I was desperate when I sent the e-mail out that evening: “Help!” I wrote to the Beijing-wide online support group to which I belong. “My 20-month-old hid her last two pacifiers, and none of us can find them. Unfortunately, she won’t go to sleep without them. Has anyone seen them for sale out there in the wide world?”
In the two days since my daughter had tucked her pacifiers away, no one in the house had gotten any sleep at all. Every hour or so throughout the night, Kyra would wake up and grope around in her crib for the missing “pa.” She’d then begin wailing inconsolably – a heart-rending, glass-cracking sob that drove my husband from the room, leaving me behind to explain, yet again, that Mommy simply didn’t have a pacifier to give her.
I had looked. I searched in drawers, in trash cans, inside of shoes, in Lego bins and toy chests. I’d even searched the dishwasher and the bushes outside the front door. But pa, it seemed, was gone for good.
Back in the States, a 5-minute ride to the drugstore would have brought home a new pa, along with a trashy tabloid magazine and a bunch of other random stuff. But in Beijing, no drugstore, and the trashy magazines are way too expensive. Even the usually reliable-for-all-things-Western Jenny Lou’s didn’t carry pacifiers (nor did any of the other nearby stores, for that matter).
Thus my late night cry out for assistance. Somebody out there, I reasoned, had to know where to buy a pacifier in this town. Enduring two weeks of wailing while I got one shipped from the States wasn’t an option.
The replies started coming in within minutes. Apparently, there are baby stores all over Beijing – if only you know where to look – and my fellow foreigners all had ideas for me on where to go. I started plotting a course on the map, trying to figure out which store might be the closest one for a desperate housewife with three small kids and an ayi on vacation.
Just as I was cursing the absence of a Beijing Mapquest, the computer screen lit up again, this time with e-mails from two total strangers, both of whom happened to live in the same housing complex as me, and both of whom were offering up brand new pacifiers that they just happened to have. It was a miracle.
I set out, bleary-eyed and without makeup, to knock on the door of Stranger Number One. She opened the door, smiling, and extended a hand in which lay a small box. I offered her money – believe me, at that point I would have paid almost any amount for that precious, tiny box – but she refused my money, pointing to her youngest, a 3-year-old who’d outgrown his binky years.
I thanked her profusely and left, feeling more cheerful than I had in, well, two days and two nights. On the way home, I explained to Kyra that, as this was the only pa we now owned, it would be living in her crib. No more wandering the house looking for trouble with pa in the mouth. After glancing at me as I outlined this new rule, she returned to her detailed exploration of her bellybutton. Whether she understood how groundbreaking this new rule really was, I’m not sure.
Back home, I handed her the little box. She turned it over in her hands a few times, then pried it open and extracted the brand new shiny red pacifier. “Pa?” she asked, before popping it in her mouth. After removing it once to look it over, she settled it back in her mouth, tilted her head sideways and looked at me, pa between the teeth, wearing the biggest grin I’d ever seen.
Thanks to the kindness of strangers, Beijing seems a smaller, happier place today than it did just yesterday. It’s a whole lot quieter, too.