Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I Walk The Line

My stomach clenched as I bought a doll this past weekend. Julie, an American Girl doll, to be precise. Miss Awesome has been asking for an AG doll for more than a year now. The longing started when she was given a pair of hand-me-down AG-type dolls by a friend who had "upgraded" to the real thing. She immediately began planning for "when I get my real American Girl doll". I explained how expensive they were, and how I didn't see the need, especially since she had two dolls almost exactly like an AG. But that didn't end it. We (Grammy) tried at Christmas to appease her with another 18 inch doll by Madame Alexander, but apparently girls of a certain age know and note the difference.

Miss Awesome has been unwavering in her goal. She recently determined to use her savings to buy the doll herself, which my husband and I both admire. But with her birthday coming up and better uses for her savings later in life, we decided to buy it for her. I'm looking forward to seeing her face when she opens the package. Still, paying more than $100 for a doll seems like a classic example of conspicuous consumption, and I worry about what I'm teaching my child.

Will would disagree, but I consider us wealthy. True, we are careful with our money; I drive a 10 year old car we bought used, we are waiting to redo our back yard until we have enough in savings, and big purchases are carefully considered and budgeted. But we also are able to take every other summer in Vermont, and take the kids to Disneyworld on vacation. They get fairly elaborate birthday parties, and have all the modern conveniences. We certainly have far more than my family did when I was young.

When I was little we had everything we needed, but I didn't always have what I wanted. I don't regret my childhood; I learned a great work ethic and the value of the money I earned. But I also have memories of longing for what others had. In high school I couldn't afford the Express and Benetton clothing of my peers, except when I could find their cast offs in the thrift store. I bought my own car, but parking my turquoise Volvo -- older than I was -- next to the new Audis, Saabs, and Porsches in the school lot was an act of courage the first day. In middle school I wanted a new-fangled mountain bike. Most vividly, I remember how, much earlier, I too desired a doll.

In 1983 the only thing little girls could talk about were Cabbage Patch dolls. They were cute and soft and each one had its own story. I begged for one for Christmas. It was the only thing I asked for. To me it was a magic key of acceptance and friendship as well as a new toy to love. When the day came I could hardly wait to open my present. But instead of a Cabbage Patch baby of my own, I got Mandy. She was a lovely doll with clothes I could remove and a straw hat and glossy yellow hair. But she wasn't THE ONE. I played with her for years, but our games were always tinged with disappointment, as if they could have been better if only I had the right companion.

My children have everything they need, and a fair amount of what they want. I hope I'm making the line between the two clear. I try to create limits and teach them to appreciate what they have. I tell them "no" as much as I deem fair. They are required to do chores, and sometimes can earn money by doing odd jobs around the house. Both must use their own money to buy non-essentials. Miss Awesome makes many of her doll accessories from scrap fabric and tape. Still, I don't know how much of my parenting is an effort to give my kids the things I grieved for when I was little. Perhaps that's why I plunked down so much money on a silly doll.


  1. My girls got their AG dolls the Christmas that they were 6 and 8 years old. This was after we'd been begged for years and we resisted for all the usual reasons. We finally decided to get them each one doll -- and one doll only. They were THRILLED. They played and played and played with those dolls.

    We were very clear that the girls were getting just one AG doll each, no more. We also were very clear with the grandparents that we didn't want anyone else to buy them more dolls because the girls didn't need them.

    Unfortunately, one set of grandparents disregarded this and bought the girls one more doll without discussing it with us firs. The girls were happy with their new dolls, but not elated like they were the first time around.

    And then those same grandparents got the girls each a THIRD doll less than a year later. The girls were happy, but even less delighted than the second time.

    What happened with this embarrassment of AG doll riches is that the dolls lost their value and specialness, plus then my girls went through a period when they felt sure that that they needed even more dolls and they weren't happy with what they had. If they'd had just one doll each, they would have remained special, but having them in multiples actually cheapened them. It still upsets me.

    On a side note, even though my girls are in middle school, they still play with their dolls on occasion.

  2. You're such a good mom. I'm so proud of you and admire you so much. It's hard to find that balance but I think you're doing it successfully. I remember wanting a "big doll" for 2 years but my mom couldn't afford it. I was so disappointed and truly felt that Santa didn't love me when I didn't get it for Christmas. When I finally did get her, I loved her to pieces and took her everywhere. I hope that V has just as amazing memories of her time spent with her doll.