The Betsy Throw-Up Doll
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36).
In December of 1957, my sister Linda and I had been to see Santa Claus when he landed in a helicopter at the small airport near our house. It was late in the evening after supper, and we had on our warmest wool coats and white pretend fur muffs to protect us against the chilly night air. We waited in line to see Santa, and we both had the same wish on our list that year: A Betsy Wetsy doll that could wet her cloth diaper after being given a small bottle of water from a white bottle that made it look like milk. We could pretend to be mamas, and this doll was just the right size, and who wouldn’t want an almost-real baby doll like that? I was four, and Linda was six, and our hearts were ready to tackle the challenges of doll motherhood.
I probably sucked on my thumb as I waited—something I normally did at that age as it got closer to bedtime. I guess Santa spotted me in the line because when we finally climbed up in his lap, he told me he knew I was still sucking my thumb, but I was trying to quit. “I want you to promise me that you’ll stop sucking your thumb,” he said gently. “You’re much too pretty and grown up for that!” I promised, and I don’t think ever sucked my thumb after that public shaming. That old Santa Claus had power!
He asked us what we wanted that year, and we both told him excitedly that we wanted Betsy Wetsy dolls. Santa was wise enough to know that two dolls exactly alike could cause a problem—especially if something bad happened to one of them, and we couldn’t tell them apart. How would you know which girl still had a good doll? No, those dolls had to be distinctly different. I’m sure he put that on his list of things to remember.
That Christmas morning, two very excited little girls woke up and unwrapped the dolls they had dreamed about. The babies’ faces were the same; the bodies were the same size, and they were dressed alike, but Linda’s doll had blonde curly hair and blue eyes, and mine had brown curly hair and brown eyes. We were both thrilled, and as soon as breakfast was over (mom’s rule!), we couldn’t wait for mom to fill our little white bottles at the kitchen sink because we needed to get right to the business of squeezing the babies’ tummies and making them soak their diapers. Linda’s doll was a faster drinker than mine. She emptied the bottle, and Linda gave her baby’s tummy a big squeeze. The diaper immediately needed to be changed, so Linda laid her down on the kitchen table and set about cleaning up her precious little lamb. Next, mine finished her bottle. I squeezed her tummy, and she projectile vomited all over the place. “Oh, for Pete’s sake!” my dad hollered. “What kind of a toy is THAT?” He picked up his newspaper and exasperatedly headed for the quiet of the next room. He had enough babies in the house already, and a doll that hurled just reminded him of some of the toughest parenting moments when mom would have to deal with things like that. (See what I did there? Men back then were not hands-on parents until the kids were about seven years old. Times were different!)
Linda was laughing hard and clutching her good-working baby; I was confused, and Mom was down on all fours with a dish towel trying to clean up the splattered water from the linoleum floor. “What did you do?” she asked me. “I did just what I was supposed to do," I defended myself. “I fed her the bottle, and then I squeezed her tummy like this (I demonstrated), and then she just threw up all over the place. Maybe she’s sick.” (My dolls and stuffed animals were always very real to me at that age…)
Mom finished cleaning up the water and took my doll in her hands. “Let me try,” she suggested gently. “That way, I can see if something is wrong.” She re-filled the little white bottle and pressed it into the hole in the baby’s mouth. With a few short squeezes, the contents of the bottle disappeared down a tube that emptied into the doll’s stomach. “Now, squeeze her,” I directed my mom, pointing to the doll’s stomach. She gave a gentle squeeze, and a long stream of water came pouring from the doll’s mouth and onto my mother’s home-made red Christmas skirt that had big white cut-out snowflakes sewn all over it. “Oh, dear,” Mom said, laying the baby down on the table and grabbing the kitchen towel again. “I think we have a problem!” Mom was dabbing at her skirt, and Linda was giggling nervously as she took a step forward, peeking at the doll that continued to barf every time she drank a bottle. “Maybe she’s allergic,” Linda reasoned. She was a year and a half older than I was, but dolls were real to her, too. This wasn’t just a defective product; this was one sick kid.
Mom gathered the pitiful little brunette doll up in her arms and said in a sweet voice, “Santa’s elves can take care of this. I’m sure of it! If we leave her out tonight by the fireplace, they’ll come and pick her up and take her back to the North Pole, and they can make you a new one and bring her back in a few days.” I think she actually thought I’d jump at the chance to get rid of my Betsy.
I took the baby from her arms and smoothed the curly hair back from her face. I checked her head for a fever. I wasn’t a real mom yet, so I couldn’t be sure—but all the signs pointed to her being a sick baby. “If I do that, who will love this one?” I asked her. I kissed my poor sick Betsy on the cheek, and then I started singing to her as I rocked her back and forth gently in my arms. Mom knew the truth, but she also knew she had lost this battle, and she wasn’t willing to compromise my innocence over the price of a doll. There was nothing else to discuss; we were going to keep that defective doll. You see, I figured Santa knew what he was doing. He had this one sick doll in his whole sack of toys, and he had to give her to somebody who would love her no matter what was wrong. He apparently chose me, so now, she was my responsibility. I didn’t take that assignment lightly.
To anyone who is reading this: you are not perfect! I am certainly far from perfect. In spite of that, God has invested His total heart into each one of us, and no matter how hard we try to exasperate Him and no matter how far from perfect we get at times, His love remains pure and unwavering from the time we are born until we die. He loves us so much that He sacrificed His only Son for us. Romans 5:8 declares that “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 1 Corinthians 13:4 reminds us that “Love is patient, love is kind.” John 13:34 uses God’s words in the form of a command: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” God’s love for us is unconditional. It doesn’t turn off and on based upon our behavior or our likeability at any given moment. We could use a huge dose of His ability to love under any circumstances, and it’s a shame that we probably have a healthy amount of that kind of love at a young age, but for some unforeseen reason, we let it slip away as we grow up. We need to be able to crawl back into the mindset that many of us had as young children: if you see a need, you meet it--no questions asked. You share your toys; you kiss a friend’s boo-boo; you pick an armload of wildflowers and surprise the old lady across the street who doesn’t ever come outside. I wrestle sometimes with the stubborn adult who lives inside of me, but I’m grateful that there was a compassionate little girl in residence before her whose sweet lessons still remain lodged deep down in my jaded heart.
How sad it is to realize that I’ve spent my entire life growing up, embracing change, reaching for goals, and acquiring knowledge, and I should have spent far greater amounts of my time trying to stay more like I was when I was four years old…
Reflections for This Week:
1. Why do you think our innocent ability to love in all circumstances changes as we grow older?___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2. What challenges do you personally face that make it more difficult to love in all circumstances?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3. What do you need to do personally this week to make sure that you become more loving to everyone?___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
4. Write a personal prayer of commitment to God to help you accomplish this goal.____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________