Why I Killed Baby Ava

Health & Wellness on 03.10.11
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Photo: donvix/Creative Commons 

Baby Ava was a doll. A Christmas doll that my two-year-old Barnacle (read: baby) grabbed from under the tree and didn't let go. A doll that she promptly named after her beloved "best friend," a little girl who visited us six months ago and still inspires a nap-time recitation of her name. ("Avavavavavava;" Snore.)  

The Barnacle adored Baby Ava with a love bordering on obsession. Wanted to hold her in her arms during the day and sleep with her at night. Never let the doll out of her sight.

But here's the thing about this innocent little blue-eyed plastic wonder. She was a gift from her grandpa who has, in my husband's words, "a direct line to Chinese crap." My dad doesn't think about potentially lethal lead poisoning or organic cotton options; like most grandfathers he just wants to make my daughter happy. And for her, happy comes in a big pink box shipped straight from Beijing.

But my husband and I thought about it, raising eyebrows over the gigantic box as we struggled with the wire cutters to set Ava free. And I thought about it a few nights ago as the Barnacle, fighting five days of flu, ended up in our bed clutching the doll in her arms. All night I smelled Baby Ava as she emitted a powdery chemical scent so powerful it made me gag.

Baby Ava was off-gassing.

What's off-gassing, you ask? Think about that new-car smell, or the way a new carpet smells right after it&'s installed. The smell of new paint on the walls. Like those emitted by our heavily-scented baby doll, these are all the smells of gaseous chemicals that are being released into the environment, according to Wikipedia. Chemicals that my baby and I were inhaling.

During a midnight panic attack later that night, I started thinking about the fact that 20 percent of toys tested by the Michigan-based Ecology Center contained traces of lead. And that last year, President Bush signed into law the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, designed to get lead out of kids' toys, but those destined for shelves this Christmas escaped the ban. Despite the fact that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission plans to issue recalls for any toys that test positive for this brain-damage inducing toxin, I'm guessing that bargain-basement Baby Ava will not be one of those flying over our bureaucratic radar.

There's no proof that Baby Ava is dangerous. But I risked the wrath of my two-year-old to err on the side of caution (and ignore my landfill guilt). The morning after Baby Ava spent the night in our bed, I "accidentally" pushed the doll under the crib skirt, then when my daughter wasn't looking I smuggled her downstairs in my robe and tipped her into the trash.

According to Earth911, you can't recycle dolls, even if they are plastic, because recycling is meant for "individual materials" like aluminum or paper, rather than items that are a mixture of plastic and paint, like Baby Ava. And I didn't want to send her to Goodwill, for fear of poisoning someone else's Barnacle. If she had tested positive for lead, I'd be able to take her to a household hazardous waste drop. But as I was acting strictly on mother's intuition, into the trash she went.

While the Barnacle searched the house feverishly for her beloved, I pressed other dolls into her hands. Thank god for toddler-sized memories: It took just a few hours for the Barnacle to forget Baby Ava. And I breathed a big sigh of relief.