The Loser Christmas Gift that Led me to Medicine

I’ll never forget Christmas morning, 1965—the day I discovered my bent toward science. I was six-years old and huddled around the Christmas tree with my family and grandparents anxiously waiting my turn to open a gift. My fifteen-year old brother opened the mother lode of wonderful gifts: a chemistry kit. Tiny bottles of cobalt blue, canary, and burgundy powders, glass Erlenmeyer beakers and flasks, and a Bunsen burner mesmerized me. Alan read aloud some of the experiments he could do and I was hooked: by adding just two drops of a “magic” liquid to his test tube, he could change the pH (whatever that was) and color of his solvent (what a wonderfully scientific sounding word for “liquid”) from blue to pink. How cool was that? When he heated Sulfur with his Bunsen burner, the sickening stench of rotten eggs would steam up from the test tube like a poisonous brew from a witch’s cauldron. I turned as green with envy as the malachite coasters my mother received. After waiting an eternity while my other siblings opened and displayed their gifts, I nearly peed my pants in anticipation. After all, didn’t people say the youngest child—the “baby”—was always “spoiled?” For once, I would embrace the insulting stereotype, if it would grant me a Christmas gift even better than my brother’s— how about a whole chemistry lab?

Finally, my grandparents decided to torture me no more and handed me a beautifully wrapped gift adorned with a festive red ribbon and bow. The box was so tall it came clear to my waist. I couldn’t rip off the wrapping paper fast enough. What would it be?

As I yanked off the last remnant of paper, I wanted to sob. There, staring me in the face, was a huge, curly-haired baby doll. I hate dolls! When will people learn just because I’m a six year old girl, it doesn’t Mean I Want a GOOD-FOR-NOTHING, STUPID DOLL!!!

Of course, since I was a “mature” and well-mannered six-year old who had been taught by her parents to grin and fake enthusiasm and gratitude over LOSER gifts, I pasted a half-smile on my face, stared at my shoes, and muttered, “Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa.”

Despite my best attempt to feign enthusiasm, my grandmother could tell I was disappointed. She walked over to demonstrate all the wonderful attributes of “Betsy.” First, the silly hunk of plastic could walk. Grandma demonstrated how Betsy could stroll across the room if I pushed to-and-fro on her legs. Big deal—I could stroll across the room and no one was flipping cartwheels over me.

My mother, now mortally embarrassed over my less than enthusiastic response to the dud gift, strolled over herself to show Betsy’s next lovely feature: she had a mouth that allowed me to feed her water with a baby bottle. Mom and Grandma forced me to hold the thing in my lap and tip the bottle—now full of water—into her mouth. Next thing I knew, my lap was soaking wet! Oh yes, they had forgotten to inform me of Betsy’s last delightful feature—she peed! All over my clothes, no less. Eeeww! I jumped up horrified. Why would they give me a doll that urinated on me?

Mom and Grandma pulled out the package of baby diapers so I could have “fun” changing her diapers. It took every drop of maturity I possessed not to fling the vulgar creature clear across the room. What possessed my grandparents to waste hard-earned money on this horrible, terrible, no-good gift? Why did they think I’d want to change dirty diapers on a doll when I could be scheming up explosions and bubbling brews with my brother’s Bunsen burner?

I excused myself to the bathroom under the guise of needing to change my clothes, but really, I wanted to bawl. Oh, I forgot to mention—the dumb doll could cry tears with me--if I pushed on a certain button.

Later that day, my grandparents wanted a picture of their four grandchildren holding their Christmas gifts. Alan proudly displayed his chemistry kit, Larry, his new Parcheesi board, Ann, her paint-by-number kit, and me, holding a stupid, peeing doll as far away from my body as my chubby arms could hold her.

My parents concluded that day a career in science, not day-care, was my calling.