Yesterday was my daughter's seventh birthday. It also happened to be Election Day which meant instead of going to school, Maya was free to spend the day however she chose.
Here she is around 11am, playing one of the guys in Washington Square Park:
(She took his queen early but then he fought his way back and they settled on a draw.)
She ate a park hot dog for lunch. Then she went off to Barnes & Noble with my mom and my aunt, who told her she could pick out anything she wanted. Her evening ended eating cupcakes and watching TV at the grandparents house. It was a great day.
Everywhere Maya went yesterday, she brought Julie with her. Julie watched as she studied the chess board, looking for the perfect move. Julie followed her to the store where she ultimately picked out a new book and a nail painting kit. Julie sat on the sofa between grandpa and Maya while she watched Peppa Pig.
Here she is.
Julie is the American Girl doll that Maya has been asking for since the summer. As in, "I know it is only June but for my birthday do you think I could have an American Girl doll? Pleeeease."
I went through many stages of emotion before entering the American Girl store, a dark and terrible place that none of you should ever go to. First there was flat out refusal. As in, no way, no how, never. We cannot afford it and even if we could, I am not supporting a company that thinks it is ok to charge that much for plastic and cloth sewn together in a sweatshop in China. But is it really fair to impose my own political agenda on my seven year old who does not know any better? Then there was, well I suppose we could buy it if it is her only gift. But do we really want to send the message that she will always get exactly what she asks for for her birthday?
In the midst of all this, I flashed back to my own childhood, when I really, really wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. And not one of the cute imitation ones they sold at the Korean toy store near my house, but a REAL one, the kind that came with a birth certificate and Xavier Roberts signature on its butt. The kind that probably cost over a hundred dollars, for plastic and cloth sewn together by an Asian schoolgirl.
No, times have not changed much in the parenting world.
In the end, it was my mother's offer to pay for half of the damn thing, combined with the knowledge that Maya was going to really, really, really love this doll, that led me to 5th avenue last week. Because dear friends, there are only two places on Earth you can purchase an American Girl doll. One, is the American Girl store in midtown, a cornucopia of plastic smiling faces and overpriced outfits. The other is EBay, from some parent who ordered their doll from the American Girl website and no longer needs it. Amazon does not sell them. Toys r Us does not sell them. There is no American Girl section at Target. But don't worry, while you are in the American Girl store you can also purchase over a hundred different pieces of clothing, everything from ice skating to wedding to school girl to president, all for more than I spend on my own daughter's wardrobe.
Words cannot express how much Maya loves this thing. At one point on our drive uptown yesterday, Julie lay across her lap "sleeping" while Maya stroked her silky blond hair with a reverence normally reserved for newborn babies and beagle puppies. And I couldn't really blame her. Julie's hair really was phenomenal; it fell past her waist and was as smooth and shiny as a jewel. Her tiny fingers and toes were perfect. Her brown eyes were bright and expressive and her face appeared slightly flushed, as if she had just been running through the ocean. There was no doubt that this was a beautiful doll. In truth, she was kind of creepy. (My husband made references to Chucky.)
But for all of Maya's bliss, I did not post any photos of her new toy on Facebook. There were no "twinsies" shots (Julie looks an awful lot like Maya), no pics of the two of them gazing into each other's eyes across a cup of hot chocolate. I do not regret my decision to purchase her, nor am I embarrassed. But there is a part of me that does not want to show Julie to the world because I know what an American Girl doll represents. I know that every spoiled rich kid on Park Avenue has one. (or six) I know that every parent at the playground with a daughter over the age of 4 will recognize Julie and that some of them will make assumptions about me and my family, the same assumptions they make when they see a mom pushing a Bugaboo stroller, or a baby being rocked in the arms of a nanny at 1:00pm.
I also know that I am not immune to that kind of judgement. Perhaps the woman whose kid is screaming in the supermarket is a bad mom who never disciplines her three year old. Or perhaps her kid has some special needs that I know nothing about. Maybe that mother who just told her tiny baby to "Shut the F up!" always talks that way. But perhaps she is just having a really, really bad day. And it is true that my daughter could be a spoiled rich kid who gets whatever she wants, whose parents do not think twice about waltzing into the American Girl store and plunking down $120 for $10 worth of lead paint and flammable stuffing. (What me, beat a dead horse? Never.) But perhaps her parents own their own business and work really hard to make it succeed, and although they have never taken their kid to Disney World, or on a cruise, or sent her to sleepaway camp, they wanted her to have this special thing for her birthday. They thought she was worth it.
And come to think of it, last year I saw one of her friends carrying a similar doll around the playground, a brown haired version. And it was not at all the friend I would have expected to have one.
Like my own childhood, there will be many times in my daughter's life where other kids will have things she cannot. And, there will be times where she is the fortunate one. Some of them, like a shiny new doll, will be obvious. For other things, like the fact that she is picked up at 2:30pm every day by one of her parents, she will not understand the value until she is all grown, if ever. Like everything in parenting, it all comes down to choices. What to buy her. What to feed her. What to teach her. When to say yes. When to say no. And most importantly, what to let her figure out for herself. In the end, all we can really do as parents is try not to judge each other too harshly for the choices we make. And hope and pray that we did something, anything, correctly.
So here is Julie, ready for karate class:
I mean seriously, LOOK at her! She is pretty damn awesome. I kind of want to play with her.
F&%k you American Girl!