I can’t say for certain how old I was, but I can tell you I looked unfortunate.
It was dimly lit and smelled like incense.
I pushed my pink plastic glasses higher up on the bridge of my nose (see: unfortunate) and stared high up into the temple.
It happened the same day that we visited another Japanese monument and my sister and I accidentally drank from a bucket and well that was meant for (and used for) hand washing.
It was less than awesome.
And then for a photo op, we started gonging a giant drum that turned out to be some kind of artifact that wasn’t supposed to be touched.
I have the photo. We look very pleased with ourselves.
Everyone around us looks horrified.
It’s kind of how we rocked it there.
So anyway, we banged the drum, drank the hand sweat, and moved on to the temple.
I had my prized possession stuffed in my backpack with her yarn hair flying all around my shoulders.
Her name was Yvonne.
For the record, that decision was not made by me. I was her adoptive mother, the lucky one who grabbed her from a store shelf and rescued her from the cabbage patch she had been born into. My dad told me I could name her anything I wanted, but I had the birth certificate. You can’t just change someone’s legacy like that. The transition would be hard enough, I reasoned.
Her bottom had the word “Xavier” written on it.
Which is, to this day, is a little unsettling.
I took my parenting role very seriously. She always smelled like baby powder and had three disposable diapers in a drawstring bag. It also housed her pacifier, her real liquid bottle, and a host of things to entertain her on long road trips.
I had a feeling she didn’t like to be left behind, so she never was.
When you’re a child born in a vegetable, I think it’s safe to say there could be abandonment issues.
“Xavier can’t find you anymore…you’re safe now…”
I braided her hair a lot at recess, which is unrelated to the fact that I had no friends.
I don’t want to say she was precocious, because I think all moms feel that way about their soft-fabric babies, but let’s just say she had a light in her green eyes that they didn’t all have.
Also, she never pooped. Which I wouldn’t say made the top of the “parenting-preparation” list, but it was a nice perk.
It wasn’t unusual (I say that with a healthy amount of sarcasm) that she was riding in my backpack the day of the temple incident.
I was preparing her for our new adventure, pointing out the scenery.
She was a stoic child, but I feel she was just taking life in at her own pace. No need to push my agenda before she had her plastic lunch.
This next part would almost be unbelievable if I didn’t have the video to back my story.
My dad was taping me and Yvonne standing in front of what I recall to be a very large Buddha statue. Like, 50 feet tall. Or close. Whatever. It was big enough to knock me off my parenting game. Keep that in mind before you judge me on this next part. There were dozens of candles lit on an altar behind me. This is about to be pertinent information.
I turned and started talking to the camera about the giant statue, and I’m doing my best child-reporter imitation while I describe what we’re seeing. At one point you see a woman come over to me and she’s trying to tell me something. In retrospect, she was a little panicked. I bow to her and do a fake smile to the camera. She continues.
And at this point I realize she is pointing to Yvonne and I try to whip around and look at her, but my razor-sharp instincts didn’t register a problem until I smelled smoke.
Oh, don’t act like you’ve never accidentally caught your kid’s hair on fire. Your smugness repulses me.
“Yvonne!!!!! NOOOOO!!!!!” Glasses slipping, Buddha out of focus, and the camera jumping to the ground as I yank her out and, you know, extinguish her.
Oh, beloved. I can hear you crying out to the garden of cabbage, and I am filled with shame. Who will believe this was an accident? Will you ever trust me again?
It’s safe to say I wasn’t myself for a little while after my mishap. Who could have known candles and yarn made such a poor team?
Not I, friend. Not I.
There was no official questioning, and I think all parties involved agreed that my history with her belied any ill-intention. On her part, she seemed unmoved.
Charred, but not shaken.
My brave little soldier.
In the event that you’re wondering, Yvonne went on to a ripe old age, the big sister to a sibling group that made the Duggars look like underachievers.
What can I say?
I’ve never been a perfect mother.