Usually when my girls age out of a stage, I am more than ready to kiss it goodbye. Done with high chair…check. Potty trained…check check. Even thought I loved the preschool they attended and bawled as the last one graduated, I was done with helping mom days. There are only 4 ½ years between my three children. So when we go through a stage, we are in it for a while. As one finishes the next one is already underway.
So I wasn't prepared for what happened last weekend when we packed up the last of the American Girl doll paraphernalia. As the dolls, their pets, and a thousand accessories went into boxes headed for the basement, I paused for unexpected emoting. You would think I would be excited for the clutter to head downstairs. But while taking a look at the flood and emotions and memories, I was struck by how deep rooted they all were. Especially odd because the start of this stage was with my ex-husband's mother.
Amercian Girl entered my life when my former mother-in-law, Jean, first presented the catalog to my oldest daughter just before her sixth birthday. Jean, Grammie as my children called her, had attended the same school as the founder of AG, and she couldn't wait to share the girliness detail of it all with my girls. When looking at the catalog DaughterOne’s eyes were saucers. So were mine as I realized that a doll bed could run over $300 and their little outfits costs as much as mine. You could buy a campfire set for $35 (or I could make a real campfire for zilch – needless to say, I have two AG campfire sets in the basement).
Anywho, DaughterOne selected a doll for Grammie to give her for her birthday, and within months Kara, a doll designed to look like my daughter joined the family. The other two daughters drooled. This was not going to be a right of passage, turning 6 type of present. The younger two were getting them at the next possible moment….Christmas, well, so they informed their Grammie.
Preparing for the holidays, Jean had the younger two select their dolls from the catalog. DaughterTwo started immediately counting the days until Christmas eve. Lost was the spirit of receiving a gift, this time she made her expectations clear. I remember how excited Jean was when the dolls arrived, months before the holiday – ordered early so they wouldn't sell out. And then, just before Thanksgiving that year, Jean fell ill and died in the hospital. While so many years have passed I remember sitting under the tree at her house with my girls that Christmas Eve as they opened the dolls purchased for them by their Grammie. It was a little eerie, and bittersweet all at the same time. There wasn't a dry eye in the joint.
Kara and her new best friends Nellie and Samantha, were brought on vacations and even camping trips (with sleeping bags hand-sewn by moi). On the morning of their dance recital my girls woke up to their dolls dressed in miniature versions of the outfits they would wear on stage later that day (ok, I admit, this was over the top on my part - who knew I could sew a samba costume and a miniature tutu?).
There were trips, many trips to the store in New York. We have walked through all the endless displays numerous times always taking careful note of what has changed and added to the collections. We loved the dolls based on certain periods of time. The store had a café where the dolls could dine next to their owners in specially made chairs to slip under the table (we now have three of those as well). The store use to have a show, we saw it a bunch (maybe 5) times. One doll had its ears pierced at the store. All dolls had taken numerous trips to the salon for coifs fit for runway shows.
We had American Girl beds, tents, firepits, and what seemed like hundreds of outfits. The dolls had Uggs before I did. They had schools, a full stage, houses, and horses (yes, we had horses). Our dolls sold donuts in their own bakery, had their hair done in salon chairs we brought home. We had wardrobe cabinets, pots and pans, pretend food, and arts and crafts. They sat at desks and wrote notes with their own special crayons. The creative play was endless.
The dolls and their entourage of miniature dolls took over rooms, sometimes multiple rooms in the house at a time. They last dwelled in two bookcases and one old entertainment center in the dining room.
We went to local American Girl doll charity fashion shows, and each time, even after Jean’s death and my divorce, I made sure the girls took a minute to not only remember that their Grammie started all of this, but that she would have loved to have been part of the tea parties and shopping.
I can’t say that I’m sad it is gone, it was just a stage and an endless amount of clutter. I will not miss stepping on pieces of tiny wedge sized birthday cake with my bare feet. But we didn’t move through this stage quite as quickly as the others. This one stuck around and was emotionally attached to so many years of memories.
Funny, I never really got along all too well with my former monster-in-law…eh hem…I mean mother in law, but it was critical to me as a mom to preserve her legacy for my young daughters, even though her son and I parted ways. As a mom, I placed my feelings aside and helped preserve the love of a women for her grand daughters she didn't get to see grow up long enough. I help my children remember this most beloved relative, even though she was from a side of a family I am no longer part of - because my children are worthy of that.
I'm expecting the American Girl Christmas catalog any day now. When these catalogs arrive periodically throughout the year we all still take a look -I'm sure this year I’ll linger a little longer and remember all fun.