A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Monday, May 25, 2015


Given that one of my twin daughters took her remote-control truck to school for Show and Tell, the other took in her Snap Circuits electrical kit, and this was the cake that they chose to make on the occasion of their ninth birthday,  there might be those who would assume that they are not very into dolls.

Given the additional fact that I was not only the only female member of the Dungeons and Dragons Club in my elementary school, but also the only female member of the Cabbage Patch Haters Club… well, ditto.

But those assumptions would be wrong.
What’s so great about dolls?  Well… I wrote a list.  Or maybe it’s a tutorial.  I’ll let you decide.

How to play with dolls
Do I even need to explain that you have to really play with them?  When I was little, a neighbor (who was an actual grown-up human being) had a doll collection – pristine and untouched, on a high shelf.  This, I recognized, was utterly asinine.  If your dolls are a status symbol, you’re doing it wrong.
The first important doll category is the Soft Snuggly group.  If you happen to have a Y chromosome, people will probably give you a pretend bear or lion or whatever instead of a pretend human to cuddle with, but it really doesn’t matter; it’s still comforting and awesome, and still basically a doll.  Besides, if you’re dressed for winter in Fairbanks, your gender may be a mystery.
You can play with it in weird and potentially adult-embarrassing toddler ways.  For example, name the doll “Bedtime” or the bear “Whitey”.  Insist on taking it to grocery stores.  Insist on taking it to weddings.  Cry if Daddy washes it -- even though it kind of needed it what with the vomit and all.

As you get older, you’ll discover the second important category of dolls – the Imaginary Friend.  (Again, if you’re a boy, you’ll probably have to make do with a plastic velociraptor or a Lego construction worker, because society hates you.)  These imaginary friends are marginally more socially acceptable than the invisible kind, and incredibly adaptable.  Share your snacks with them.  Their table manners are almost as good as yours.   
Horizons broadening? Cognitive skills improving?  Try playing checkers with your Imaginary Friend.  Find two dolls and a bear and set up a bridge foursome.  

Sew them outfits that are way less lame and useless than the ones they came in.  Equip them with flashlights and emergency supplies. 
Build them bunk beds.  Build them a treehouse.  Build crazy amounts of shit for them, using as much duct tape as possible, and as many hazardous power tools as you can get away with.  

Teach your dolls a little something about parachuting.  Turn this into a kindergarten science fair project.  (Note: “The bigger parachute was better” might be a useful phrase to remember, later in life.)
Make them mushing sleds.  Dolls love mushing sleds.
Mommy Practice is a traditional role expected of dolls.  Daddy Practice is, alas, only sanctioned if you are lucky enough to have hippie parents who listened to Free To Be You and Me throughout the seventies (see also, “William Wants a Doll”).  Sure, this nurturing meme is a bit passé, but you can mix things up by reflecting your own Mom and Dad’s incredibly nerdy parenting techniques on your cloth-and-plastic children.  Try lecturing your dolls about biology and evolution.  Make a child bike seat out of an old Arm and Hammer cat litter box, strap it to your handlebars, and take your doll for a fourteen-mile ride.  Make backpack carriers with attached snack bags and tell the dolls you are hiking the Chilkoot Trail into the Yukon.  Make car seats. Stuff your baby in your jacket, fasten your skis, and round up the huskies.

Now test their math skills.  Be sure to use a voice filled with exaggerated patience every time your mock-child screws up royally – because, let’s face it, that doll does not know what the hell eight times six is.

Dolls that look like grownups are still called dolls if you’re female, but they’re called “action figures” if you’re male.  The only proper purpose of this category is pretending to do awesome grownup things such as rescuing people from fires, floods, Daleks, or gelatinous cubes.  The key here is that there has to be some cool adventure or challenge to act out.  Veterinary care for a wounded zebra might count, or exploring alien planets. War is not a good adventure.  Hair care and shopping are also not good adventures. From the perspective of a seven-year-old, being President probably isn't an interesting adventure, either, although your mileage and your seven-year-olds may vary.

This time, society pisses on both the double-X chromosomes and the XYs, albeit in very different ways.  This is only amusing if ironically reversed, as accomplished in this fabulous 1993 heist:
However, the trap is easily avoided: if the purpose of the doll appears to be donning high heels, applying glittery eyeshadow, and growing impossible boobs, get rid of it immediately -- unless you are creative enough to repurpose it into Wonder Woman Ninja Han Solo President Barbie.

Don’t get me wrong -- remote-control trucks are awesome.
Legos rock, and cardboard and duct tape are absolutely the bomb.  But a world that contains all of these fine accoutrements of childhood also needs some make-believe inhabitants to make it colorful, personable, alive – and, at the end of the day, just that little bit snuggly.

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