“Sage, where are American Girl Dolls made again?”
For weeks–years–I had resisted.
They loved their beautiful handmade rag dolls, their original baby dolls from Momsie, their freaky, eye-bulging stuffed amphibians won from carnivals, and even the Disney Barbies that had somehow sneaked in via opaque gift-wrapped box during some birthday or another. But for the most part, we had managed to avoid the Cult of American Girl Doll.
I may have hidden a few catalogs.
Admittedly the whole thing made me nervous. I had heard about these girls who owned five, ten dolls and couldn’t stop demanding more, like molded plastic crack with hair. There were horror stories about $900 doll clothing bills at the store register. Fake dolls passed off as real dolls turned away at the official salons. (Official salons?)
And then there was the classmate in Thalia’s kindergarten who threatened to have an American Girl Doll party “and you can’t come unless you own one.” That was that. I’ve never been a joiner.
(Plus: Nice, kid. Really nice.)
But several weeks ago, as we neared the 11 billionth Nutcracker rehearsal, we were hit by the freight train that could not be stopped. Dear Parents, All dancers in the party scene must bring in her own doll. An American Girl style is preferred.
I’ve been able to shhhhh the relatives, the classmates’ parents, the people on the street talking about those [American Girl Dolls]. But there was no way I was going to stop an entire roomful of children in powder blue leotards from pushing their mass-produced doll addictions on my kids. These are no ordinary children; these are children who have committed to memory the doll names and their hairbrush styles and the actual $350 retail price of the VW Bug for Happy, or Skippy, or whoever the hell the 70’s looking hippie girl is.
Only $350! And you can add Julie and The Eagles paperback book for another $6.95!
We managed to squeak through the performances with an alternative. But as Christmas neared, the desire for the real thing didn’t wane.
It was Sage who asked first. And much to my surprise, I found myself hard-pressed to come up with a good reason why not.
As a girl who takes care of her dolls as if they were real live babies, dressing them for bed each night and dressing them again in the morning, I thought, you know, it wouldn’t be such a bad gift for her. I’ve often found Sage at night, sound asleep with 4 to 5 favorite dolls spread across her chest and around her body. What’s one more? Albeit one super expensive one more.
Now Sage is quite the opposite of Thalia who, as a toddler, used to play tea party with stuffed animals, then put them to sleep by lying them on the floor next to their tea cups and entirely covering each one head to toe with its own small blanket–and leaving them there. Maybe for days.
We had named it Thalia’s Arsenic Tea Salon and Funeral Parlor.
But today, they were big kids. And they both wanted American Girl Dolls for Christmas. Which, when I did the math, was a lot cheaper than last Christmas’s Disney trip.
You know? The process turned out to be one of the most lovely bonding-through-absurd-consumerism experiences. I thought a lot about Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful anecdote in Happiness Project, about recognizing how the planning and imagining and fantasizing and choosing was 99% of the fun for kids. So together, we pored through the catalog and the online store, discussing the historic dolls and talking about the American Revolution, the Depression, and the post-War era “when Grandma was a girl.” We talked about hair styles and clothes and what “Native American” really means and how no, Columbus wasn’t actually here first. We cuddled under their covers together, the three of us, and we folded over corners of catalog pages, circled and crossed-off and re-circled dolls. We made our choices.
Dammit. You got us, Mattel.
Thalia was set on Kit from the start. You know, “from Annie’s era.”
Sage surprised me by wanting some bland blonde gymnast special edition 2012 doll that looks exactly like the kind of girl who, in a few years, will make fun of your clothes, torment you in the cafeteria, steal your boyfriend, and make sure every single person on the planet knows that you got your period through your pants in math that one time.
(Why do girls always want the dolls that look like the girls they will end up hating in life the most?)
Fortunately, perhaps, special edition blonde gymnast doll was sold out for the year, and so Sage picked her next favorite, Kaya, the Native American doll. Then she did something smart–she went to the custom doll section, and created a doll that looked just like Kaya. Coffee colored skin, black hair, green eyes.
“That way she can wear a gymnastics outfit or she can wear a Native American outfit and she can be anything she wants to be.”
I like Sage. I think I’ll keep her.
Christmas morning, it was pretty clear we did good.
The moment of recognition
The box is huggable too, evidently.
Kit. And beads from Ethiopia.
It’s DIY Kaya!
But mostly, love.
God help me, I am not going to start “collecting” $80 outfits and special limited edition hairbrushes or whatever. We already got some wonderful outfits from Etsy artists (thanks Grammy!) and figured out that a $2 Goody hairbrush from CVS works just fine. We’re also reading chapters of Kaya’s story over breakfast and practicing our Nez-Perce prounciations. All things being equal, I’ll take these dolls’ wholesome values (if not their overpriced pet dogs) over Bratz any day.
Plus it’s kind of nice seeing your girls utterly in love and filled with joy.
Still, Sage will still tell you she thinks it’s funny that something called American Girl Doll is made in China.