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A One-Armed Doll Taught My Daughter About Love

04/17/2015 05:45 EDT | Updated 06/17/2015 05:59 EDT
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One of my most precious parenting memories began with an act of violence and a blood-curdling scream.

My then-six-year-old daughter marched into the kitchen, grabbed the scissors and cut off her doll Brianne's arm with all the sentimentality of a jaded Civil War doctor on the battlefield.

Her older sister then screamed like a horrified nurse on her first day at the frontlines.

"No! Oh my gosh no! No!" The Oldest shouted. "How could you do that?!"

I ran in to discover The Youngest standing there holding her beloved Brianne in one hand and Brianne's right arm in the other. My jaw hit the floor as my thoughts went right to my pocketbook. Brianne is a $100 Maplelea Doll, the Canadian equivalent to the wildly popular American Girl dolls. Let me repeat: a $100 doll. Not including taxes and shipping.

"What did you do that for?" I said, aghast.

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My daughter's beloved Brianne. The Christmas following the amputation, Santa brought Brianne a medical kit, complete with a wheelchair, crutches, a cast and bandages.

Apparently Brianne's arm had slipped from its socket a few days earlier during a high-flying gymnastics move, and her now-limp arm was getting in the way of all sorts of things, so The Youngest just cut it off. No fuss. No muss.

"You should not have cut off her arm!"I admonished. "Do you know how much that doll cost?"

"It didn't cost you anything! Santa gave it to me!" she replied.

"Uh, oh right," I hastily agreed. "But Maplelea Dolls are expensive if you buy them. Listen, you can't just go around cutting the arms off your dolls."

"Why is my sister crying and why are you upset because I cut the arm off MY doll? It's not HER doll or YOUR doll!" The Youngest retorted.

But then her bottom lip trembled, her eyes filled with tears and she said the words I will never forget.

"Mom, I still love Brianne anyway! I still love her without her arm! What's wrong with having a doll with only one arm?" she wailed.

Gulp. My heart sat in my throat as all my "mama thunder" dissipated. The Youngest generally takes excellent care of her toys, so this wasn't a case of her being naughty. She made a decision about her own doll, took action and wasn't looking back. It hit me then that Brianne's sudden amputation wasn't a punishable offence; it was an opportunity for an important chat.

"Of course you still love her, sweetheart," I said, hugging her. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with having a doll with one arm or one leg or no hair or whatever. Dolls don't have to look perfect for you to love them. Just like people."

We then had an excellent talk about people who face a wide range of physical challenges and about valuing people for who they are on the inside rather than what they look like on the outside.

It's been two years since that happened, and I still smile every time I see Brianne. That doll will forever remind me of my daughter's loving heart, her compassion, and her innate ability to know her own mind in the face those who would make a different choice. I hope she never loses those qualities.

We still have Brianne's arm on the top of our fridge and have chatted about whether she should have reattachment surgery. Sometimes, The Youngest is tempted, but in the end, she always says no, gives Brianne a tight hug and wanders back to the playroom to start her treasured doll's next adventure.

Li'l Girl Talk

"Who made up that rule?" says The Youngest, age 8, when I tell her yoga pants aren't appropriate to wear to an office job.

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