all one’s own, and can (feeling naughty) go to the store and get it for oneself. So there, Mom and Dad.

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