Editor’s note: Are dolls good for girls? While it may be tempting to steer girls toward more gender-neutral toys, one mother sees the way dolls light up her daughter’s imagination.
My 8-year-old daughter Madeline has long been aware that her dolls aren’t real, but it is still important that we get the details straight in conversation. She corrects us if we’re wrong–if we get Kit and Kirsten mixed up, for example–or if we forget the name or gender of her many babies. Whenever her dad compliments Madeline on her quiet and well-behaved daughters, she frowns: “You mean sisters.”
I grew up in a family of six girls, so perhaps all these play-siblings are her way of reinventing the fun I had and which she has been denied, having just an older brother. She spends hours each day dressing her dolls, combing their hair, making them presentable, seeing to their needs. She nurses them when they’re sick, comforts them when they’re scared.
Kit and Kirsten are her favorites. Mothers are not supposed to have favorites but among sisters, apparently, this is okay. They are, after all, American Girl dolls. If this is making the doll company extremely rich it is also making Madeline’s play experience very rich and real.
It was the look in her friend Grace’s eyes when she talked about her pilgrimage to American Girl Place that put the idea in Madeline’s head. So we went there this past spring break.
Chicago is a good place for spring break if you aren’t going to Cancun. The six of us (counting Kit and Kirsten) stayed in a nice hotel, visited the Art Institute and Wrigley Field, and ate Chicago pizza.
Madeline and I had reservations for Monday lunch at the American Girl Place. It was cold but sunny along North Michigan Avenue that morning. The sidewalks were crowded with well-dressed people, and among them were many mothers and daughters, and the occasional father. Each girl was carrying an American Girl doll as if it were a pint-sized religious totem. This was a pilgrimage, after all. The looks on the girls’ faces were reverent, even rapturous.
In the cab on the way to the shrine of American Girlhood, Madeline leaned over to me with shining eyes and said, “This vacation is really for me, isn’t it? For me and my dolls.” For one 8-year-old girl, a cold day in Chicago was a lot more thrilling than a warm sunny beach.