I remember moving to America. I was ten years old, not quite a kid and not quite a teenager. I remember visiting toy stores for the first time and knowing that I was too old to get excited about the play kitchens and tiny pots and pans that I had never seen before. I remember feeling awe and wonder and yet at the same time feeling it slip through my hands–not only because I was getting too old for most of the toys, but also because we could not afford many of those things. I remember I loved the child-sized furniture the most.
I don’t remember how I got my first American Girl Doll catalog. Over the next few months I spent hours looking at the dolls on the pages. Their outfits, their hair, their stories–I was mesmerized by it all. When I looked through those pages, my age did not seem to matter. I knew I had time… Time to play with dolls–those dolls–and time to save money for one.
My aunt came to visit from Argentina that summer and she ordered Kirsten for me. No more saving and looking and longing, my doll was in the mail headed my way! What I am sure was a couple of weeks felt like years, but as we pulled up the driveway one day I spotted the big box on the front porch. I finally had my American Girl, and was well on my way to becoming one.
I played with Kirsten–I did her hair and made her clothes. I loved reading the books about her life as an immigrant from Sweden. After a while she found her place on a shelf, replaced by sports and school and art and later by a boy from a Swedish family.
The next memory I have of Kirsten is seeing her in the hands of a chubby two year old, my daughter. Too young to understand or appreciate the doll, she played with her when we visited my mom’s house. A few years later she received Nellie, Samantha’s best friend, from Neil’s mom. And so the stories and the value of these dolls started to make their way into her heart, slowly at first. For a while I thought she might not like dolls like I did, maybe she is different than me. Maybe growing up in America has numbed her to the excitement of new dolls with historical tales.
I’m not sure if the fact that her friends have them triggered the excitement, or perhaps her age, but all of the sudden she began to play with Kirsten and Nellie all the time. And I of course, am delighted. We talk about their stories and their hair and we pretend that they are late for a fancy ball.
Is there anything better than playing with dolls when you are a little girl? I am not trying to sound like a commercial for American Girl Dolls, they just happened to be the kind that I spent part of my childhood with. I know the company is not the same it was twenty years ago, for better or for worse, but the magic of playing with dolls is the same.
We visited the American Girl Store over Spring Break. We ate at the Bistro and slowly walked through all the collections, my mind flip-flopping between memories of myself as a ten year old and pictures of my own daughter explaining each story to me. I knew she wanted Josefina so badly, but she knew she already had two dolls, and she knew how expensive the dolls are. She would never ask me for the doll. Her contentment challenges me–we are different.
I told her she could pick something out, something she really wanted. I told her she could get Josefina… and I realized that right then and there was one of the few moments in our lives that I knew exactly how my American girl felt.