Since they will feature so much in this blog, and some of you might be wondering why there are so many pictures of them and so few of my living daughter, I give you the truth. First of all - the dolls let me pose them, tell stories about them, and Hold Still for their picture to be taken. Not so with the baby. Second of all - I can knit tons of sweaters for them even in LA and they will never once be uncomfortable in the stifling heat seeing as they are made of resin. There will be baby pictures, but not as many, and it's not because I love my daughter less than dolls. It's because I love her so much, I usually am so absorbed with her that I forget to pick up a camera. I'm working on this problem since I know someday I will pine for more pictures of her darling baby face. In the meantime, though, I wanted to have a word about the dolls (resin, vinyl, BJD and baby) -
My relationship with dolls throughout my life is rather the same as with my English degree. I know that being drawn to miniatures in stores is probably the same kind of unhealthy / unproductive / unconventional behavior that drew me to poetry, children’s lit, and creative writing. I realize that the ability to explicate any poem in a 3 – 5 page paper in forty minutes looks about as nutty to the outsiders as when I knit an itsy bitsy jacket for a fifteen-inch piece of finely sculpted vinyl. I know this. I’ve been told this. People who see me eyeing the new Disney water babies in Wal-Mart think I just need to have a baby of my own. People who know I’m an English major automatically assume I’m a teacher, then get confused as to what I do because I’m not. Then someone usually mentions the joke about the differences between pizzas and Engish majors. (The difference being that pizzas can feed a family of four.)
It’s taken a long time to get where I am, but now that I’m finally here, I will say this. My non-teaching English degree brings in enough for me to buy pizza whenever I want, and I have never once regretted it. When people sigh that they could never find satisfaction trying to figure out where commas go, I rejoice because it means that I have more job security because I do. And for every poor writer in the world, there is another reason for me to have done what I’ve done.
And it gives me the funds for my other misunderstood hobby – the dolls.
The first thing I ever saved my allowance for was a Cabbage Patch doll named Elizabeth. Since the doll cost $14.99 plus tax and my allowance was a whole $1.25 per week, I was no stranger to delayed gratification. My mother would allow my sister and I to visit Elizabeth (and my sister’s twin object of affection, Anne) often as we obsessively counted our quarters, hoping that this time there would magically be one more than last time.
Opening that box and finally taking Elizabeth out from behind that plastic window was so fulfilling. She smelled like baby powder. She had a squeaker in her chest that I didn’t know about even after reading the box so often. Anne had a rattle. We cuddled these dollies, and they have survived every purging of our rooms and every garage sale. They were the first. They are worth a hundred times the $14.99 we saved for them. Even though I don’t play with Elizabeth now, I look forward to passing her on to another generation of doll lovers.
There were other dolls, but most of my childhood was spent in the normal (now non-vogue) pastime of playing Barbies with Kelly. We had shoes, dresses, pets, cars, accessories, the works. We never tired of playing Barbies; sometimes we spent whole afternoons with just the set up. There were fifteen dolls in my Barbie family, (a similar number in Kelly’s) and they needed somewhere to live, places to sleep, bundled up sweaters that turned into couches, stairs made of Encyclopedias, and Kelly even set up a working pulley elevator in one of her more glamorous creations (hers were always better than mine). We laughed so hard over our make believe. Our dolls had names, histories. They didn’t just dress up, oh no, they went on vacation. They went to school. They had boyfriends who eventually became husbands. They learned how to say no to drugs. They learned consequences to actions. And we never once thought how tiny her waist was except when we were having trouble pulling on a certain pair of pants over her oddly out of proportion hips.
The inevitable happened, of course. We started doing other things, reading books from the adult section, going to schools with bigger homework schedules. We got jobs. The Barbies and all the rest were put aside in containers. There were times we would look at our old dolls, plenty of times where we would talk about how much fun we had, and one disappointing evening when we, as teenagers, took them from their boxes and tried to play with them, just for old times’ sake.
We discovered then that it wasn’t just lack of time that was making it hard to get together to build couches out of bundled up sweaters. We couldn’t do it. The magic was gone. The dolls wouldn’t talk. It wasn’t funny anymore. We concluded that we had just grown out of them. They went back into the box, a little piece of our childhood we wanted to preserve. Right next to my Samantha American girl doll that I always thought was much too nice to play with.
I moved on, trying to do grown up things. I went to college. I learned to knit. I learned to explicate. I pretended that those things didn’t interest me the way they once did, saying “oh yeah, it was so fun” instead of confessing how deeply I missed it, how much I wanted it back. I never could completely lie to myself. It showed in my knitting. Where other people were devouring patterns for pretty lace scarves, I was knitting toy turtles. I browsed amigurumi websites to find cuter animals, better toys. I bought everything Jean Greenhowe ever designed and continued to lie to myself. There were so many babies being born around me, it was easy to say that I was just doing this for gifts for them. I even had talked myself into believing that I wanted all of it for my eventual children. I was just thinking ahead to their childhoods, not pining for my own.
So I knit felted hedgehogs and crocheted monkeys for all the babies I knew about. It made me feel a little better. And then one day, I found a lovely pattern for a blessing dress that needed a doll to wear it for me. I bought a baby doll, and I was embarrassed by how much I loved her. I put her to sleep where I could see her. I delighted in touching her perfect little face.
And I agreed with people when they told me I was just wishing I could be a mommy. It was true; I did want a real live baby to cuddle. I got pregnant, and in my frenzy I bought a lot of other dolls ranging from twenty inches to five, all for the sake of giving my daughter the same happy experiences I had when I was young. Her five-inch dolly would have a bassinette purse bed and lots of hand made clothes. Her twenty-inch darling would wear her heirloom blessing dress until she could pass it on to her own girl. I had so many plans. Still do, actually.
It’s easy to pretend you’re doing it all for your children when you’re buying $15 dolls at Wal-Mart, but I always have to take it one step further. I saw a picture while browsing doll clothes patterns of a breathtaking doll, one that I had never seen before, and it stopped me in my tracks. I asked questions and discovered it was an Asian Ball-Jointed Doll. I did some more research and found that getting one wasn’t as easy or cheap as stopping by my nearest toy store. These dolls were an investment, and so worth it.
I made lots of excuses for why I was looking at them. They are fully customizable; I could make them look however I wanted. I could knit for them, testing my designs on a smaller scale to save time knitting them full-size until I was sure everything was the way I wanted. I could knit clothes to sell using them as models since people in this hobby are used to spending what something is really worth. I could make books by taking pictures of them, enhancing my writing abilities that had dwindled during my secretarial day-jobs. I had so many reasons, but the truth was that I thought they were beautiful, and I wanted one.
Fortunately, I had some money at my disposal. I’d worked for years on Saturday mornings for a newspaper, and every cent of that job went to a savings account just for me. My yarn fund. By the time of my doll discovery, I had enough in there for two dolls, a lovely boy and girl from China. I bought them, and had to wait nine weeks for them to be made and shipped to me. It was like saving and waiting for that Cabbage Patch kid all over again.
And when they finally did arrive, they were even more beautiful than I’d hoped they would be. Their faces, their tiny joints, their expressions, their potential. I gloried in them. And for the first time in years, I played with dolls. I didn’t expect to. I thought I would just look at them, pose them, knit for them, but I didn’t think I would actually play with them.
But I did, making up histories, giving them full names and birthdays, and suddenly I found myself right back in the days when Kelly and I had so much fun. That feeling we were trying to recreate when we were teenagers on that so disappointing day was right here with me and my ball-jointed investment.
Sure, they were expensive. Sure, they took a long while to get here, and sure, I know that I’m too old for this. But to me, to be able to experience all over again those happiest memories, makes them worth everything. So that’s why I’m posing them all over my house and taking their picture. That’s why I’m figuring out how to scale down a sweater and knitting doll blankets. None of this is worthless because someday there is going to be a little girl with her Barbie dolls who is going to come to me and say, “Mommy? Will you play with me?”
And I will not have to say that I can’t, because I won’t have forgotten how.