Most parents nowadays want their daughters to grow up to be the next Hillary Clinton, or an astrophysicist, or the first woman to find the cure for cancer. In the San Francisco Bay Area the pressure to raise a gender neutral daughter is high. Going to the Little Gym was like when I used to stand in line to go to clubs in New York City. They will be like, “Ok blue shirt, jeans, you’re good, come in.” “Princess top with tutu? Go home, change and come back. Next!”
There’s a kind of required reading from Peggy Orenstein, a mom from Berkeley, called Cinderella Ate My Daughter. In it, Peggy explains that girls who play princesses grow up to be more promiscuous and are more likely to have plastic surgery as an adult, but if you get her to play with science sets and have her play with trains she will not have sex until she’s married (I am paraphrasing, of course.). My husband and I were on a mission to raise a strong, smart, snowboarding, cancer-curing, girl.
Around Christmas time, we knew we could control the gifts that our daughter, Giuliana, received from us and what we expose her to, but not what others bought her. You see, Giuliana is the 7th granddaughter for my mother-in-law who lives on the other side of the country in New Jersey. And because we are so far away, family loves to spoil her since they rarely see her. For us, our family in New Jersey was the epi-center of the girly girl storm. My husband’s family was used to feeding the monster that is the young girl wrought with emotions and a desire to test out make up, wear dresses, and paint with glitter.
For many Christmases, my husband and I sent around a group email to our family that laid down the rules of the road for buying presents; no princess toys, nothing pink, no glitter, sparkle, no shirts with crappy sayings like “Mommy’s little princess” etc. We said everyone who did not abide would risk having their toys returned. Some abided by the rules and some did not.
When Giuliana was about three, My mom and mother-in-law asked what they could get her for Christmas. We told them she would like a Thomas the Train set and maybe wooden blocks. This of course was what we wanted her to have and not a request directly from her. Thomas the Train is not cheap, in fact train sets START at around $75, so they agreed to pool funds to make this purchase.
Christmas Eve at my mother-in-law’s that year was when the incident happened. Seven excited little girls rushed through dinner and gathered in the small living room to open presents, chipping away at the mountain of wrapped goodness. As they ferociously unwrapped their treasures we heard, “Thank you for the make-up!” “Thank you for the beads to make jewelry!” “Thank you for the sparkly (fill in the blank)!” And there was our daughter. Looking around the room noticing the excitement and frill, Giuliana started ripping open her package like her life depended on it. When she saw that the gift she was opening was Thomas the Train and not a frilly, sparkly gift, her face dropped. At the same time, in Giuliana’s periphery, she saw our five year old niece ripping off the last piece of Christmas wrapping paper on her brand new Baby Alive doll. It was like time stood still. Giuliana was looking at it as through she had seen baby Jesus himself appear right there in the living room. She immediately threw her Thomas the Train set aside like it was a pile of actual cow dung and lunged at the doll as through she was a cheetah pouncing on its prey.
My niece was trying to get my daughter, who was now hyper ventilating, to let up on the vice grip she had on the Baby Alive box. But to no avail, Giuliana was determined to rip open the box, like a true fighter. I am not sure what was so enticing about this doll from an optics perspective. You could see through the plastic that this doll was not a beautiful little princess doll. She reminded me of Chucky from that Child’s Play movie. Each of her eyes were like the circumference of a silver dollar and way too large for the proportion of her head like that Big Eyes artist, Margaret Keane. What made it worse was that the eyes opened and closed both mechanically and on their own when she was tilted. The selling point of this doll is that you feed her synthetic food and she actually poops it out in a diaper. The last thing I felt that I needed was a doll who pooped when I had a toddler and a newborn.
In both English and Spanish, this doll says things like, I don’t want to take a nap, I’m hungry, where’s my mommy, “Uh-oh! I made a poo-poo” or “I made a stinky!” or “Surprise!” She talks audibly sucks her pacifier like a grandpa in a nursing home slurping soup without his teeth. She also sings a discordant version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” As the saying goes this doll had a face only a mother could love and Giuliana was in fact, in love with her and wouldn’t let anyone else touch the doll.
My niece, Lucia, let Giuliana play with the doll for a bit on the contingent factor that my daughter return the doll at Lucia’s request. At that moment, my mother-in-law looked at me knowingly with a look that was like, “I have seven granddaughters and you ask me to get a Thomas the train? This is not my first rodeo, honey.”
Meanwhile my brother-in-law tried to assuage the situation by offering Lucia a $50 Toys R us gift card as a sort of hush money to just hand over the doll to Giuliana permanently. A shrewd negotiator, Lucia was not going to let up on the doll that easily. She had stipulations. Just then my mother stood up and put on her coat and whipped her scarf around her neck and said, “I’m going to toys R us to get her the doll!” It was storming out and my husband and I pleaded with my mom to stay in. We didn’t want Giuliana to think that she could act like this and get what she wanted.
My mom said, “Ok. I have decided I am going to go home now. Bye!”
My mom braved the snow storm and drove to Toys R Us. Like a lunatic, once she spotted store workers, she began was banging on the store window to be let in. They opened the door and she explained that she needed to buy this Baby Alive doll for her granddaughter she’s having a fit. The people in the store replied back that the store was closed until after Christmas.
Christmas morning, my husband and I set up the Thomas the Train for my daughter. For the five minutes that she was into it, I took a bunch of photos of her playing with it and sent them to our whole family to show them how much she enjoyed the train set. It was really the one time she touched it. She screamed for the doll the whole rest of the trip.
We learned that as much as we felt like princesses and dolls were contrabanned, not even that far deeply inside of her, Giuliana was a real girly girl at heart. We finally gave in and let her be the person she really is and she couldn’t be happier.She actively wears princess garb and gently plays with and cares for her dolls as though they are real. We learned that sometimes you just have to “Let it go.” As long as we are good parents and provide her with a good foundation, she will most likely turn out alright.