Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Maybe Barbie Should Keep Her Mouth Shut

I cornered myself into buying a Barbie for Blair yesterday.

I needed to go to Kohls. Thad wanted to go. In order to get buy-in from a four-year old, we needed to make promises. If we couldn’t promise ice-cream with rainbow sprinkles, a moonbounce, or Santa, we had to promise a surprise. The surprise was this: “We will buy you one thing.”

As I waited in line at customer service, Blair ran over with two boxes. One contained a My Little Pony. I thought the My Little Pony would surely prevail when faced with a choice between the two. It did not. Blair, instead, chose the other box. It contained a Barbie doll dressed in a pink flamenco dress, complete with a stand-up dressing mirror, brush, compact case, and jeweled necklace. Blair would show me later that the only accoutrement her Barbie did not have was panties.

When we got home with Vain and Slutty Barbie, Thad spent approximately eight and a half hours untwisting, untaping, and unstapling her from her pink, cryogenic Vain and Slutty Barbie box. Once she was free, Blair asked the most terrifying question she’d ever asked: “Mommy, will you play Barbies with me?”

Back in the day, I wasn’t just a Barbie-player, I was the mac-daddy of Barbie-players. I had the pink Corvette and the ski chalet/beach house combo. (I did not have the Barbie Dream House. Its absence in my life, I tell my mother to this day, left a deep and hollow void in my soul.) I would turn my entire bedroom into a Barbie castle using wash cloths for rugs and dove-shaped candles for chairs and toothpaste caps for cups. I occasionally washed my Barbie’s clothes, and then hung them on those little black hangers that came with socks. I once stole a shopping cart just to have the means of transporting my Barbies to and from my BFF’s house across the street. Barbie and I had logged some major together time.

But that was then.

This was now.

Now, as I grabbed hold of the Penn State Barbie my mom bought me a few years ago as a joke, and I placed her, standing on her little pointy toes, on the ottoman in front of where Blair had placed Vain and Slutty Barbie, I did not know what to do. I stuttered, then looked behind me to see if Thad was still in the kitchen—not because I was embarrassed, but because I thought I might be able to convince him, perhaps with the guarantee of sex later, to take over this “playing Barbies” thing. It wasn’t the Barbie part that was problematic. It was the playing part. This was real playing. Make-believe playing. Imagination-run-wild playing. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d played like that, which was scary enough. But, even scarier, it seemed I’d totally and completely forgotten how.

Blair stared, waiting for me to do something. She didn’t know what to do, either. She’d never officially "played Barbies" before. She needed me to guide her, to open her up to the world of creative play, to unlock the wardrobe and point her toward Narnia, to slide the Ruby Slippers on her feet. This was part of being a good mother. A fun mother. A Barbie-playing mother. The time had come.

“What’s up?”

There may never have been a longer, heavier silence in my life than the one that followed this enticing piece of dialogue, which I came up with to begin a conversation between Penn State Barbie and Vain and Slutty Barbie. What's up? Though the effect of that silence was topped, rather quickly, by Blair’s face that carried an expression akin to one she might make if I told her that the Easter Bunny had been hit by a car.

“I know, mommy,” she said. “You be the prince. I’ll be Sleeping Beauty. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said, relieved that the kid found it in her heart to give me a second chance. This was it. This was really it. I took a breath. I coughed, trying to clear the bad, no-fun mother out of my throat. Then, I started again:

“What’s up Sleeping Beauty?”

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