Ever since Caroline was born, I have dreamed of the day I get to give her an American Girl doll. If you were a little girl at any point in the 90’s, you probably understand (My husband completely does not understand. “Don’t be disappointed if she doesn’t love these dolls as much as you do,” he said to me. HAHA AS IF.) In those days, they were made by The Pleasant Company and were completely unlike any other toy I had ever seen. They were beautiful. They had the most amazing clothes. They all had tiny tea sets or picnic baskets or ice cream parlors. And everything cost one million dollars. Or at least it felt like it did.
When I was 7 or 8 my parents and grandparents teamed up to make my sister and I American Girl dolls. They bought blonde 18-inch baby dolls, purchased a few tiny accessories that couldn’t be easily replicated, and then hand-made everything else we needed for our own Kirstens. They did the braids. They made beds with tiny mattresses and quilts. And my grandmother sewed me a child-sized version of Kirsten’s pink checked dress because there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to be a Swedish pioneer girl, even if that meant my best friend might die of cholera. I still remember finding our boxes with the dolls under our Christmas tree.
Eventually, I got a “real” Samantha doll and several of her outfits. I treasured her until the day I accidentally pulled her leg off trying to get her into a pair of tights, then I gently put her away and thought “some day I’ll send her to the doll hospital”. I still have all of it, both the Kirsten and the Samantha and the clothes and accessories and the bed and the box. It’s been in Caroline’s closet for years. So I decided THIS year, when she turned 6, would be the year of the American Girl. I would stop hiding the catalogs when they came (because of course I get the catalog) and we would look through and talk about how pretty everything was. I would buy her a doll, then ask for my family to sponsor a gift card so we could go to the store and do some dream shopping. We could get tea and ice cream in the American Girl Cafe where your doll gets a special seat and her own cup and everything would be so pink and so sparkly and she would look back on this birthday as the best birthday of her childhood.
But I had a baby 3 months ago, who I can’t really leave for long enough to do a girl’s trip to Boston. So I needed to bring my baby with me. But I didn’t want a crying baby to disrupt our trip so I talked E into bringing everyone so he could watch the boys while Caroline and I did our special birthday stuff and then Finn would be close enough to nurse if he needed. In my head, it was a great plan.
In reality, it was a terrible plan because there was no plan. We left late. No one ate anything. We ended up with all of us standing in the middle of the American Girl store while Linc threw a tantrum, the hungry baby cried, Evan leaned against things because he was bored and I wondered how I could have even thought this was a good idea. Caroline picked out a couple things and we left. No tea, no magical mother-daughter time, no wandering around for an hour looking at every tiny detail for the dolls.
By the time we got home, I felt like I had genuinely ruined Caroline’s birthday. She would never look back on the day she got her first American Girl doll and think about how magical it was.
But the truth is 6-year-olds don’t internalize everything the way adults do. Caroline was so excited to play with her doll and to dress her up in all her new clothes she barely noticed how grumpy I was. So I pulled myself together and asked her if she wanted to run some errands with me, one-on-one. “Yes! A girl date! I love girl dates!” she said. We went to Target for diapers and toothpaste. We wandered around for an hour with our Starbucks (hot cocoa and a cake pop for her, the hugest peppermint mocha frapp ever for me), looking at Christmas decorations, checking out the stuff in the dollar spot, and picking up small presents she could give her brothers for Christmas. She brought her American Girl doll and they rode in the cart together, singing a made up song and telling every person who smiled at her that it was her birthday.
I have always struggled with keeping my expectations in the realm of reality and adjusting when things didn’t work out exactly as I had imagined. Going with the flow is not my specialty. Enjoying the moment if the moment isn’t the moment I had planned.
I’m working on it.