Christmas 2011 has come and gone, and I am left with an acre’s worth of wrapping-paper scraps and scads of mangled ribbons and bows. The debris that is left behind after the annual orgy of gift-exchanging is truly amazing. That’s one of the key miracles of Christmas: so much gift wrapping, package decorating, home ornamentation, and front-lawn festooning—hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks of preparation, and it’s over in the jingle of a bell. And still we do it all again next year!
I think one of the reasons why I am a sucker for the tinsel season is that I get to give dolls to future doll fans—whether they grow up to be adult collectors or mommies-in-training (or both) will be a surprise waiting down the road for them and for me.
This year, I had the enormous pleasure of granting a little girl named Madeline a realistic baby doll of her own. Madeline is Korean and Filipino, and many of her baby dolls are tow-headed plastic infants, blue-eyed vinyl toddlers, and pink-cheeked Caucasian newborns. This Christmas doll was different from her other babies; this one looked Asian, the same as Maddy.
I don’t know whether Maddy is aware of ethnic differences; she is almost three years old. However, her mother was certainly excited by the gift.
“You can’t find Asian baby dolls anywhere!” she declared. “They are nonexistent! They’re not in any of my stores. Who made this?”
And I happily explained that Corolle did, while Maddy carted her new baby around in its matching Corolle stroller.
Maddy’s mom, Helena, grew up in the Philippines and she was raised in impoverished circumstances. Her parents had come to the United States to establish a life and left their four children behind to live with their aunt.
Helena often recounts how her childhood days were devoid of any toys—there just wasn’t any money to pay for playthings; basic foodstuff was the main concern.
However, Helena and her siblings were allowed to touch toys and interact fleetingly with dolls and balls and bears and cars. Their aunt would take them on the bus to a nearby toy store, once a month. Because of their young age, they would ride for free, which made their aunt very happy and willing to make the trek. They would walk up and down the aisles of the shop and were allowed to choose one item to carry with them as they navigated the store. After 20 or 30 minutes of orbiting the shop with their treasured toy “on loan,” their aunt would take a picture of them posing with their chosen doll or action figure. Then they would respectfully put the item back on the shelf or in its bin. The photos served as the memento of the great time they had had with their toy.
Not owning any dolls of her own, Helena is very proud that she could give her daughter a nursery’s worth of baby dolls, but so far all of the newbies were flaxen-haired and rosy-complexioned. This new doll is something that Helena never would have envisioned—not in her childhood and not in her adulthood, either.
“Do you think Maddy knows that this baby looks more like her than her other dolls?” I asked.
Helena considered for a moment. “Maybe not right now, but in a year she will. And definitely the year after that. And certainly in her memory of today. She’ll remember this is the Christmas when she got a doll to love and saw that she was worth loving, too.”
Now, that is a heavy realization based upon the gifting of a little girl’s plaything. What did Helena mean exactly? I thought I knew, but I asked her to please explain what that last bit of Dr. Phil–speak meant.
“Well, if you only see white baby dolls—and that’s what you have to hold and to love and to snuggle with—you think those dolls, and those people, are the ones you have to care about. When you don’t see yourself as a doll—if you don’t see yourself reflected anywhere—you lose a sense of self. Or, you ask yourself, why aren’t you pretty enough to be made into a doll? Why aren’t you deserving of being a baby doll?”
I am very sympathetic to Helena’s viewpoint, because my daughter is Asian as well. After we adopted her from China, I also went on a wild-goose chase to find babies and dolls that resembled her. Consequently, Jane’s nursery was loaded down with Mulan dressed in every available costume and accessory.
When we received her Corolle Asian baby doll from friends who ordered it online for us, we were thrilled. And we were so moved when Jane first held the doll in her arms and kissed it, proudly naming the doll “Baby,” and then re-christening it “Baby Jane.”
Today, Jane doesn’t play that much with “Baby Jane,” but the doll has a place of honor in her bedroom, sitting majestically in its mini high chair.
After Maddy got her special doll, Jane ran upstairs to get her own “Baby Jane.”
The two girls waved their dolls at one another, and then Maddy toddled over to have her new baby doll hug Jane’s.
I actually felt tears form in my eyes as the two young girls embraced each other, along with their look-alike dolls.
They are so deserving of baby dolls, and of knowing that they are deserving of love.
My sentimental tears quickly formed into tears of laughter as Jane morphed her doll into a kickboxing Ultimate Fighting Champion baby. Her little “Baby Jane” doll was shadow boxing and doing roundhouse kicks, and Maddy was trying to grab the doll and put her down for a nap.
As all of this mayhem was unfolding, Helena took out her camera and quietly took a photo.
“This memory and this photo will be the best Christmas gift this year,” she mused.
And that’s why I scheme and dream, and plan and push, for months on end for a mere 24 hours of wonder and joy. It’s all about those brief, brilliant Christmas moments.