Tag Archives: Barbies

The Pretenders

It’s mid-July and already there is talk of the horrors of middle school. Mind you, neither of my 10-year-old progenies will enter the sixth grade this coming fall, however the inescapable seeds of dread have apparently been sown. Chief among their concerns (aside from being stuffed inside a locker and/or trampled by a herd of eighth graders) is the notion that one’s imagination tragically dies upon leaving elementary school—a date which, incidentally, will occur exactly 325 days from now. Not that anyone’s counting, although I’d be lying if I denied my woeful lament regarding the finite quality of childhood. Indeed, it saddens me greatly to think of the fleeting years during which we embrace the fanciful worlds that children create. Worlds into which I am occasionally welcomed and sometimes thrust—even still. (i.e. “Hello, I’m Mrs. Snobs from London, and I’ll be needing your lipstick and heels straightaway. Is that alright, Mum?”)

That said, the Land of Make Believe is a very real place where kids spend a delicious portion of their lives, both emotionally invested and purposefully engaged in the important business of play. And no matter how many times I see it—a child wholly immersed within the depths of his or her imagination—I am awestruck by its palpable nature and the pure catharsis it engenders. Translation: For whatever reason, it seems that children need to pretend much like they need to breathe. At least mine do. I’ve watched it a thousand times; the here and now melts away, time is suspended indefinitely and the gateway to another dimension yawns invitingly.

That’s how it happens here anyway. Legions of Barbies beckon, some of whom wear sequined gowns or soft, cottony dresses—ones that have been cleverly fashioned with Kleenexes and obscene quantities of Scotch tape. Still others gallivant about the place wearing nothing at all, completely unabashed by their nakedness and entirely unaffected by their tenuously attached heads. Never mind the dolls with mismatched earrings and severed limbs (i.e. let us not forget my charges’ enthrallment with one-legged Ken and Headless Hildegard). Ironically, what seems problematic to me is of little consequence to those thoroughly engrossed within an ever-emerging narrative—one that typically involves hordes of plastic people with perfect teeth and painted-on smiles.

Likewise, throngs of endearing little dogs, miniature ponies and Pokémon collectibles speak to my brood—

as do the massive herds of hideous-looking (and disturbingly pointy) dinosaurs I’ve grown accustomed tofinding with my feet in the dead of night. It’s a small price to pay, though, given that I get to witness all manner of drama unfold before me as I eavesdrop on the disjointed conversations that the aforementioned beasts evidently have. (i.e. “My dear, you’ve already had THREE stegosauruses today, which is entirely shameful. I’m afraid you’ve become a glutton—so there will be NO PIE for you this evening.”) That is, of course, if I remain quiet and still for the duration of said performances—invisible almost—to a select pair of pretenders who are, at times, embarrassed to be pretending.

There are stuffed animals here, too—ones that fairly transcend the bounds of meaning for my children. As one might expect, they’re threadbare from years of love and being dragged, hauled and/or carted virtually everywhere. Of course, they belong to our family now, having adopted a certain humanness that, oddly enough, even my husband and I recognize. Surely it makes sense to buckle them in when we travel, to kiss them good night at bedtime and to include them as we hold hands during grace. They are the very same creatures for whom search and rescue missions are orchestrated and vigils are held when, inevitably, they are lost…the ones that my daughters feel compelled to dress in doll clothes and toddler underwear…the ones with whom secrets are shared and frustrations are voiced…the ones who listen, comfort and understand unconditionally…the ones who may well journey to a faraway place one day—like college or perhaps a first apartment.

…which is okay by me.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (hoping that my children’s imagination never truly dies). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home for Wayward Toys, Kid-Speak

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

Bare-naked Ladies

Walk through any home where children reside and you’ll find them.

Naked Barbie dolls, that is. Ken, too.

Piled haphazardly, standing at perfect attention or stuffed inside a Barbie Dream House with nothing but bare feet and legs protruding from the dormer windows—that’s where they’ll be. They have but one thing in common—nakedness.

I find this observable fact rather amusing—and curious. Why do they do it? Why do our children strip them completely bare with not so much as a pair of pink, plastic stilettos to dignify them? Even G.I. Joe’s dog tags often wind up missing in action. Our kids beg and plead for those prized accessories, but when it comes to serious make-believe, they clearly play second fiddle.

How do we know this?

The moment we leave the store, our impetuous charges tear into the packages, rip off the clothing and begin the important ritual of inspection, as if every rubbery, synthetic toe and ear lobe must be accounted for. At home, the scrutiny only intensifies. In a less-than-gentle manner, they twist, bend and contort the latest Barbie clan member as if it must pass some sort of torturous muster.

Then the real drama begins.

It’s time to make them talk—to each other, of course. Or to themselves—a rudimentary soliloquy of sorts. I have to admit, listening to such “conversations” is one of my favorite things about being a parent. It’s like spying, but legal in all 50 states. And it’s true; kids do say the damnedest things. Many of which occur during Barbie powwows.

As if the issue of nudity isn’t enough, in our household the existing toyscape is even more bizarre. Not only are the dolls here naked as jaybirds, some are also missing limbs and a couple have no heads. Granted, this does lend itself to highly animated doctor play since these particular Barbies are in dire need of medical attention.

Or a trauma unit.

It’s amazing to me how children can be mesmerized by toys that are rife with imperfections—like blatantly obvious deficiencies in the appendage department. I suppose it’s no different today than during my own childhood though. My fascination never waned even though many of my little green army men (my brother’s, actually) had been gnawed beyond recognition by our dog.

Clearly, active combat was to blame.

Even at that age, I knew all was fair in love and war—even savagely cruel helmet nibbling. It went with the territory.

Apparently, naked Barbie dolls serve a similar purpose. They are part and parcel of nearly every child’s active imagination.

The jury is still out, however, on the missing head/limb variety.

Planet Mom. It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Kid-Speak, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction