Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Initiation Into the world of Girl-dom

 I thought I knew all things girl. Pink, ponies, princesses. Despite having a mean tomboy streak, my three year old loves these things. She adores fashion. She needs to wear a dress (sometimes more than one) everyday and even turned to me while watching Tangled and whispered, “Do you think he likes her dress?” I smiled. Oh honey. That’s the eternal question isn’t it?
 One thing she doesn’t like is dolls. Never has. Dolls are just squishy things in the way of her trucks and trains. But when home in Chicago for Thanksgiving this year I had the bright idea to check out American Girl. It was more of just a passing idea. I’d heard of it. I really thought nothing more of it than a giant store for kids. Something to kill some time. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and the subculture I was about to be immersed in. 
 When we walked in I was equally terrified and impressed at the same time. The story is two impeccable doll filled stories. I immediately felt underdressed. LIttle girls and their mothers packed the place dressed for Sunday tea with an occasional father stuffed in a suit looking like he’s hoping to black out the next hour or two. But they are not alone. It’s them AND their American Girl dolls. Pushed in strollers, carried in baby backpacks, cradled delicately by their “mommies.” 
 And when you enter American Girl, your doll is treated as if she is real.
 I’m serious. 
 Well maybe not exactly real, but they are acknowledged, you can have a personal shopper and given many perks. That I will get to in a moment, but let me back up.
  I’m thinking Love Monster will start throwing dolls on the floor at any minute since that seems to be her go to move when she sees one, but something is different... Her eyes are wide. She walks to one of the displays and touches the doll’s hair softly. She is transfixed.
 “I want a little Love Monster,” She whispers.
 What kind of drug are pumping in here? There is something in the air. I turn to my mom to share in my shock, but she’s got the same look in her eyes that Love Monster does. Whoa.
 A saleswoman comes up to us and asks if she would like a doll. The idea in the American Girl Universe is that you pick a doll that looks like you.They have any hair, skin, and eye color combo to pick from. I see Love Monster look at the display of all the types of girls. For a moment I see her eyes stop on a dark haired and dark skinned doll. I wonder if she will break the unwritten rule I’ve imagined exists: “The doll must look like you!” Buck the system kid, I find myself chanting in my head. But she wanders over to a blonde blue eyed mini Love Monster and says, “That one. That’s my little Love Monster.” I’ve never heard her speak with such tenderness when it comes to... well anything. Who is this kid??
 Now if this isn’t strange enough, on the second floor we entered the Twilight Zone. You can buy accessories like tennis rackets, bowling shoes or whatever extracurricular you might be into so you doll is just like you. Okay, that seems pretty standard. 
 You can buy matching outfits. This I had seen evidenced of all over the store. Weird, but I was prepared for that.
 Then I saw the headgear. 
 Yes, you read that right. Headgear. If you wore headgear, your doll could too. Why would you want to subject your doll (or you!) to that?? That is a travesty! I mean (snorting laugher) that’s RIDICULOUS. Who would want... anyway moving on.
  Your doll could have a broken leg or arm, if you had one. Love Monster noticed the trend and asked if she could give her doll a black eye.
 Let me explain. 
 She had had an unfortunate incident with a counter corner when she was running wild at my parents’ house that had given her a black eye the day before. So she wanted LIttle Love Monster to have one too. This they didn’t have. At least I didn’t think so. I doubt the domestic violence edition existed (I know. Inappropriate, but that totally popped into my head).
 They also have historical dolls complete with books and accessories from the time period. I hovered around Julie, the doll from the seventies and couldn’t help but wonder is she had any joints to go along with her beret, roller skates and fondue set.
 We emerged from the accessories section and into the craziest part of the store in my opinion. There is a hair salon. For the doll (for the price of a regular kid haircut by the way). A photo studio. A cafe in which  you have “a fun and fancy dining experience” with your doll. The doll has its own seat and food too. I maneuvered Love Monster away from here. Maybe next time. Who knew what they would charge for the doll’s fake tea.
 There is also...wait for it... a doll hospital.  My mom, the nurse, watched as a girl brought her broken doll to the hospital. The “doctors” dressed the injured doll in a hospital gown, admitted her and wheeled her away in a wheel chair. Wow. They really take this all the way.
 “Maybe when I retire, I can work here,” My mom says with a laugh. I don’t think she’s kidding.
 All I could keep thinking was: Is this place for real? Not only is this is little girl heaven, but it’s marketing genius. Like I said, equally terrified and impressed. I’ll admit, as much cynicism as I have, I would have loved this place as girl. A lot. 
 And NOT because headgear was available and maybe the doll’s headgear would get caught on the pillow too and we could bond over that. NOT because of that. 
 Because my doll could be into horse back riding and kittens. Yeah. That’s it.

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