One night last year, I found myself sitting at the dining-room table, scraping the upper thighs of a baby doll with a chisel. It was quiet in the house; the kids were sleeping in their room, unaware of what I was doing to one of their favorite toys. A toe or an ear would have been easier to cut, but my daughters would have been alarmed at that. I took two small slices of the doll—small enough, I hoped, that the girls wouldn’t notice—and slid them into a wax-paper bag, which I would mail to a chemistry professor in another city the next morning.
I hated the doll from the beginning, since my daughter Vivie received her as a third-birthday present three years ago. Everything about her plastic body seemed artificial: Her skin was a peachy shade like a spray tan. Her painted-on blue eyes seemed startlingly wide, like someone slipped her an energy drink, and her mouth hung open eagerly, showing off two teeth whose color had worn from aggressive feeding. Her body was too hard to bend, though her arms and legs and neck could swivel all the way around.
The worst thing about her, though, was this: If she was “fed” a bottle of water, she’d pee it all out a few minutes later. It worked best when they dressed her in the mostly absorbent diaper she came with, but often they would give her a whole bottle and then forget to put the diaper on, leaving her lying on the rug in a puddle of her own water. The doll is from a line of Hasbro called Baby Alive; we called her The Pee Baby, or P.B. for short.