One to Remember

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    It was my sister who jolted me back to reality.

    “Lemme get this straight,” she deadpanned. “Your daughter’s favorite Christmas gift this year was a 30-year-old, used baby doll?” She paused for effect after almost every word.

    It was true. I had regifted my favorite doll from when I was a girl, and my youngest daughter, Lindsey, was absolutely thrilled with it. Thirty years old? Yes. Used? Yes, but ever so gently. Because when I was Lindsey’s age, I didn’t play with baby dolls like a lot of girls did. I adored them.

    For the most part, my dolls rested on my bed during the day and on a rocking chair at night. I sang to them often, read to them occasionally, and every once in a while, I changed their outfits. I had a grand total of three: Linda, Lenna, and Lisa. With her longish dark brown hair, amber brown eyes, and rosy apple cheeks, Lenna was my pet. She cried “ma-ma” like a real baby; her eyes closed when I put her down.

    She wasn’t crafted in porcelain; she wasn’t collector’s issue from Madame Alexander; she wasn’t a squishy-face Cabbage Patch Kid. I had never seen a doll like her.

    When I was ten or eleven, I dressed Lenna in a real baby’s sleep-sack my mother had given me, and swaddled her in a thermal receiving blanket. I kissed her on the forehead and placed her in a box with this note: “To my daughter, I hope you enjoy Lenna as much as I did. Always be nice to her. I loved her very much.”

    Lindsey and Lenna connected instantly. The doll’s brown eyes were almost as warm as her own. And not lost on her young psyche was the fact that I had chosen her over her older sisters to be Lenna’s new mommy. Lindsey and I were, after all, both the babies of the family – always getting picked on, always wearing hand-me-downs – and now it was clear that we shared an even deeper bond: baby doll love.

    Score one for Mommy. I had bestowed an inspired gift upon my daughter – one that wouldn’t end up at Goodwill before next Christmas. And sure enough, it hadn’t cost a cent.

    But now my sister’s words resonated with so many different emotions. For the first time that Christmas, it occurred to me that within a few days my 7-year-old would be back at school – in the real world – surrounded by a bevy of young friends who had been presented with that cherished icon of baby dolls, the American Girl, over the holidays. Furthermore, for some of these aforementioned friends, this new doll would be their third or fourth in a still growing collection, thanks to Santa or Grandma or Aunt Shirley from Chicago who doesn’t have any daughters of her own to spoil.

    But even as I imagined the scene of first graders whispering about my daughter’s lack of baby doll status, I reasserted my vow to never, ever shell out the green for an American Girl doll. To do this, I conjured up an image of that great symbol of modern excess in the Schwartzkopf household: the baby doll bucket.

    The bucket is really a laundry basket stashed in the bottom of the linen closet, full to overflowing with mostly naked dolls. All shapes, sizes, and ethnicities are represented. Golden haired, brunette, some bald – all neglected, and collectively delivering their sad commentary on the shopping trends and consumer behaviors of the former baby doll lover now known as Mommy.

    The thought of an American Girl, or any other similarly priced doll, ending up in the baby doll bucket caused a great sense of uneasiness to rise in my gut. Here was a heap of fifteen, maybe twenty baby dolls. I couldn’t help but picture the one I nurtured so lovingly so long ago sitting primly on my bed. But is one ever enough in today’s shop-happy world?

    Not anymore and not for our kids. Take Webkinz for example. For the longest time, we managed to keep the popular cyber-plush out of our home and off of our desktops. It was faraway Grandma who finally opened the door to Webkinz World. It was undeniably my daughter’s favorite present that year. She couldn’t wait to tell a school friend that she had received a Webkinz for Christmas. The friend’s response? Oh, I have twelve.

    Nearly two years after I had given my 30-year-old, used baby doll to Lindsey for Christmas, her remarkable insight delighted me. It was her birthday, and she had just received an authentic Brazil soccer jersey in her favorite color, yellow. She held it up in front of her chest and told me, This is the gift I’ll give to my daughter one day.

    Later, we talked about Lenna, about how meaningful it was to have one special something — like a cherished baby doll or a genuine soccer jersey. Then as she dressed Lenna and placed her on her bed, I asked my daughter what she would like for Christmas this year.

    “Something new,” was her reply. Well, maybe this once.

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    Karen Schwartzkopf
    Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family: husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director, and their daughters—Sam, Robin, and Lindsey. You can read Karen’s take on parenting in the Editor’s Voice.