Valley of the Dolls
Holidays 2007: Fate found me chuckling snidely at my friends as they described the contents of beautifully wrapped packages under their Christmas trees.
In the boxes were hundreds of dollars of accouterments for their daughters’ American Girl dolls—each of which was purchased for $120 at an emporium in L.A., complete with a special café where girls can lunch with their dolls, go to the salon for joint hairstyling, then head to the photo studio for a shoot with their doll.
I am not making this up.
For three years, my friends’ young daughters’ Christmas and birthday wish lists were devoted to styling out their dolls’ existence with clothes, accessories, sports gear, furniture, and toys. Yes, you heard that right: Toys! For a toy!
“But you don’t understand,” my friend explained. “These dolls have a backstory rooted in American history. They have books and educational games.”
These weren’t mere dolls, she argued; they were an opportunity for imaginative play with positive role models, preserving a sliver of childhood in a world trying to catapult 10-year-olds into adulthood.
My friend had a few years on me as a mom, but I had it all figured out. I made sure my kids (then ages five and two) never saw a toy aisle. They got what they got and they liked it. That’s how it was going to be in my house, I thought proudly. Perhaps a bit smugly. Okay, fine: stupidly. I thought it stupidly.
Because before long, I was standingin the toy aisle, looking at the objects that would help develop my daughter’s interests and sense of the opportunities available to her.
And what did I find? There were toy vacuums— including a wee Dyson replica. There were all manner of play spa treatments, like a pedicure tub with tootsie-pampering utensils. There was a toy oven for baking cookies and cupcakes and a 7-Eleven-branded Slurpee maker. There were princess Barbies and princess dress-up costumes and princess freaking everything. And, of course, there were the Bratz dolls, which look like tiny streetwalkers. (I’ve renamed them Slutz.)
Unlike my feminist mom, who delegated my sisters’ and my rearing to my engineer dad, I didn’t banish Barbie or try to interest my girly-girl in an erector set (no offense, Dad—building that moving crane with you was totally great!).
But as I stared at the wall of vapidity that is the girls’ toy aisle, it started to look more attractive to shell out ungodly amounts of money for a school desk for Kit, the American Girl doll from the Great Depression, or a menorah for Rebecca, who lived in early-20th- century NYC with her Russian-Jewish immigrant family.
Summer 2013: Fate found me fairly burning under the hot stares of passersby as I walked through Rockefeller Plaza holding a massive red American Girl shopping bag and the hand of one very thrilled little girl.
For Hanukkah this year, Georgia will get a bed and softball gear for Claire—along with a bit of extra time as a little girl.