But it’s also synthetic—a resin dream that can only stave off corporeality so long. Isn’t that childhood, too? It’s girlhood almost certainly. Ephemeral and abrupt. Irretrievable once you’ve left it behind.
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver-white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things “My Favorite Things,” The Sound of Music
Peer through the window and you’ll see a girl—seven, blonde, no front teeth—and her dolls. Barbie Pet Doctor. Babysitter Skipper. Shaving Fun Ken. A smattering of Ariels, red hair blanched from bath water. Some kid-sister Kellys. A few knockoffs too, from the dollar store, Big Lots. Not just dolls for show or hair brushing, but an acting troupe. Vessels to retell the stories of her life and also her favorite movies: Dorothy and friends on a hand-drawn yellow brick road; Victoria Page twirling over a baby-blanket stage; Don, Kathy, and Cosmo singing “Good Morning!” in the tones she can conjure, not perfect but an impressive variety for such small vocal cords.
Her best friend, a boy, lives on the end of the street. He’s freckly and tall for his age. Their moms are close, almost sisters, and so they’re always together, the four of them. He has dolls too but his are dinosaur wranglers and wrestlers and army men. But that doesn’t hinder their play. She makes Muldoon tap dance, and he ties Skipper to the train tracks.
She has a giant personality, loud and magnetic and all-consuming. He is gentler by nature: tender and malleable. His stern father, with his crew cut and farmer plaid, is always upset. At the dinner table, the boy’s eyes brim with tears when his dad gets fired up—about the way he holds a fork, the “prissy” way he eats corn—so the girl squeezes his hand in secret. They are laced together by something unspeakable: born a month apart, friends since she was days old, last names that begin with the same letter so they’re always side-by-side in preschool, kindergarten, first grade. He is the boy but she makes the rules, she always has, and he doesn’t mind much. That’s just the way it’s always been.
They aren’t so different from Barbie and Ken: her in a dream house, him somewhere. Never quite here. Both blonde, sunny smiles. Twinkling. But there is sadness in their stories, too. Tragedy and brokenness in the periphery. Things can’t stay the same. Barbie’s pink paradise and the girl’s childhood—they aren’t bubbles of time but chasms. Something to look back on, not exist within forever.
Barbie learns what it means to die. So does the girl. Perhaps they are intrinsically linked, dolls and death. We bring them to life. We imagine their stories. Dolls are often our first lessons in anatomy and emotion, behavior and expectation. But one day it has to end. One day the music grows distant, the outsidve grows louder, and we set our dolls down forever.