A story of a boy, a shirt, and a mom on a mission.
What I’ve found most absurd about motherhood are the things I will do to keep my children happy.
“We can’t find orange shirt.” These five simple words sent me into a panic when I received this text message from my son’s daycare.
I texted back: “I’m on it, bringing back up.” I dashed out of work, as quickly as one can dash eight months pregnant, into the volcanic July heat. Speeding towards my sister’s house halfway to Denver, I looked at the clock. I had 45 minutes. Only 45 minutes until that special time of day, that mothers all over the world both treasure and dread. Naptime. Without orange shirt, there would be no napping.
“Orange Shirt” is my three-year-old son’s lovey. A lovey, (binkie, wubbie, num num) is a transitional object, transitioning the child from their mother’s love to self soothing skills. Our ancient monkey reflexes make us fall asleep easier if we hold onto something (i.e. a mother, Iphone, tree branch, or an orange shirt.)
My nephew’s lovey was known as ‘stinky ducky’ because he sucked on it until it reeked like bleach, mold, and cat pee put together. I’m still stunned that he held it so close to his face without vomiting. After my husband met stinky ducky, he was over loveys. He hadn’t used a lovey, and he determined our children (not even born yet) would not need loveys. I failed to tell him about my own history with loveys–my good dream pillow that I loved from age three–now a shred in a box in my mother’s garage, and my soft down pillow from college, called “softest softest” that is still in our bed today.
There is no stopping those who want a lovey. At four months old, my son attached himself to my orange maternity tank top that said “expecting baby” on it. And it was lovey at first sight. He called it “dootch” when he couldn’t say shirt, and now it was called ” Orange Shirt.”
When he was two, we cut it in half. The “expecting baby” half was “home orange shirt” and the other half was “traveling orange shirt.” When traveling orange shirt had been left at my sister’s the night before, home orange shirt, in a rare moment, left the house, and went to daycare with my son, where they had (carelessly I might add) lost it. We had gone from two orange shirts to none in less than 24 hours. A missed nap would not be good, but if we didn’t have an orange shirt by nightfall, I shuddered to think what would happen.
I arrived at my sisters at thirty minutes before naptime. She said she had left orange shirt in the barbeque grill outside her house, before her early morning plane flight. . I confidently lifted the lid, and saw only black wire racks and old coals. I felt like I was in a reality show, designed to make pregnant women freak out like hyenas on camera.
I checked every window and door that a pregnant woman could safely reach. I looked under every rock, plant, rug, welcome mat, all the likely places for a hide-a-key. Even though I knew they were on a plane, I called my sister and mom. Don’t you know this is an emergency? I screamed to their cheerful outgoing messages.
Luckily, there was still Bob. My stepdad Bob was the one you call when your computer isn’t working, or you’re locked out of your house, or your hemorrhoids have gotten so bad that you can no longer drive (which was me a month after this story). I called Bob’s home and cell, but he had forwarded his two phones to each other, rendering them both useless. I looked again for hidden cameras.
Naptime was approaching faster than a whore on roller skates.
I called my sister’s neighbor, Kathryn. I called her eight times and finally got through. I tried not to cry, but you know when you’ve been trying to call everyone else in the world and they are all abandoning you like your dad did when you were three, and every guy you dated till you met your husband, and you finally reach someone who is alive and has an ear, and you’re eight months pregnant and it’s 108 degrees outside and you’re in a desperate hunt for a half an orange tank top that will probably save your child’s life?
I cried. A lot. To this day this woman probably thinks I’m a total lunatic. Calmly, she talked me through how to find the key to my sister’s house. Inside, in a plastic baggie next to the door, forgotten in a rush and looking like trash waiting to be taken outside, was the slightly less-preferred version of my son’s lovey. I grabbed it and got back in the car.
I drove to my son’s school, and burst through the gate like Mercury. My son had skipped nap entirely, but strangely seemed fine, playing outside in the sandbox, confused to see his mommy’s red tear streaked face. Then his teacher said, “I think we know where the other one is.”
She explained the morning’s adventures, while my mind raced. How could they let him take Orange shirt to a park? Would you take the Mona Lisa to a day at the beach? I suppressed my rage and disbelief through a pursed-lip grimace. I thought of reporting them to social services, but I couldn’t waste the time. Orange shirt was out there… somewhere.
Now I really was on reality TV. I waddled out of the gate, and heaved my sweaty mass of pregnant self into the car.
I pulled up to the nearby park, as a homeless man was walking away with a small red wagon full of stuff. For one crazed moment, I imagined he had definitely stolen my son’s lovey. Why wouldn’t he? It’s very soft.
Trying to remain calm, I rolled down the window and said, “Excuse me?” I wasn’t going to be this close, and fail. “Excuse me, sir. Did you happen to see half of an orange tank top?” I was trying to be cool, but my red eyes, and shaky voice betrayed me. He stared at me blankly for a moment, and then said “yeah, I think it’s in the gazebo.”
Cue chariots of fire theme music. I ran across the park, my big belly bouncing. Looking like an old pair of underwear, abandoned on the cement, was Orange Shirt. I held it to my face, inhaling that sweet stinky-lovey smell–familiar and warm.
I felt for a moment, what my son must feel when he holds Orange Shirt. Like it was all going to be okay. Like this crazy shred of fabric, worn by me with my son in my belly, and loved by him every night, was a soft fabric umbilical cord of love between us, connected once again, never to be broken.
Someday I’m sure he will lose something I cannot retrieve for him, his innocence, his first heartbreak. But that crazy July day, I had caught his fall. I saved his Lovey, that symbol of my love, to take with him out into the world. The world might eventually fail him, but not his mother.