Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Go ahead American Girl, make a doll lover out of me

After two hours of primping and priming, I have to admit, the whole idea started to seem a little nuts. But there I was, expertly styling a doll’s hair at 10pm on a Thursday night. Smooth piggy-tails with just the right amount of bounce and curl? Check. Completely coordinated stretch pant/denim skirt combo with a three-quarter sleeve rugby shirt and matching purse? Double check. Now if only I could find the purple ballet flats, we’d be set. “What’s wrong with you?” Pat asked when I finally climbed into bed around midnight. “Did you really just spend all that time fixing up a doll?” “No way, I was washing dishes.” The lie actually sounded believable as it spilled out of my mouth. But the truth was, that I, doll-hater extraordinaire, tomboy for life, had just wasted close to three hours of my day buffing an inanimate object’s fingernails and twirling her messy tendrils until they were just perfectly so. Pat was right. Surely I had lost my mind. It all started a few months ago when one of the moms from school invited Erin and a bunch of her classmates to the American Girl Place for lunch in Manhattan. “Let’s plan the trip for August, it’s a great day for the moms and kids,” she’d said in her email. Crap. Now I have to buy her one of those ridiculously expensive dolls, I thought. But after a million pleases and I love yous, I caved. It’ll be a kindergarten graduation present, I thought, eyeing a bed already full of other dolls and stuffed animals. A ridiculously outrageous kindergarten graduation present. So I googled and I surfed. I had bought outfits and accessories for my nieces before, how bad could this be? Kit Kittredge. Yes, even I’ve heard of her. Great. There’s a bio: “Even though the Great Depression was filled with hard times for families, Kit helps hers by being resourceful.” Yikes. Isn’t that a little depressing for a five-year-old? Ok, how about McKenna? She’s the girl of the year. “Balancing school and sports is a challenge for McKenna Brooks as she enters fourth grade. When she struggles with reading, she must find a way to keep up. Can McKenna use her strengths as a gymnast to succeed in the classroom, too?” I thought I was buying a doll, not a miniseries. So I clicked on the “My American Girl” section instead. Create your own doll based on your child’s own looks and personality. Perfect. A few hours of clicking and choosing, (and $150 later) mini Erin was on her way. Of course she was thrilled when the box arrived: She combed her hair for hours (with a special $7 wig brush of course), slept with her and brought her everywhere we went. For three days anyway. After that, the allure sort of wore off. Good girl, I secretly thought. Pick up a basketball. Put down that expensive imaginary friend. But a few weeks later, as our lunch date approached, I felt a need to build up the hype. “So you know we’re going to bring little Erin on the express bus and have a floofy fancy lunch in the city, right?” I asked her a few days before the big event. “Oh yeah?” she said, sort of disinterested. “That’s nice.” “Yeah, I heard they bring you a cute little dessert and even serve pink lemonade,” I added. I completely left out the fact that there was a specially appointed doll salon where crazy ladies bring their children’s toys for up-dos that cost $25 a pop. But Erin still seemed lackluster, a quality I was not challenging in the least. After all, I was not ready to start supporting this new and very expensive habit. I’ll just bring her to have a good time with her friends. That’s when I found myself dusting off the guest of honor, twirling her hair the night before her big day. When Friday came, Erin was excited – mostly about the bus ride and because another one of the moms brought gummy worms for the trip in. She loved her doll’s pretty pigtails (she’d better) and polished ballet flats (I finally found them at 11:45pm, one in the VCR, the other in Jeremiah’s toy motorcycle.). But then it hit. Something about that beaming red awning when we turned the corner on Fifth Avenue and 49th Street. “Oh Mommy,” was all she could manage. I had to literally pick her chin up off the sidewalk. In the window there were hundreds of them: Dolls in chic one-pieces headed to the beach in matching convertible Volkswagen Beetles; dolls jumping over glittery rain puddles wearing golashes and rain coats, holding teeny-tiny umbrellas; dolls doing splits and twirling pom-poms in their red, white and blue cheerleading uniforms. My disinterested little girl who is only lukewarm to the whole doll thing gaped in amazement. Her tomboy mom stared in awe too. Our reflections shone in this giant window of whimsy. It was like that Small World ride in DisneyWorld times two and on steroids. We scurried through the store, eyeing up scores of American Girl outfits, pets and accessories – teeny-tiny eyeglasses, hair clips and berets. There was a doll hospital with crutches, wheelchairs and boo-boo kits. Said hair salon had a winding line of clients, all emerging with expertly tied braids, ribbons and buns. Immediately I noticed a whole can-do (albeit expensive) attitude in that store: A wardrobe of lacrosse outfits, hiking ensembles and professorial looking school sets. Tiny collectors (or more fittingly, their moms) could purchase a bevy of musical instruments – flutes, violins, etc. – on which their tiny prodigies could practice. These dolls are not just playthings, they are role models who ice skate, practice gymnastics, ride horses and win pet shows. Sort of like Barbie’s hundred or so inspiring incantations – stewardess, doctor, teacher – just a whole lot less slutty. Lunch was served on floor three in a pink cafĂ© decorated with black-and-white benches and fuchsia chandeliers. Plates of tic-tac-toe pizza, quiche and tiny hot dogs and hamburgers were accompanied by freshly baked cinnamon buns, miniature cups of chicken salad and frothy glasses of pink lemonade. Dessert was served in a blooming flower pot – chocolate pudding topping with Oreo cookie crumbs was modeled after the dirt. Even little Erin was served a cup of tea in her very own high chair from her very own tiny tea cup. Shopping was reserved for after lunch and Erin opted for a matching American Girl pajama set (which is made in China) and a tiny mani/pedi kit so that we can do her nails right. For my lukewarm doll lover, the trip opened up a new world of inspiring play. (How could it not with all of those tiny accoutrements?) And for her tomboy mother, the trip allowed an understanding for the American Girl addiction. Next time maybe I’ll pick up the facial kit. It includes cucumber stickers for her eyes!