Our 6-year-old daughter was in tears late yesterday afternoon, having suffered, as usual, various injustices throughout the day, mostly at the hands of her twin brother and her 2-year-old sister. “Why does Jane get another jelly bean just for going potty?” Georgia had bemoaned, despite the fact that I had reminded her that when she and her brother were liberating themselves from diapers, they, too, had received many treats as encouragement. “Yeah, but they were M&Ms, not jelly beans!” Georgia cried—the discrepancy apparently warranting, in her kindergarten mind, a full-blown congressional investigation.
However, that day I sensed that Georgia’s turmoil roiled beyond her usual complaints about the household inequities she perceived herself as persistently enduring. I suspected a slight outside our walls—something larger than Jelly Bellies—was gnawing at her soul. I was right. Eventually, Georgia settled into my lap and began to sob about one of my least favorite topics: American Girl Dolls. “Everyone has one, and I just feel so left out,” she wailed.
An American Girl Doll catalogue appeared uninvited in our mail just a month shy of Christmas and Georgia’s 6th birthday. As she leafed longingly through its pages, I silently cursed the consumer culture in which we live—one in which toy companies, such as this one whose tagline reads, “Follow your inner star,” seem to have accessed birth records and know exactly when to dive-bomb homes with propaganda leaflets about overpriced poppets with glazed expressions and precious names like “Kit” and “Josefina.”
“Caroline’s” ice skates alone cost $22, her winter coat another $32. “Saige’s Starter Collection,” the newest addition to the franchise, is priced at $211. The “Doll Storage Cabinet” for all the various accessories, tips the scales at a whopping $349.
Even if we could afford to, I would resist entering into the American Girl Doll fray. Generations of children have entertained themselves with less expensive wholesome fun, such as climbing trees, skipping rocks and exploding piles of dog feces with mini firecrackers. If we were to break down and buy an American Girl Doll for Georgia, her 2-year-old sister would probably molest poor little “Ruthie” by cutting her hair and using permanent marker on her face. If Georgia were to start chasing her “inner star,” I’m afraid she’d never stop.
So while I dried my daughter’s tears with my sleeve, I tried to console and redirect without giving in. I hugged and agreed that it was hard to hear friends discuss what they owned and she did not. In fact, Georgia’s woes reminded me of a high school student I once taught who was devastated because her classmates told her that Tiffany & Co. had minted their silver charm bracelets while hers was just a cheap knockoff—which reminded me of how a friend’s niece had happily played with her Target version American Girl Doll until friends informed her it was a fake—which reminded me never to submit to buying even a counterfeit American Girl Doll.
I suggested that Georgia find another game to join when classmates discussed their collections. We looked around her bedroom, examining all that she did possess, reminding her that it was so much more than so many other children would ever dream of having. I explained that, as her parents, we would rather invest the hundreds of dollars American Girl Dolls would cost into say, the heating bill—or maybe even into plane tickets to her father’s hometown over spring vacation. “I guess I would rather go to Florida than have one of those dolls,” I was gratified to hear Georgia ultimately agree.
“Yes!” I urged. “Plus you have your very own live American Girl Doll right here,” I added, pointing at Jane, who was sitting, shirtless, on a cushion, rooting around in a rubbery backpack for her harmonica, ready to wet her pants at any minute, her frizzled bangs standing on end. This was the sister who had just told us that her BM deposit into the toilet looked like “two peoples” and, proud of her accomplishment, had danced around on tiptoe, singing, “Tip it on back!” This was the sister who Georgia, more often than not, would rather assassinate than dress up.
“Oh mom,” she sighed, rolling her eyes in a manner she has already perfected. But later, Georgia did confess that she was feeling better after our chat.
And so I am happy to report that our home will remain a House of Un-American Girl Doll Activities—at least for now.