Life in Doll Years

Thirteen years ago, Labor Day weekend, my now-husband and I moved to New York City. We had no jobs lined up, had rented an apartment we had not seen and couldn’t afford, had been dating for about five minutes, and en route to the big city, we lost the only debit card we had that was attached to an account with money in it.

Five years ago, Labor Day weekend, our first child, Molly, was born in a hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

(The iPhone had arrived shortly before Molly that summer.)

Next week, over Labor Day weekend, we will celebrate her birthday, three days before she starts Kindergarten. There is a list on our fridge of “supplies” for her classroom that she will need; she is committed to after-school classes or lessons three times a week in the fall. She became a real child without my noticing, without permission, and without looking back.

It is impossible to describe what it is like to watching my once-baby giggle with her friends, pretending to be “mama” to her dolls, “mooning” me to impress a playdate. More difficult because it does not all feel good–it is joy with regret, and fear, and guilt, and wonder, and sadness. It is impossible to fathom how time eludes us once children arrive. Each year, they become unrecognizable from the baby or child they were the year before. Each day is over before I’ve begun to take it in.

Today we took three of Molly’s girlfriends with their moms to lunch at a local store that caters to doll-crazy, fashion-obsessed girls from around the world. It also caters to dolls. It is a tourist destination, this store. The unsettling atmosphere of noise and plastic dolls and escalators is overwhelming and impersonal, not at all pleasant–unless you are a doll-crazy, fashion-obsessed little girl–or her doll.

My best friend joined us briefly–before she was scared off by the whining and all the miniature pink party hats–with her new baby girl. I recognized in her face those same thoughts I used to have when I was around parents with older kids and mine were babies–that will never happen to me. Just as we think we will never become the parents who bring screaming toddlers out to dinner, or lose touch with girlfriends because we’re too busy with parenting obligations, or declare yoga pants okay for “cocktail” attire. As well, we think our babies will remain just so–immobile, helpless, warm and slippery, smiling on cue, themselves so much like dolls we dress them and redress them in tiny versions of the outfits we would wear.

I remember bringing Molly to a pediatrician appointment within her first few weeks. Something had appeared on her skin, a rash. Or maybe it was her umbilical cord hadn’t come off completely on schedule. Or she’d spit up too many times. I don’t remember. But I remember rushing to get there before the office closed. And once the doctor had assured me that everything was normal, getting Molly’s baby jeans back on to her squiggling legs, her purple tee shirt and cardigan buttoned. Slipping her applique loafers onto her feet. “It’s like dressing a doll, isn’t it?” The doctor asked. “They’re like dolls at that age.”

And they are until they startle us with their insight and observations, their personalities that come from anywhere and nowhere and exactly where. Molly insisted a few weeks ago that we let the Green Peace workers talk to us. “They want money, and we already give to other organizations that save the animals,” I explained, trying to move past them on 14th Street. “But mommy, I want to save the animals!” And so we stopped.

The kids all got new, expensive dolls at the store today, courtesy of my mother. None would sleep with the doll in his or her bed, so the dolls are sitting on the couch with my husband and me, watching television tonight. They are surprisingly lifelike, and to an almost disturbingly degree, resemble our three children in miniature. This is the appeal of those particular dolls, I realize–the ability we have to customize their features to match our child’s hair, skin color, and eyes. Was it the kids or we who were drawn to these dolls earlier today? Didn’t I delight in how much the doll “twins” look like our own Henry and Ellie once we matched every color exactly so?

They are marketed with pure brilliance. Obviously children, little girls in various stages of developing their sense of themselves and their friendships, gravitate toward these trusted companions, with their stories and their histories, the party dresses and tennis clothes, the canopy beds and the writing desks–the possibilities for play lay endlessly before them.

And we parents, too, are enchanted–shelling out hundreds of dollars for the fantasy; the delight in our daughters and sons; the dolls that will eventually find places on shelves, in closets, lying on the beds of grown children away at college. And the dolls will be at that moment as they are today. As always, though, we are happy to participate in the most sought-after fantasy of parenting, to play any game that offers an illusion of time standing still.

This entry was posted in Family Life, It's All About Me, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Life in Doll Years

  1. kristrange says:

    I had one of those dolls when I was a kid. However, I got mine when I was a bit to old to be still playing with dolls. But I loved that doll and played with her in private so my friends would not know. She is still on the shelve at my parents house waiting for the day that my nieces will love and play with her.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Wendy. This is brilliantly written. I literally teared up when reading it. You are truly a talented writer!! Time with our big kids seems to move all too quiclkly. Jack just turned 5 the other day and it feels like he has grown up without me even blinking. I would love to keep time still but then I think of all the first I would miss – like my outing to Mary popping tomorrow with jack.

    How are you handling the start of k? I am a bit freaked out that it is allavout to happen. Are h and e doing school this year?? And how are you?


    Sent from my iPhone

    • Thank you LB! Happy birthday jack! I can’t get over it– I remember sitting on Sarah g’s floor or dana’s sofa with all the kids talking about nursing or teething or solids foods.
      Miss you!

  3. Leslie says:

    Stop making me cry! 🙂 I love your blog. It feels like you know me and what I am thinking. Pre-K graduation is tomorrow and I have managed to be so busy that there is no time for tears. I too went to THE doll shop but ran to a personal shopper (who didn’t charge me :-)) and rather then get the dolls that look like the girls left with the period dolls — a Mexican doll and ironically the New Yorker from the 1900s. BUT the girls chose one outfit so Josephina ended up with a mascarade costume and Rebecca a nightgown. I am so impressed you went for the b-day party. I went in, shopped and ran out! One of my kids has now asked for the “real” doll Mckenna the doll I avoided buying!

  4. Melina Smith says:

    I love this, especially now that we have been through an entire week of Kinder, time is whizzing by!

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