When I arrive for my weekly visit at the Hebrew Home, I can almost sneak up on my mom in the dining room because her gaze is transfixed on a baby. She is leaning over to caress the child, who is held lovingly by a woman at a table.
“Look honey,” my mom says when she sees me approaching. “Look at the baby!”
I see the child from behind. It is a very young infant, the innocent face staring up at me, and I feel a tingle in my spine.
And then I get closer, and the spell is broken. The baby is a doll.
“She is so cute,” my mom says. “She’s beautiful.” She accompanies each sentence with a caress of the child’s face, and the woman holding the child beams.
“You know, every now and then,” my mom says, “she almost doesn’t look real.”
“Oh, you can bet she’s real,” says the woman. “I will never forget how much pain it caused me to have her.”
“She’s beautiful,” my mom says again. “Are you the grandmother?”
“Oh, no, I’m the mother,” says the woman, who is probably as old as my mom or older.
“Well, she’s beautiful,” my mom says again, and I agree.
As I lead my mom out of the dining room, she can’t stop talking about the baby.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she? But sometimes she doesn’t look real.”
I hesitate for a moment. I’ve learned it’s best to affirm my mom’s perceptions of reality. But this time, those perceptions are competing with each other.
“It’s a doll,” I say.
“What?! Does she know?” My mom has a horrified look on her face.
“No. She doesn’t know,” I say.
“But what happens when she finds out?”
“I don’t think she will.”
“But … but,” she starts, searching for a way to understand this. “Oh, that’s terrible.”
“It’s not so bad,” I say. “It’s really okay.”
“Oh, I hope that doesn’t happen to me,” she says.
“Me too,” I think. “But I’m afraid you might be on your way.”
I don’t say this out loud.