Monday, August 18, 2014

May You Never Lose Your Shivers

Today I posted this instagram pic of my daughter and her latest must-have accessory, "BeBEEEEE":

They have the same barber.

The doll pictured is my very best childhood friend, "Shivers." She is named as such because she is a New Born Baby Shivers(TM) doll, manufactured for the delight of young girls everywhere in the late 80's. What made her different than other dolls at the time was that when you took off her PJ's, she got "cold" and began to shiver so you had to warm her up by either putting her clothes back on or giving her a hug. She also looked really, really lifelike, which was uncommon in an era where girls were more apt to play with Cabbage Patch Kids.  When the doll came out I was obsessed with it in the way that my kids are with those idiotic Snackeez cup thingys now.  I would go around singing the jingle from the commercial "New Born Baby Shivers, my love will keep you waaaaaaaarrrrrrrm!" How could you not resist something like that? My LOVE would keep her warm! She needed MY love. After a months-long campaign of begging and selective listening, I finally got my Shivers doll in December, as a birthday present from my grandma. 

Every year for my birthday my Grandma would take me to see The Nutcracker and then we would we would go back to her place and drink cocoa and eat angel food cake and she would give my my present, it is one of my happiest memories, and the year of Shivers was no different. When I opened my present I was elated and wanted to play with her immediately. Luckily, my Grandma had already opened her up and put the batteries in, and the doll came out of the box ready to be disrobed. I ripped off her yellow gown, and she began to shiver! In an era before iPhones, this was high-tech. I put her clothes back on, she stopped. Strip her again, give her a hug, my LOVE was keeping her WARM. Eventually, Shivers was warm enough, or her batteries wore down enough, that she stopped shivering all together. I asked my grandma to show me how change the batteries and she refused. She said I was too young to know and that she'd do it after I'd gone to bed. What did she think I was, some little kid?! I'd just turned seven! I was old enough to change batteries. So I went to the box and found the instructions and read how to change the batteries myself.  Turns out my grandmother was right in trying to save me from the emotional trauma of recharging the doll as the batteries went in her neck, and you put them there by removing her head, which you had to twist 180 degrees, exorcist style, to get off.  As if the act itself wasn't scary as hell, the doll without a head was just totally freaky:

This is what happens when you don't listen to grandma. 

Although she initially gave me therapy inducing nightmares, I still loved that little doll something crazy and Shivers became a family member, slept in my bed every night and went with us everywhere. She also had a little quirk, in that, basically, she was always cold. She would get phantom shivers in the middle of the night and wake my whole family up, or once we almost got ran off the road because she shivered from the trunk of my mom's Geo Prism. Eventually it was decided to permanently remove Shivers' batteries and her constant presence became much more tolerable.  

One time my family took a camping trip to the Jemez and of course Shivers came along.  It wasn't a particularly great camping trip. I'd decided that I wasn't going to use the bathroom in the woods and I refused to eat or drink anything for the entire weekend.  We'd also seen a lot of cow patties on a hike and I didn't trust the integrity of our tent's walls against a two-ton bovine so I'd spent the night sleeping/crying in my dad's truck. Needless to say, I was pretty delirious by the time we packed up the next morning.  As we were getting ready to go two hikers came down out of the woods, carrying Shivers.  We'd left her on top of a large boulder that my parents designated a bathroom spot, and despite the fact that I could not see the appeal in its intended purpose, the boulder made an excellent table/crib/general household furniture when playing house. "Is this your doll?" the hikers said, "We thought it was a real baby."  I sheepishly grabbed Shivers and thanked the hikers and didn't think much about it at the time.  Now I wonder what the hell those hikers must have thought, when they come across what looked like a flat, stone altar, in the middle of the forest on a Sunday morning, with an abandoned newborn baby laid out with its hands raised to the sky. I always picture the sun shining so that it perfectly illuminates the doll like some divine prophecy. Did they want to run? Call for help? Maybe they thought it was the second coming of Christ. When did they get the courage to go up to the baby shrine and realize it was a doll? Were they on drugs? Do they still think about that day, like I do? I'll never know. At the time I was just grateful that I didn't leave my precious Shivers in the forest and lose her forever like in some bible story I'd heard. 

Eventually, all little girls outgrow their dolls, and by the sixth grade I'd pretty much stopped playing with Shivers all together. Although I'd still occasionally peruse the Barbie aisle at Walmart, concurrently making up a story how I was looking for a present for my "cousin" in case I ran into anyone I knew, I was more interested in how get a certain boy to notice me or signing up for band but never going and so I could read old copies of "Cosmo" in study hall than I was in playing with dolls.  

My teacher must have sensed our raging hormones and one day during health we were given the ever popular assignment of "be a parent for a day." Traditionally that meant that you'd carry around a 5lb bag of flour with you at school for an entire day and you were supposed to take care of it like a real baby, feed it, change it, don't let it end up with giant gaping holes, and by the end of the day you were graded on the condition of your flour. My teacher thought this was wasteful and didn't want to get flour all over the classroom, or maybe she had a gluten allergy, so instead of flour she had us all bring in a doll for the day and we were to care for it like we did an infant. Even though the lesson was pretty mature in that it was trying to teach us the perils of having the bad bad sex and becoming teen parents, 6th grade is still pretty young. Shivers came with me to school that day and my friends and I spent the day delighting in the activity and playing with our dolls. It was like nothing had changed, we weren't right on the cusp of puberty, some of us even hiding our training bras, dipping our toes into the bleakness of the adult world. We were just little girls, playing dolls. It was glorious. I got home from school that day and I didn't want it to end but I was hit with the brilliantly clear knowledge that it had already ended. I knew at that moment that I really was done playing with dolls. I went to bed early that night with a stomach ache and I took Shivers with me. I curled around the doll and cried as I mourned the passing of my childhood and fell asleep. The next morning I put Shivers away for good. 

I'd nearly forgotten about the doll completely when my parents built a new house and moved out of my childhood home after they'd lived there over twenty years. My mom came across the doll and thought I should have it. I was, at the time, a shiny, newly engaged young woman, a rising star at my company. I was going to make lots of money. Travel the world. Delect in the delectable for the rest of my life. I told my mom to give Shivers to St. Vincent de Paul. I had no use for her in my modern life, I had just bought a Nespresso machine, after all. Still, my mom insisted, and I took the doll home and left her in a storage bin in the garage. 

Nine months after my wedding I was pregnant with my first child, my son Luke. Long gone were the dreams of jet planes around the world, instead I was flying spoon planes of applesauce into my child's face with the intent of landing them in his mouth. For Luke's first Christmas his great grandmother sent him a silly looking brown monkey with long arms and legs and soft feet and hands. The fact that this was in fact a dog chew toy was lost on both Luke and his great grandmother. Luke was instantly attached to the monkey and named him "Brown Monkey" (naming things is a genetic trait) and despite a brief hiatus in which Brown Monkey was lost in a folded up bounce house for an entire summer, Browns, as he is often called, goes with us everywhere.  Brown Monkey instantly reminded me of Shivers. When I became pregnant again and learned that I'd be having a girl I started looking for Shivers again but my garage was a total disaster due to a valiant, yet failed attempt to recycle in Los Lunas, I couldn't find the doll. When Lils was born her grandfather made her a beautiful wooden doll cradle and I knew that Shivers would be just perfect for it. Still though, I couldn't find the doll. I figured that as the result of various moves and recent life changes that Shivers was probably lost for good. I forgot about her again.

And then this summer. We decided that we would redo our backyard and I wanted to put up a Gazebo that we used to have at this other house, in the pre children/recession era when we had money for things like Gazebos, and I sent my husband hunting for parts in the garage. And there she was, underneath a stack of textbooks, Shivers, patiently waiting all this time to be rediscovered. She was filthy and her head was completely smooshed in from the weight of the books but other than that intact. I cleaned her up with a magic eraser, changed her clothes and left her on a window sill in the hopes that the warmth would help her face regain its original shape. Every single night for two weeks straight either my husband or I would catch a glimpse of this very lifelike baby doll with a crushed cranium in the window and momentarily think this was it, this was actually the end. The horror movies were right all along. Eventually the doll's head did even out and she looked as she had when I was a kid. I gave the doll to Lils, promising myself that I would NEVER, EVER tell her the secret of replacing the batteries. 

And then today: I was sitting outside, watching her brother play in the sandbox. And Lils came up to me, beaming, toddling in her little weeble walk, "BeBEEE, mama, BeBEEE," dragging Shivers by the foot behind her. She was equally delighted in herself and the fact that she gets to be part of this world. The joy was infectious and I scooped both of them up into the chair next to me and took her picture. I realized then how important it was that I never lost Shivers.