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The Pandemic Left Me This Creepy Baby

Of all the haunting remnants of the past year, the one I can’t shake is my daughter’s eerily real doll

Sarah Stankorb
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readJun 22, 2021

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Image courtesy of the author

We were falling deep into our pandemic winter, and after the better part of a year of fully online or hybrid school, my daughter’s noneducational hours had become dominated by additional screen time so that I could keep working. She transformed into a third-grader with a casual online “window shopping” habit and a growing obsession with Reborn Babies, strangely realistic, silicone baby dolls.

I wasn’t sure how I’d survived the better part of the year as a freelance writer in shutdown with a throbbing ball of stress growing and contracting somewhere over my heart, my nervous stomach. Our daughter would sweep into my home office and point on the iPad to images of tiny fingers crafted to include the most delicate wrinkles and tiny replica fingernails.

“Look at those eyelashes!” she’d swoon.

“Uh-huh,” I said, clicking around on my screen. “I need 20 more minutes, okay?”

“Oooh, this one! Mom, mom. Look. It sits up!” A second screen slid in between my eyes and my monitor, and I beheld a small, white, toddler-looking doll with red hair and pink cheeks, glassy, unblinking eyes. His lips were glossy, as though he’d just licked them or drooled in that way young children are so often a little bit wet. I can’t say I’d previously been especially sensitive to the uncanny valley, the eeriness of a thing with near-humanoid characteristics that is just a degree or two off. But this doll was altogether unsettling.

The doll was somewhere in the neighborhood of $70. My eyes popped.

“That is one expensive doll,” I told her.

Unfazed, my daughter swiped to another photo. “Oh! Look at his little hat!” She pulled the screen away and took off elsewhere into the house, and I was grateful for a few extra moments to try to recenter my mind on my work.

In many ways, last year’s surreal crush of dueling parental and work responsibilities felt like bookends on a freelance career I prayed wouldn’t collapse. I started scraping together stories and clients from home when our…

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Sarah Stankorb
Human Parts

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb www.sarahstankorb.com