Monthly Archives: March 2011

Still Crazy (for Barbie) After All These Years

Barbie is 52 today. She’s no spring chicken, as my great-grandmother would likely say. Nevertheless, the 11.5 inch cultural icon has weathered well, having been recognized as one of Mattel’s best-selling toys for decades—some estimates indicating that more than a billion dolls (three every second) have been sold worldwide. That said, Barbie made her grand debut on this day in 1959 at the American International Toy Fair in New York—wearing her signature ponytail (available in blonde or brunette) and a racy, zebra-inspired swimsuit. Clearly, she was a rebel before her time—one responsible for fueling not only imagination and independence among little girls everywhere, but for spawning a wealth of controversy and lawsuits as well.

Barbie had rather prominent breasts after all, wore a demure sideways glance originally and promoted an unrealistic body image—one that would correspond to a 5’ 9” woman with a 36-inch bosom, an 18-inch waist (gasp!) and 33-inch hips. Her perfectly painted-on smile and shapely legs simply added to the concerns raised by many (i.e. since she was viewed as a role model, young girls would perhaps become anorexic in an attempt to emulate her impossibly slender physique). Stirring further discontent, “Barbie Baby-Sits” (1963) and the “Slumber Party” ensemble (1965) came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight which dispensed advice such as “Don’t eat.” Eventually, in 1997 the toy giant addressed the aforementioned criticisms by outfitting Barbie with a wider, more contemporary, waistline—but nary an ungainly, flat-chested, bucktoothed Barbie will you find anywhere, my dear Mattel.

Despite it all, we’re still crazy for Barbie in all her buxom career-minded glory—both conventional (think: nurse) and infinitely obscure (think: paratrooper). And let us not forget her endearing gaggle of plastic companions, the glut of branded whateverness spilling from store shelves hither and yon and the pretty pink houses without which Barbie enthusiasts would surely wither and die.

I mean who can be properly amused by said lithesome beauties (upon which a shock of hair-like matter seemingly “grows”) without the requisite 67 pairs of stilettos, 43 hats and a wardrobe whose mix ‘n match permutation potential is decidedly incalculable? Never mind pink cars. And pink boats. And swimming pools perfectly imbued with pink rafts. Just for fun, sometime I’d like to amass (into a hideous heap!) all the Barbie-related foolishness with which my daughters have been blessed over the years. I’m quite certain it would be an impressive and distinctly pink pile; however I doubt it would change the spending habits in this house-turned-shrine-to-all-things-Barbie.

Besides, a great portion of the aforementioned huddled masses with whom Thing One and Thing Two routinely play fall under the category of recycled, having entertained their big sister more than a decade ago. And as luck would have it, some were graciously bestowed upon my progenies as gifts. It’s rumored that a handful of the dolls were even mine, although I had great difficulty convincing a certain couple of somebodies that that was even possible. (i.e. “Did they even MAKE Barbie dolls back then, Mom?”)

That said, it’s not as if we’ve had to shell out a ton of cash to acquire the legions of plastic wonders we now own, which, I suppose, makes the whole we-have-too-many-damned-dolls thing seem somewhat tolerable. Nor do we possess Barbie Video Girl, Totally Tattoos Barbie or Teen Talk Barbie—which gladdens my heart more than words can adequately express.

Oddly enough, though, my charges aren’t overly interested in the bells and whistles so many of today’s dolls feature. Nor do they give a hoot about what their beloved Barbies wear or whether or not their bizarrely angled feet happen to have shoes, let alone ones that match. Forget what the avid collectors may opine. Mint condition means nothing to my brood. If anything, it is the doll with unkempt hair to which they are drawn—or the one whose unruly mane was hacked off with scissors when they were four, or the blondie with missing face paint, now sporting a deficient, yet endearing little smile, or the one with chipped plastic and mottled skin, having been abandoned in the garage (or a snowbank) for months. Curiously, it’s as if their dilapidated qualities add charm and character beyond measure.

Furthermore, Thing One and Thing Two are fairly enthralled with the dismembered populace of our sprawling Barbie community. Apparently, it matters not that they possess an intact set of limbs (or a head for that matter). “They’re still fun to play with, Mom—even without heads.” Translation: My children are disturbingly droll and I am doomed to forever share my home with their dear playthings.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with an obscene quantity of Barbie dolls).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home for Wayward Toys, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

The Purple of Penance

Lisa Belkin, of NYTimes Motherlode fame, suffered unmercifully this past weekend, breaking an ankle in numerous places while wreaking havoc upon a handful of ligaments and bones in the other. Her sons rushed to her aid and used a cell phone to hail an ambulance for her, as one might expect. However the irony with which the aforementioned debacle unfolded (and was subsequently documented and shared in all its digital wonder via text messaging and eventually the Motherlode Blog) might not have been expected.

You see, Belkin had made a solemn vow to “unplug” for 24 hours, to resist the urge to check e-mail or the status of anyone’s Facebook, to text or tweet to excess, to Google the bejesus out of anything and everything from sundown to sundown. Impressive, no?

Needless to say, her efforts were valiant as she attempted to reconnect with her family and to do so in a manner completely devoid of electronic devices. Lo and behold, the gods of technology laughed at such foolishness, perhaps causing said vat of horribleness to befall her and, hence, her reliance upon cell phones to surface. She’s scheduled for surgery to repair her ankle et al. on Tuesday. Be sure to visit Motherlode to wish her well now and during the sure-to-be memorable recovery phase.

I, myself, only ever broke a knuckle (in a shameful fit of rage) and a toe (in a deep chasm of stupidity), so I can’t wholly relate to the profusion of pain Belkin must have felt and is likely still feeling. In honor of that, I’ve re-posted “The Purple of Penance” for your (and hopefully for her) amusement…

It’s time to decorate Easter eggs—an age-old tradition symbolizing new life. An activity infused with color, the pungent aroma of vinegar and great swells of kid-inspired, eggshell-adorning creativity, all in the name of celebrating the long-awaited rebirth of the land. By contrast, I’ve been celebrating the rebirth of my stupidity.

More specifically, one of my toes—henceforth known as THE TOE—stupidly embraced this glorious festival of dyes and dippings, having adopted a whole host of hues this past week ranging from a lovely pool of blue/black at its base to the deepest and most profound infusion of magenta at its northern most tip—perfectly suited for the Lenten season, I’m told. The purple of penance.

My heathens, as expected, were beside themselves with glee upon learning of my unfortunate and infinitely obtuse shower-related toe incident (i.e. the whacking of said digit on the chair-like entity contained within, followed almost instantaneously by a profusion of swelling and an imbuement of color). “Kewl, Mom! It’s purplish and shiny and it has a really interesting texture!”

Yes, my third-grader used the word texture in a disturbingly appropriate manner. She also touched my toe. They both touched it. Again and again—compelled to poke and prod the bulbous head of my pitiful toe, thoroughly mesmerized by its curious and ever-changing medley of colors and reveling in its freakishly smooth feel. That said, it is perhaps the most repulsive-looking appendage on the planet. But it’s colorful. I’ll give it that. Just in time for Easter and its feast of pigmentation.

Barring divine intervention, however, I’ll likely be skipping Maundy Thursday’s foot-washing ceremony at my church, a spiritually stirring event I had planned to attend during Holy Week, that is, until THE TOE became such a huge and hideous issue. Indeed, it is a shameful spectacle and likely symbolic of the many and varied flaws present in my character. Besides, the mere thought of allowing someone to touch it—even someone who would exert the utmost of care and sensitivity given my sorrowful situation—makes me writhe in pain. Then again, my kids’ relentless pawing has been no picnic and somehow I’ve tolerated that.

I’ve also tolerated a vat of their foolishness.

Needless to say, Frick and Frack have been consumed with all that relates to my wretched toe of late, demanding comprehensive updates on its status the very instant they step off the school bus, insisting that I shed my sock and wave the horrible thing around like a flag. “Show Daddy!” they joyfully instruct. “It’ll gross him out!” Of course, I fear that one day soon THE TOE will surface in someone’s creative writing assignment, much to my chagrin and to their teachers’ collective horror. My weirdish children have even gone so far as to compose a song about my unsightly appendage. Tchaikovsky would be proud.

But not me so much. I’m embarrassed. And ungainly. And in agony (or some semblance thereof) much of the time. However, it can’t compare to what I felt at the moment of impact. And the sound—the UNSPEAKABLY HORRIBLE SOUND that reverberated all around when the bone actually snapped—made me slightly sickish within that tiny window of time sandwiched between the realization of what a stupid, stupid thing I had done and the onset (read: the MONUMENTAL EXPLOSION) of excruciating pain. Even still, I’m not quite sure which made me feel worse—knowing of my stupidity or suffering its ill effects.

As time goes on (and in my less-than-expert medical opinion), I presume THE TOE will not only heal, but undergo an impressive transformation of color, progressing from its current purplish state to various (and no doubt, vile) shades of green, yellow and, eventually, to the suggestion of ecru. With any luck, the nuance of crookedness it has adopted in the interim will abate as well. Otherwise it’s likely my kids will feel compelled to sing (and write!) about THE CROOKED TOE, serving as yet another reminder of my idiocy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with THE TOE).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Have You Hugged a Book Today?

We have a library in our house, which sounds slightly more impressive than it actually is. The area in question is far from a sprawling expanse littered with overstuffed chairs and an abundance of narrative gems. More correctly, our so-called library occupies a modest corner of our home—a place where a blue-checkered playpen once stood seemingly forever. Nevertheless, it is a space devoted to all-things-bookish. A small yet infinitely important enclave that exists for the sole purpose of fueling my children’s passion for reading. As it should be—during this National Reading Month of March, and always.

Almost a decade has passed since we began gathering a hodgepodge of titles and piling them into some semblance of order there upon the floor of our living room. Tallest to smallest. Favorites within easy reach. A perfect mélange of new and not-so-new tales—thanks to having traversed this parenting path once before.

Naturally, said books would spill out into the room after a certain couple of somebodies (read: Toddler One and Toddler Two) raided the cache, leaving a trail of literary goodness in their collective wake. Never mind that only yesterday pillows and great herds of stuffed animals were dragged there and commissioned for the purpose of building reading “nests” and whatnot. Only recently have we been able to place the prized entities elsewhere (i.e. upon the honey-colored bookshelf that now inhabits the aforementioned corner—the one that boasts a cavernous window through which the morning sun pours almost without fail).

It is perhaps a bit more special given that the shelf itself was one that my husband had designed and built back in 1969. It was the high school shop project that seemed destined never to be finished. Lo and behold, the four-tiered wonder was completed and for some 40 years it lived in his childhood home. That’s where I first ogled its glossy, maple finish—along with a handful of teakwood carvings that sat upon its top shelf. A one-humped camel and an Asian elephant with a missing tusk. Keepsakes that hailed from afar. Treasures with which my children were enamored each and every time we visited Grandma.

I guess I never really thought about the notion of my mother-in-law not being there to witness their growing curiosity. Nor did I entertain the possibility of adopting her wooden bookshelf when she died—complete with the coveted carvings. Of course, they still sit atop the shelf, nodding approval with each book selection my charges make. Grandma would be pleased, I’m sure.

Likewise, I think she’d be pleased to learn of the strides her granddaughters have made since kindergarten, and how their love of books has flourished during that same wedge of time. No longer do they reach for bedtime favorites like Goodnight Moon, the brilliantly penned Where the Wild Things Are, the infinitely tender Guess How Much I Love You and the exceedingly palpable Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. Even Dr. Seuss (who would have been 107 today!) has fallen out of favor with my brood.

Indeed, the pure and simple joy of picture books has been replaced by the all-consuming nature of chapter books—ones

that invite my progenies to dwell for a time, deliciously entangled within the words on a given page. Needless to say, their tastes have grown more sophisticated, as has their command of vocabulary. That said, Thing One is completely smitten with mysteries, all-things-Harry-Potter and that which is disturbingly terrifying while Thing Two is fond of cookbooks and craft books, although she went through an interminable phase during which she would read nothing unless its plot somehow involved a godforsaken dog, a horse blessed with the ability to speak or a wretched hamster. Of course, they both feast voraciously upon the celebrated Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, practically anything ever written by Roald Dahl, Barbara Park or Kate DiCamillo, and sadly, the idiocy that is Captain Underpants.

All things considered, I deem my children’s journey as emerging readers to have been nothing short of remarkable, and I can’t help but feel indebted to those who’ve helped cultivate their enduring love of books—during this National Reading Month of March, and always.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with an abundance of books worthy of hugging…and barely able to breathe ever since a request was made for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff