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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Over the American Girl Catalog

I never really dreamed of having a girl for a lot of the reasons I've heard of.  I'm not terribly into frilly clothes, I certainly am not into pageants, I almost never wear makeup or paint my fingernails or buy new clothes.  I never had a dream of a big wedding, or ballet classes, or Disney Princesses.  But I did have one big dream for a girl I might someday have.  I had a dream of getting her an American Girl doll.

Of course, there weren't American Girl dolls when I was little, but there were sure dolls.  And that was one part of being a girl I embraced heartily.  My sister Carrie and I had lots of dolls, and lots of doll clothes.  We each had a doll family, and we played dolls often.  We added a lot of twists to it---our dolls had a rare genetic disease that one after one they were tragically diagnosed with---Ingalls Syndrome.  It was named I think in honor of Laura Ingalls Wilder, although it had nothing to do with her.  It resulted in the dolls being, well, doll-like, floppy and unable to walk on their own.  Despite their challenges, our dolls lived full lives of going to school and visiting their cousins, all of which required a lot of changes of clothes and elaborate setups.  When I was even younger, I had a favorite doll named Janie, after my aunt.  You might guess where Janey got her name---after the aunt and my doll.  Dolls were a huge part of my life.

And then, pretty much as I entered adulthood, there came the American Girl dolls.  The first time I saw a catalog, I knew that someday, I would have a little girl and she would sit with me, looking at said catalog, and we would decide what girl would be hers.  We would order it, and then every Christmas and birthday, we would get a few more of the clothes and accessories.  Maybe, we would get a second doll at some point, so they could be friends.  It would be a wonderful mother-daughter bonding time.  Each new catalog would thrill us.  The doll would be almost like one of the family.

And then, I had two boys.  They are wonderful kids, but despite me trying, they never got into dolls.  Believe, I tried more than most people thought was normal, but they were not doll lovers.  The moment the nurse told me on the phone that child #3 was going to be a girl, I screamed, called Tony and started thinking about the American Girl catalog.  Sick, yes, but I am admitting it here.

You know a lot of the rest of the story.  When Janey was three, old enough to be the age that was supposed to be ready for American Girls, to not choke on all the adorable little accessories, she was diagnosed as autistic. I still of course had my doll plans.  But I put them aside, and realized they were pretty unimportant. That they always had been unimportant, a dream of mine and not of Janey's.  I did get her dolls, of course, and I tried mightily to interest her in them, without success.  She didn't, and doesn't, play imaginatively.  She liked tossing the dolls around sometimes (much like her brothers had), but not certainly sitting them down at their expensive little tables and feeding them their expensive pretend picnic lunches or loading their expensive backpacks with expensive adorable tiny school supplies.  

The American Girl Dolls catalogs kept arriving, of course, and I kept looking.  In most ways, I think I've been fairly good at accepting Janey as she is, but in that one little way, I kept dreaming of a Janey that wasn't.

So it shocked me a bit yesterday when the big Christmas American Girl catalog arrived.  I waited until Janey was asleep to look at it.  And I realized, quite quickly, I was over it.  I no longer cared a thing about it, or about Janey not being the girls in it, playing with their dolls.  In fact, the girls looked annoying to me.  Didn't they have anything better to do in life than pose their dolls?  Were their parents so full of money and stupid as to shell out big bucks for tiny little doll shoes or miniature pastries or Julie's new VW?  Why did all the girl models look so cookie-cutter---diverse on the surface, but all neurotypical?  And why was the American Girl world so phony?  Why did even historical girls have modern aspirations?  Why is every doll and girl thin and perfectly groomed and able to afford vast numbers of accessories?  Why are they all into sports and fair play and friends?  Why are none of them shy, or awkward, or preferring to sit and read over getting out there and having exciting yet safe adventures?  Why are none of them autistic?

I realized I no longer long for that world, which I guess has always been more than just a doll thing.  I don't long for that life, the life of the perfect American Girl, or American girl in lower case, the dream we are supposed to dream of.  I still wish life was much easier for Janey.  I wish she wasn't autistic, because that is a hard life for her.  But I don't wish any more, not at all, for the girl that would want an American Girl.  I'm over that.  I have the girl I have, and she is just as much an American girl as any of them.  More so than the plastic, accessory rich, expensive version, because she is real.


mknecht24 said...

I nearly bought one for Lindsey ( one year for Christmas. It's so hard to buy her a gift that I often get her random things whether she cares or not.

Suzanne said...

Despite this post, I'm certainly not ruling out some day getting one for Janey (read that also as me) And despite my feelings about the latest catalog, I did for some reason have to read it cover to cover.

audball said...

This is so interesting…I was a Barbie fan when I was a kid and loved all the crazy adventures I created for her (she was a "shop owner" of course, but then I remembered having far more Barbies than Kens, so I created this funny Amazon Woman Game, where my friend's Barbies and mine "hunted" for the 2 Kens we had between us LOL!). But I loved the accessories and the…possibilities Barbie seemed to present. Granted these weren't conventional aspirations ( icon+ ballerina), but they signified that anything was possible.

I think I was a little sad when I realized DD would never play with dolls of any kind. I felt like she was going to "miss out" somehow. But the truth is, we have almost every Ganz bird of prey plush that's ever been created. DD still uses her imagination and creativity, but I've had to change my expectations. I also found out, now that DD is older, that she absolutely hates the idea that Barbie is doing conventionally "girly" things -- the hair, clothing, weddings scenarios. DD (at 10) feels that Barbie is "limited" LOL! Out of the mouths of babes, right?

In some ways I'm a little sad that we can't share those "neurotypical" play scenarios (tea party, baby dolls), but in other ways, I'm immensely glad that my kiddo has channeled her special interests into creative play still. We play "Audubon Rescue Center" instead of Barbie Camping :D

And I still look in the Barbie aisle at the stores - although lately I've been more into LEGO!