Perhaps you'll say I drank the Kool-Aid, and quite possibly you would be well within your rights to do so. And I'm sure if you are child free, or only have boy cubs, on the outside looking in, you'd probably jeer, "If I had a girl I would never succumb. What losers." But I'm telling you, when you happen upon that impressive storefront this unimaginable tide washes over you, and you can't think of anything else that would make your little girl (or fem boy) happy. And this has nothing to do with peer pressure. It's not like all of Maxwell's friends taunted her with we got ours, when are you going to get yours? No, this sickness belongs to the parents. And it's insidious, and pernicious, and very, very real. The Kool-Aid from which I have sipped is American Girl.
And I'm not the only flabbergasted parent with a drained Dixie cup in my hand and a Black Cherry moustache on my face. No, this last holiday season, many family members and close friends with five to eight year old girls in silent unison partook of the Kool-Aid, all secretly thrilled and yet very much ashamed.
You have to understand, Michael and I were initially part of that coterie of parents who scoffed, One hundred and ten dollars for one doll! Does she come with her own espresso machine? They are out of their fucking minds!
My change of heart started with a call to my sister. I was at a loss as to what to get my nieces for Christmas, and needed guidance. Sara, was almost apologetic when she told me they wanted American Girl dogs, Coconut and Honey, to go with the American Girl dolls my nieces would be getting from Santa.
Perfect, I thought, I'll just hop on over to the Grove which has an American Girl store. This unfortunately brought to mind the last time my family walked through its doors...
[Dissolve to blurry wavy lines indicating a past memory...]
A couple of years ago, when our kids were newly out of that horrible run-away toddler stage and Michael and I were enjoying the untold bliss of being stroller-free, we happened upon American Girl's front door. We were wary of the exorbitant prices within its walls, and had heard the rumor of the eager-to-please parents who had to secure a second mortgage to support their daughter's American Girl habit. It had been explained to me that American Girl didn't just sell dolls, it sold a lifestyle complete with its own restaurant, dolly hospital, fashion boutique, beauty salon and spa...
"Add this special treat to any Doll Hair Salon visit for just $12. Our stylists will give her doll a thorough facial scrub to get her clean. And to keep her feeling relaxed, we'll send her home with a pampering set featuring cucumber stickers for her eyes, nail decals, flip-flops, a salon cape, and a faux face mask. Plus, girls get a "Doll Skin Care" sheet for home care."
I mean, who in their right mind buys into this shit?
It certainly wasn't my daughter, who at four was much more into stuffed doggies in purses than dolls. But standing in front of that edifice there was this inexplicable pull offering...possibility. And I'm pretty sure every time an enthusiastic customer exited the store, with an oversized crisp shopping bag, I heard within the swish of its doors in Stephen King italics, Come in! What could it hurt? This is where Maxwell will get her first dolly, and you will find salvation!
And just like one of King's misguided characters who blindly follow the incredibly bad advise of Christine, Cujo, or the cavernous hallways of the Overlook Hotel, we set foot into the store. At first, we were dazzled with the wonder of it all, but then we had a difficult time finding a doll with my daughter's coloring, so we pulled aside a lovely saleswoman (and at American Girl they're all lovely saleswomen) and asked where the black dolls were. At first she looked as if we posed a trick question. Then her initial confusion transformed into giddy understanding, "You must mean Slave Girl Addy. She's upstairs."
And there was this moment where it felt as if every person in the store took in a collective breath and waited for Michael's reaction. It was slow to come at first. He didn't want to believe what he had heard, but then...
Slave Girl Addy? Slave girl... SLAVE!!
There was no way in this world or the next that my chocolate husband was going to give our mocha daughter an un-emancipated doll. We grabbed the kids' hands making them wince and turned to leave the sleek, intoxicating store, but the American Girl at the Grove has a floor plan that makes it impossible to turn in a huff and stomp out. No, you have to wend your way through the goods on the first floor, go up an escalator, wend through the second floor, go down an escalator until you're finally allowed to leave. Have a mutherfuckin' nice day!
Michael huffed and puffed the entire way to the exit, talking not exactly under his breath, to anyone who met his eye, "Slave girl my ass. All these dolls in all these colors. Look they have a Pacific Islander section. They have a goddamned Inuit doll! But the only doll that has my skin tone, has to bow down to Masser! And to make sure she don't get uppity they lock her up on the second floor. One hundred and ten dollars my ass!"
[Dissolve to blurry wavy lines indicating the memory has concluded.]
I relived this experience as I made my way back to the Grove. I intended to show disinterest, to locate Honey and Coconut, buy my purchases and be on my way. But I was immediately suckered in. They had changed their layout since the Slave Girl Addy debacle. Now, one can pick any skin tone, any eye color, any hair texture, so that your doll resembles your kid. Jim Jones Kool-Aid, I'm telling you.
(Yes, white people, Tina wore a wig. It's time to wake up.)
But nowhere was the kinky, the nappy, nor the fro. This kicked off a whole inner monolog. I began to wonder if simulating true black hair was harder to manufacture than straight white hair. And even if it was, wasn't it important for American Girl to understand the social impact of neglecting the kink?
Let me introduce to you Cécile Rey.
On Christmas morning Cécile was met with mixed reviews. Maxwell liked her enough, but when her cousins showed Max their lookalike dolls in modern drag she began to hate Cécile, "She doesn't have my hair!"
Take note American Girl, you need to rethink the kink!
It took time and distance, but finally Cécile is a favorite. We've been reading the book, which is a parlor room drama. Turns out Cécile isn't a hooker after all, but a girl from a well-to-do family who feeds pecans to her parrot Cochon...that you can buy for $38.
A friend of ours who watches the kids from time to time had access to used American Girl clothes from one of her other gigs. But I had my misgivings...were they meant to be worn by Cécile or were they from some other doll...my aversion to hand-me-downs shrieks loudly here. But before I could find out the answer Lala had given Maxwell the doll clothes, and here's the result...
I know, I can almost hear you saying, "Cécile, where'd you get that Member's Only jacket and those embroidered jeans? Slap on a pair of rollerskates and I'd swear you was Tootie from the first season of Facts of Life."
Or if that wasn't your first thought, it was probably, "Cécile, you look ragged, girl. You need to get your hair did!" Which, of course, American Girl will do for a nominal fee of $20.
Maxwell is known for waking from her peaceful slumber and immediately bulldozing into whatever topic is important to her in that moment.
Do you know that an alicorn is a unicorn with wings? (Invaluable information for parents with little ones entering the My Little Pony phase.)
Geckos wash their own eyes by licking them clean.
Now, that I found my sleeping bag I'm ready for camp, and I think at camp I'll wear my jean shorts with my Hello Kitty T-shirt. Won't that look good, Papa?
But this morning Maxwell's morning pronouncement was, Late last night, Cécile told me she wants a Halloween costume, but not just any costume, she wants to be a fairy princess.
After dropping my daughter off at school, for shits and giggles, I went online to see if American Girl actually makes a fairy princess costume for Cécile. Of course, I was silly to doubt, she is from New Orleans after all.
At first look this costume cost $28. Pricy but doable. I'll just drop the expensive coffee for a month. Then I looked closer and found out that the mask, gloves and wings were $20 extra. Okay, I thought, $48. I need to diet anyway, I just won't eat for the rest of the month. But when I saw that this price didn't include crinoline nor chemise...
This goddamned costume all told costs $72...plus tax!
As you can see, she's a pricy biotch. And there's plenty more Kool-Aid where that came from.
Shut up and open your checkbook.