Aya and the American [Girl] Doll

Aya has a friend who hails from the Virgin Islands. Her name is Maddie. This particular girl got an American Girl doll for his birthday last year.

“You do realize if I ge’ you this dall, it de only t’ing you geyin’ fuh your birthday, righ’?” her mother cautioned through slit eyes and teeth.

The girl said she understood, and indeed, that was the only thing she got for her birthday. She had a small cake, 3 friends over, and an American Doll (as the family calls it). There was no room in the budget for anything else. The doll itself costs $125.00, and its accessories (coats, shoes, dog, bedding, etc.) all cost between $15 – $45 each, depending on the accessory. I remember Maddie’s mother showing me each item with pride, and then instructing Maddie to hurry up and put the doll and her things back in the room before my kids could touch them.

In retrospect, I have to say, I thought she was being a bit of a bitch about it…until I saw the sticker prices myself this week. I wouldn’t let Aya nor her friends touch ‘American Doll’ either at those extortionate prices.

I like to consider myself a frugal mom, with a heart to bless. I guess it’s the parenting equivalent to “conservative compassion.” I’ll give unexpected gifts when I deem fit, not just because I have a begging child in front of me. So when Aya and I walked into the mall yesterday to pick up earrings from Claire’s, I was happy to pop through American Girl Bistro & Boutique at her request.

“Look Mommy!” she squealed. “American Doll!”

She read the sign as if seeing it for the first time and corrected herself.

“Oh, American Girl. Can we go inside please?”

“Sure,” I smiled.

It was just the two of us, and I am much more at ease in public when I only have one child to contend with and not four. I clasped her hand in mind and we went through the heavy metal doors. There were people everywhere. And none of them were smiling.

I am not completely educated on the American Girl Doll culture, but I can share with you what I know. The dolls are based on historical figures in American culture. Usually they have done something brave, courageous or innovative, adjectives which typically aren’t used to describe girls often enough in today’s culture. So they have Addy the run-away slave and abolitionist, Kaya the Native American, Kit the journalist and so on. Each doll comes with a book and an outfit. It’s then incumbent upon the parents (and other suckers, like grandparents) to purchase the plethora of previously mentioned items like ice-skates, beds, and matching outfits for the girls AND their dolls. These cost a small ransom. Oh, and let’s not forget that you can bring your American Girl to the salon to get her hair done. All it takes is an appointment and a fee, of course.

I watched as Aya moved through the crowd with catlike grace, stopping in front of the cases to admire the individual displays.

“We’re not buying anything today, right?” she reconfirmed, looking at broad shouldered dads who had been no doubt coerced into a shopping expedition carry heavy bags stuffed with American Girl emblazoned boxes.

“No, sweetie,” I said firmly. “But if you could get one today, which one would you want?”

I took short sips of air and hoped for a good outcome. I’m very touchy about the subject of Black girls and dolls, ever since that experiment was conducted. Aya wandered around for a little bit before stopping in front of a brown skinned doll with an ice blue dress and straight hair.

“I want that one,” she grinned.

cecile The doll she chose was Cecile. She’s biracial. I’m fine with that.

She explained that she liked the necklace she was wearing and that she thought the dress was pretty. I thought that these were excellent reasons. I told her that we could look into getting the doll later. I had had enough of American Girl and all the Brighton moms who were crawling over every inch of it. I grabbed Aya’s hand and proceeded towards the door.

When we got to the elevator, there was a small family who had just exited AG as well. A twelve year old boy with black framed glasses and a baseball cap was mocking his younger sister. She was clutching a blond minuet with perfect ringlet close to her chest.

“Christie, this is like your THIRD doll,” he scoffed. “When will you have enough?”

His sister ignored him and buried her nose in her American Girl’s hair. I looked at Aya and smiled. Her eyes were glassy, but I hadn’t noticed. I told her to hurry onto the elevator so we wouldn’t get left.

Soon we were on the upper level and only feet away from Claire’s. Behind me, I heard someone whimpering dolefully. It was Aya.

“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked. I was truly alarmed.

When she answered me, her voice was barely above a whisper.

“I really want an American Doll,” she said under her breath. She was, at that moment, the very definition of ‘distraught’.

Nothing I said could console her. All my talk of ‘patience’ and ‘later’ and ‘perhaps’ only made her sob harder, which to her credit, she attempted to hold within her tiny brown chest. I couldn’t take it.

“Look,” I said, holding her chin in my fingers, “between me, Granny and Santa, we will get you that doll, okay?”

She nodded and let a single tear from her left duct. The girl was brilliant.

I told her to stop crying so we could purchase some new earrings. I had to figure out how I was going to pay for this doll, especially since I had not consulted her grandmother on the issue. As luck would have it, she called that night. I explained what had happened at the mall just hours before.

“Well you know, if we get one doll, we have to get two,” she pointed out.

Crap. She was right.

“That’s tooo hunned and sixty dollahs,” I croaked. “I’ll have to put in extra hours at work…”

“And I’ll have to bake some more pies,” she added, laughing nervously.

Finally, we decided that the girls would have to earn the dolls by going above and beyond on their chores.

“Let me know how it goes,” said their grandmother.

I told the girls at dinner what would be required to get an American Girl doll.

“You will have to help with the laundry, make sure your room stays clean and make sure that the living room is cleaned up every night before you go to bed until Christmas morning,” I started.

Nadjah immediately backed out.

“I don’t want an American Girl doll,” she said quickly. “It’s not that important to me. Math, science and chemistry are more important.”

Under any other circumstances, this would have been an admirable change of heart, however just 3 days before, Nadjah was cooing over the American Girl magazine that mysteriously showed up in our mailbox just a week before. She wanted that doll. However, Nadjah – who is just like her mother – also does not want anything that does not come easy to her, and this doll was not going to be handed to either of them. Aya was crushed, and began to weep bitter, sorrowful tears of loss.

“Why are you crying??”

Marshall guffawed loudly. He likes to see his children suffer. I shot him a side glance and told Aya to follow me upstairs, where she explained through choked breaths that she was afraid to do anything without her big sister.

“Well you went to the mall today without your big sister, didn’t you?” I reminded her.

She nodded yes. I reminded her that Nadjah is her own person and asked her if she knew what that meant.

“It means we don’t live the same lives,” she said quietly.

That was pretty good. Not what I was going to say…better in fact!

Fortunately, I remembered my 1987 ABC after school special training and took her hand in mine. I reminded her of the meaning of her name, telling her that she could overcome anything if she just tried. I told her about risks and rewards. You know, a good old-fashioned Cosby moment. Then she flipped the script on me.

“There is a person in my head who looks nice, and then all of a sudden they change to mean, and they tell me I can’t do it,” she whispered solemnly. Her eyes were wide and clouded with dread.

Sweet, heavenly Jesus. She had conjured up a demon, and the Spirit of Fear, no less. Okay. No problem. I quickly switched gears from consoling mother to prayer warrior, commanding the spirit to flee from her and for Courage to step in!

I looked her in her eyes and asked her if she was ready to earn her American Girl Doll. She nodded with quiet resolve.

“Yes,” she breathed.

Day 1 begins tomorrow. Let’s see how this goes. I can’t wait until Christmas Day!