By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Here’s an ugly little secret we mothers try to deny, even to ourselves: Sometimes we buy our daughters a few extra things we probably shouldn’t.
Is it because we like the girls more? No. We love all our kids the same. Is it because the girls just need more stuff? Maybe sometimes they do, but that’s not the reason, either. It’s because deep down, underneath our mature, practical mommy selves, there lives a little girl. And that little girl is wildly attracted to glittery purses, super-soft stuffed animals and precious little outfits with cherries or butterflies on them. Sometimes when we’re innocently walking down store aisles, that little girl sneaks out and starts shopping.
I know this because it has happened to me. A few weeks ago, I was pushing 3-year-old Kate around in the shopping cart at Wal-Mart. She was singing the lyrics to “Be Our Guest” for the one-thousandth time. (We saw a musical production of Beauty and the Beast on stage a few months ago, and she has been obsessed with the story and the songs ever since.)
I was heading toward the back of the store, fully intending to walk right on past the toy aisle without pausing. But then Kate pointed and called out so loudly that it startled me, and I turned to see what had caught her attention. “Beauty!” she said, her eyes wide with excitement. “Mama, it’s Belle from Beauty and the Beast!”
I couldn’t see exactly what she was talking about, but I was sure she was right because 3-year-old girls can spot a Disney princess from 50 yards away. I knew that, if we didn’t turn down that toy aisle, there would be much weeping and gnashing of teeth. So I agreed to push the cart down the aisle so she could get a closer look, but first I issued this warning: “Okay, we’ll go see what it is but we’re just going to look, okay? Only looking, not getting. You understand?” She nodded her agreement and we turned down the Barbie aisle.
Here’s the thing about Barbie. She is, without a doubt, the most cloned woman on the face of the Earth. When I was a girl, there were only a couple of Barbies to collect – a blonde and a brunette. Of course, Ken was there, too, and there was the famous Barbie car. But I could fit my entire Barbie collection into one shoebox.
These days, you’d need a shoebox the size of Texas Stadium to store a complete Barbie collection. Not only has Barbie had 80 different occupations over the years, she also now has pets, furniture and bath-version Barbies whose clothes turn different colors when you dip them in the tub. And let’s not even get started on the clothes. Since her debut, Barbie has had about one billion (yes, that says billion) pieces of clothing and shoes produced for her and her friends.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when we discovered that Kate’s favorite Disney movie has its own Barbie. She wears a beautiful yellow gown, just like her namesake in the movie. I picked her up and handed her to Kate, who noticed that she also comes with a rose-shaped magic wand. The package also had a button marked “Try me!” so I did, purely out of curiosity. When I pushed it, the familiar theme song from Beauty and Beast began to play and then red roses bloomed out from the yellow ball gown. Suddenly my eyes got as wide as Kate’s did.
“Oh! Look at the flowers,” Kate said. Then, in a tone of awe and reverence, she added softly, “Mama, I love her.”
And, as much as I hate to admit it, a little part of me loved her, too. My inner girl was seduced by the combination of nostalgia and new technology. When I was little, Barbie didn’t even have a belly button. And now she has roses magically blooming on her ball gown. Will wonders never cease?
I was torn. Inside my head, the Practical Mom side of me sternly said, “We did not come here to get a Barbie. We came here for milk, bread and cereal. Step away from the doll.” But it was very hard to hear what Practical Mom was saying because my Inner Girl was a lot louder and more insistent: “She plays music and has a magic wand that makes ROSES BLOOM ON HER DRESS! Are you kidding me? We HAVE to bring her home!”
I stood there for a few moments, as my Inner Girl and Practical Mom duked it out. Wisely, Kate did not plead or beg for the Barbie. She just sat there quietly adoring it, which softened up the Practical Mom just enough for the Inner Girl to win the day.
“Okay, we’ll get her, but only this one time,” I said firmly. “We are not going to get a Barbie every time we go grocery shopping. You understand?” And as the words came out of my mouth, I wasn’t sure if I was saying them to her or to me. Either way, I hope both of us were listening.