Sunday, January 31, 2016

Plastic and Stuffing and Love

Misfortune struck our home this morning. If you are fond of Sydney let me warn you: This is a sad story. You’ll need to grab a box of tissues and sit back. 

If you’ve followed our Facebook page long at all you will know who Riley is and probably even remember Liberty from stories long ago. But just in case you need the background: Sydney has had a doll since she was toddler. Her name is Liberty, named after one of Sydney’s friends from preschool. Liberty has been pulled for miles in wagons, ridden on the back of bikes, swung for hours on a tire swing, pushed in strollers up and down the driveway, and gone on many family road trips. She has been carried, dragged, hugged and loved a lot over the years. I have washed her, repaired her, Febreezed her, and detangled her hair many times. Liberty has become quite unsightly, a raggedy mess in fact. But looks do not matter to Sydney. Others recoil at Liberty’s appearance but Sydney still loves her. I had many times tried to get Sydney to transfer her affection to a newer or more attractive doll. Sydney has several nicer dolls but none meant nearly as much to her as Liberty…. until she met Riley. A year ago in March Sydney and I were shopping. Sydney had some money to spend. She usually spends her money on farm toys like tractors and plastic animals. But this day Sydney saw a 20” baby doll she just knew she could not live without. Riley was named before she was even removed from the packaging. It was love. And for the past ten months Riley and Sydney have been nearly inseparable. (Liberty is still loved too but she mostly hangs out at home these days.) The only place Sydney goes without Riley is to school but if it was allowed then Riley would be sitting right beside Sydney every day at a desk of her own there too. Riley has not just become a part of our family, our friends have grown fond of her. Riley almost never misses a worship service and Sydney often asks one of the ladies from our congregation to hold Riley and tend to her while Sydney goes to Bible class. The ladies have played along so often and talked with Sydney about her doll on so many occasions they notice if Riley is not in attendance. Sydney loves the attention the ladies give her through Riley and the ladies love to give Sydney that. 
Liberty, after years of being loved
Sydney with Riley out to dinner

A road trip with Sydney and Riley
Riley rarely misses a church service

Birthday gifts!
Now, for the real story: Got those tissues? Yesterday was Sydney’s birthday. After school Sydney and Riley jumped on the trampoline, swung for a while, and then took the stroller for a walk. Shawn got home from work and Sydney ran to greet him, leaving Riley unsupervised. A few minutes later, Sydney’s older sister drove in. Sydney’s excitement was intense. It was time to start our birthday celebration! And in all the excitement of our family birthday dinner, cake, candles, phone calls from siblings who live in other states, opening gifts, and putting together a couple of new little toys, Riley was forgotten. Even at bedtime she was not missed and Sydney had a sort of campout in her sister’s room. This morning Sydney could not find Riley. I helped her look. Her brothers helped her look. Sydney told me more than once, “This is making me nervous.” and I reassured her that Riley was fine, just under a blanket somewhere or behind something. We looked in the car. Twice. 

I asked Sydney if she could have left Riley outside, thinking back to the last time I remembered seeing Riley the afternoon before. And I started feeling slightly ill as I began to imagine the worst. I asked Shawn to go outside to look around the yard. I could hear Sydney upstairs calling Riley’s name, looking again. I looked out the front window as Shawn bent over to pick something up. He was way out at the edge of the yard and I could not quite see what he had. Then he bent over to pick something else up. And although I could not see clearly, I knew. I knew our two puppies had found Riley. I knew how badly Sydney was going to feel and I knew there was nothing I could do to shield her little heart from the hurt it was about to experience. As Shawn got closer to the house I could see he held pieces of the doll. There would be no washing, repairs or patching I could do. I frantically tried to think of something I could do or something I could say that would protect Sydney from the truth. And then Sydney came down the stairs telling me Riley had not yet been found. I stepped between Sydney and the window. Sydney looked at my face. I saw fear in her eyes. I told her there was bad news and Riley was not okay. And then my little girl, who almost never cries, even when in pain, began to sob and choke out, “But I love her” over and over. I picked Sydney up and went to the rocking chair where we bawled and rocked together for a long while. This fifty-two year old, rational, somewhat cynical, experienced mother cried like a baby. I kept telling myself I was being silly, crying over a ruined toy. But I was not really crying over a ruined toy. I was crying over my little girl’s anguish. I could not take it away from her. So I shared in it.

I know. I know. A doll is just plastic and stuffing and this is ridiculous, blown way out of proportion. But if you can think back to your childhood and the most prized possession you owned all those years ago, then you might get an inkling of how important Riley has been to Sydney. 

As the tears subsided this morning I asked Sydney if she would like to go shopping to try to find another doll. I remembered the store where we’d found Riley and knew it was likely we could find an exact match there. I knew I might also have luck online. It took a while for Sydney to warm up to the idea of a replacement. I suggested we could even pretend the second doll was the same doll and this day had never happened. Sydney did not think that would be possible. But as the day progressed I could see the pain lessen. 

We did go shopping. And we were able to find a doll that is an exact match. And although Sydney insisted we choose a different name (because this was NOT Riley) before our day was through we had all accidently referred to the new doll as “Riley,” several times, Sydney included. The new doll was named Kennedy initially but now we are told she is actually Kennedy Riley and will be going by Riley mostly.

I am reminded of the Disney movie Inside Out as I look back at the day we just had. Ironically the character in that movie was also named Riley. The movie’s message was: We cannot always protect the ones we love from sadness. Sadness is an important part of life and we all need to experience it to grow. Without sadness would we really even know what true happiness feels like?

Steve and Murphy

Tate sent out a text message today to spread the news about Riley. I thought nothing about our tragic morning was worthy of a smile until I read Tate’s words. And before you ask: No. There will not be a funeral, flowers, Cheetos, or Pretzels. 

This was not our first tragedy. We've had broken hearts before. Breaking Bad News


  1. This hurts my mom-heart for your sweet little girl. Some toys really do become part of the family for a time.

  2. That is a sad, heart-breaking story told from the heart of a loving mom, a mom who understands that sometimes a sad little girl needs her mom to sit, cry and be sad too. That is a tender story. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Poor Sidney :'(, I'm 27 and I can still well remember that awful cold feeling when you just can't find that favourite toy or beloved possession