I’m talking about my daughters’ obsession with American Girl Dolls, and my reluctant complicity in all of it.
My older daughter is turning 4 this week, and she has spent a shocking amount of time recently paging through the catalogue (how the hell did we end up on that mailing list?), pondering the possibilities and repeatedly coming back to the baby–the baby in the blue ballerina dress. That’s definitely the one, according to both of my girls.
Meanwhile, my grandmother’s been calling, asking about possible birthday presents. It’s no big secret that my grandmother is a big fan of American Girls. It wasn’t hard to put the pieces together, which is how I found myself perusing the disgustingly pink aisles of my local American Girl Doll store. There were baby dolls and toddler dolls, big girl dolls, clothes for the dolls as well as the little girls who love them, and every accessory you could imagine: strollers, cribs, beds, hairbrushes, ballet slippers, roller skates, skis, crutches (presumably for that terrible ski accident), purses, pets, purses for the pets… the list goes on and on. And on.
Despite my reservations, there’s really nothing wrong with any of it. Yes, the dolls are expensive, but they’re also quite durable and well-made. The feminist tom-boy in me cringes at how girly they are, but at least they don’t look like they’re ready to spend a few hours waiting expectantly on a street corner. Perhaps most importantly, my girls love them and play with them. A lot. As in, pretty much all the time.
So why am I so annoyed by all of it? Why do I get all twitchy and irritated? It’s not money out of my pocket, it’s not a loud or offensive toy with a beeping screen, and the girls are actually quite creative and sweet in their play with the baby dolls. Yet I just can’t stand it.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and as much as it pains me to say it, I think it’s all about my ego. So much of my time and energy goes to my daughters (I wouldn’t have it any other way) but there is some part of me that I’m just not ready to surrender. When I was in college, I had fantasies, vague, unsettled dreams of traveling the world, settling in South America and somehow changing the world. Instead, I live in the suburbs. I drive an SUV with two car seats in the back. I get excited by drive-through coffee shops and solo trips to Target. I have become a total cliché.
Mostly, I’m okay with it. I actually find meaning in the details of parenting; I feel like a good mother when I remember to bring extra diapers to daycare or buy snow boots before they all sell out before Halloween. But I suppose there is still one small part of me that I’m not ready to relinquish. I suppose I’m still trying to hang onto the dismissive, irreverent persona I developed in high school and nurtured through college. I like that person; she had come to terms with the fact that she would never be popular, and she was finding her own fun, her own sense of self.
The thing is, at times motherhood does feel like a high school popularity contest: we’re all paying attention to who throws the best birthday party, packs the healthiest lunches, takes their children to the most classes, and manages to look good the whole time. I know I’m not going to win those contests; I’m not even going to make it to the final heat. So, I revert back to my old self, mocking it all, pretending I don’t really care.
But the truth is that I do care. A lot. I enjoy making the people in my life happy, including my daughters and grandmother. And it’s hard to be snarky in the face of earnest requests and unbridled joy. I know that ultimately the parties and gymnastics classes don’t really matter (nor does the fact that I mostly live in yoga pants and t-shirts from Target), but there is still some part of me that’s not ready to fully jump into the Mommy scene. And that would include trips to the American Girl Doll store, especially ones that aren’t ironic.
And so I’ll probably keep posting sarcastic comments to Facebook and Twitter about baby dolls and unicorn vomit, and I’ll mean them. But this likely won’t be the last time I schlep half an hour out of town to the American Girl Doll store, either. I’m OK with that, too.