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Overpriced Dolls. A Rite of Passage?

Grandma indoctrinates my little girl into the world of American Girl dolls.

Lately I’ve been wanting to bottle my daughter. Or freeze her. Or stop feeding her. Whatever it takes to stop her from growing and keep her this age forever.

Nina Bean is super tall for her age. I’m talking the 99th percentile among 6 year-olds for height. In other words, she looks like a 3rd grader.

It’s a challenge to find my girlie girl the dresses and skirts she still loves to wear, let alone anything that isn’t hootchie. All they ever seem to have in her size are skinny jeans, daisy dukes and halter tops. What is up with all the big girl clothes looking like they come with a stripper pole?

Girls today are growing up so fast. Getting cell phones at age 10, wearing make-up at 11, and getting their belly buttons pierced at 13. I am not looking forward to any of it.

Already, in many ways, my little kindergartner is eager to be Ms. Gosh Darn Independent. Everything is “I don’t need your help”, “I can do that myself” and “Can I pleeeeease wear lipstick?” She even wants to help me cook and fold laundry. (Lucky me).

With her height and impatience to grow up, it’s sometimes hard to remember she’s still a little girl. That’s why this year when my mom asked if Nina was ready for to the American Girl store, I finally said yes. Better do it now before she starts texting while walking.

For those of you who haven’t drunk the overpriced Kool-aid, American Girl dolls are stupid expensive. Like, more than some people in third world countries make in a week. More than I make some weeks. How much are we talking? If you have to ask, you probably (like me) have to get a grandparent or godparent to fund it.

My mom has been wanting to bring Nina to American Girl Place since she was born.

“Is she ready this year?”

“No, Mom. She can’t even walk yet. And she’s still smaller than the doll.”

“Is she ready this year?”

“No, Mom. She just cut off all her Little Mommy doll’s hair and did its make-up with a Sharpie.”

Obviously, even at age 6, I am wary of putting such an expensive item in my bull-in-a-china-shop girl’s hands. And I really don’t endorse that level of spoiling. But when the same woman who bought me supermarket sneakers and refused to spring for Sasson jeans wants to open her wallet wide for my daughter, I absolutely acquiesce. By all means, let the bleeding begin.

For my mom, the American Girl Doll thing is a tradition. She took her first granddaughter to the NYC store a decade ago, back when Kit and all those historical dolls were all the rage. Year after year, she treated Nicole to dolls, outfits, even meals in the American Girl Place cafe. Grandma was determined to do the same for her last granddaughter.

To my absolute delight, and Grandma’s, my 14-year old niece Nicole came with us for Nina’s inaugural trip to this three-story doll mecca. And, as those two veterans promised, Nina and I had never seen anything like this in our entire lives.

Shelves and shelves filled with dolls and their accessories –- including pianos, ponies and full kitchens -- not to mention all the clothing. They even sell matching big-girl outfits so you can dress like your doll. There’s a salon where you can get your doll’s hair done and her ears pierced, and, of course, a doll hospital that does “everything from a general cleaning to “major surgery.”

It would be super easy for me to make fun of this whole thing on so many levels.

“Choose the doll that’s just right for you!”

“Bring your doll to brunch!”

“Let one of our stylists treat your doll to a new ‘do!”

I could call it a scam. A rip-off. Even downright creepy.   

But my darling, way-too-tall but inside still-small little girl absolutely loved it. With the help of her big but inside still-a-little girl cousin, Nina picked out a doll that looked just like her -- and decided to name her Mina. They got matching pajamas, complete with fuzzy dog slippers, and, for Mina, a skateboard. (Did I mention Nina’s not only girlie but also a tomboy?)

Then, Grandma treated us all to dinner at the American Girl Café, which I again was fully expecting to laugh at. After all, it has a changing station outside so you can dress your doll for dinner. Really?

But inside, the restaurant was adorable. All flowers and pink with chic black and white. High chairs for the dolls, and Mina even got her own tiny doll teacup. My niece “borrowed” one of the loaner dolls the restaurant makes available to dine with unaccompanied guests, and we got our menus.

Again, surprise! It wasn’t just a chicken-finger fest. To start, they brought us warm cinnamon rolls, dips and chicken salad in pastry cups. So grown-up! And, woo-hoo, Grandma and I got mimosas!

Over a leisurely and delightful dinner, three generations of American girls chatted about so many things while the dolls listened in silence. Grandma was in her glory and I understood why she wanted to do this. Sure it’s pricey. Sure, she’ll be eating cat food the rest of the year. But experiences like these make lifelong memories.

I can’t freeze my daughter at age six forever. Nor can I keep my niece from finishing high school and heading off to college. But I can bottle these moments I spend with these big little girls before they’re fully grown.

And maybe someday I’ll carry on Grandma’s tradition by taking Nina’s daughter to the American Girl store. I’d better start saving for it now.

Debbie Brew January 22, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Yes!!! I had almost the same experience from beginning to end! (Except my mom bought me my Bass shoes from Englishtown Auction-not used but a season out of style.) At American Girl Place, we had lunch and my mom and I were pleasantly surprised at the choices for us as well as my daughter. I was also surprised that they made it reasonable. At the time (2yrsago), it was only $25/pp and all worth it. Like you said, the memories will last forever....
Kathy English January 22, 2012 at 03:07 PM
I too took my daughter for her 6th birthday and we brought her Cousin who was going to be six. We took the train into NY City and that was a thrill in it self for them. Once we got there they were so thrilled with all the floors of dolls. We too had lunch and it was so good and I was very suprised at the detail they put into it. If we you don't own a doll before you get there at lunch you can borrow one. My daughter and niece were so overwhelmed that they never asked for us to buy anything, and it was me and my sister-in-law who were buying all the great clothes. I too say the memories will last a lifetime and I even made a photo book so she will never forget it or me.
Shannon K. Winning January 23, 2012 at 06:22 PM
I hate dolls but I love this story. I totally get it. Posting this on FB for all my friends who have daughters growing up way too fast.

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