Posts Tagged ‘American Girl’
Pudding’s American Girl doll came back to us this week, following a brief stay in hospital. Did you know there was a hospital for dolls? I remember reading stories about dolly hospital when I was a girl, though no such thing existed back then.
So, shortly after Pudding cropped Kelly’s hair, I discovered that for about 1/3 of the cost of a new doll, we could send her to hospital to be made good as new. That was the easy part.
The hard part was deciding if that was the right course of action. If the doll could be fixed, would Pudding ever learn the consequences of her actions? Would she just do the same thing all over again. I didn’t know the answer to that, so I decided to let Future Me decide.
Over the following weeks, Pudding’s interest in her doll dwindled to nothing. She went from playing with her all the time, to discarding her completely. It seems like a big part of her interest in the doll was her hair. I don’t know to what extent that was because it made her “pretty” or because she enjoyed the tactile sensation of the hair. It doesn’t really matter.
What mattered to me was that a source of play had gone from her life. Some might say that the way Pudding played with her favourite doll- changing her diaper and dressing her up- was repetitive, a hallmark of her autism spectrum disorder. I would say that she played in a way that made her feel comfortable. In a challenging, confusing, and out-of-control world, Kelly was hers, she’d earned her, and she played with her just the way she wanted.
So then all the clothes and accessories that relatives had bought Pudding for Christmas went unused too. There was not only a emotional investment, but a financial one too. That very pragmatic reason, is what prompted me to finally check Kelly into hospital.
Or so I told myself. I knew the real truth as we watched her open the box to find her friend complete with pigtails and hospital gown.
Do you see that smile?
That is why.
Sorry, she was moving too fast to get any good ones, but you can definitely see the glee.
I’d do just about anything for that smile. Even run the risk of another hair-cutting incident. She adores the gown, her new pinktails, the little get well soon card that came with it. Most of all, she is happy to have her doll back. Her real doll, not the short-haired imposter she couldn’t play with.
Pudding is incredibly lucky in that she comes from an advantaged family who can afford to replace a doll. Goodness knows there is a settlement a little further on from her new school with kids living in shacks without water or electricity. American Girl dolls are from an entirely different world.
She is growing up learning that we need to help out others who aren’t so fortunate. Whatever challenges our family might face, they pale into insignificance compared with the way others are struggling.
We’re incredibly lucky in that we get to see that smile. We get to connect with her, share in her enthusiasm, and see her happy-flappy joy. Oh, I know how fortunate we are!
Pudding will always be an American Girl, just one growing up with a wider view of the world.
You know how it is when your child is on the verge of a new skill- you work on it and work on it until it is fully grasped. Before the school holidays, Pudding was close to being able to use scissors. It is testimony to how difficult a task this is for her, that she has been developing this skill in OT for over two years. We used the pretend scissors for cutting play dough, so she could really get some proprioceptive feedback. I printed out lots of worksheets for her, and she threw herself into the task.
We were getting somewhere. It is still very difficult to attend to a task for long, but we made progress. Now she is cutting, not neatly, not as well as a typically developing child; but she knows where to place her fingers, how much pressure to apply, and how to open them back up without removing her grip. She can hold the paper in one hand while her other completes all these things at once. It really isn’t until you sit down and try to teach these skills that you realize just how many components are involved in such a “simple” task.
It is hard for those of us who don’t struggle learning new tasks to ever remember a time when we couldn’t do them too. It is hard to constantly be aware of all the factors that are at play preventing our children from acquiring these skills. So we as teachers, guides and parents need an unlimited supply of patience. This is always my stumbling point.
Last week in one of our cutting sessions, I didn’t notice until she finished cutting that the “safety scissors” had cut through Pudding’s new dress as well. It was an accident, neither of us had noticed what was happening at the time, and I let her know it was an accident, and I wasn’t cross. This was a clear teaching moment, and I earnestly lectured her about how scissors are sharp and dangerous, and we only use them to cut paper or card. Right.
What I failed to realize, is that the teaching moment was for me. I needed to social story the correct use of scissors. I needed to set down rules and guidelines for using them only when I was around. I needed to make sure they were under lock and (hidden) key at all other times. But I’m careless, and I’m impatient, and I’m lazy, and busy, and a hundred other things that meant I needed a bigger teaching moment. I had that today.
Pudding was upstairs and awfully quiet as I cleaned up the kitchen. I had that moment of dread- I knew I had to get upstairs to see what was going on, but I stalled because I didn’t want to see. I saw Pudding, safety (my ass) scissors in one hand, and her beloved Kelly doll freshly scalped in the other. I didn’t see the resolution of all that skill-building. I didn’t see yet further pretend play skills. I didn’t see a rite of passage that all little girls (yep, even me) go through with the intoxicating feel of scissors through hair.
I saw a pile of hair, some human, some doll. I saw a doll that cost way too much in the first place that was ruined. I saw all my carefully cultivated patience run out. I saw this:
Of course, now she won’t play with her doll. She wants me to fix it, or get some new hair. I have to decide if Kelly is just going to learn to rock her new look, because we’ve all had a bad style, and it builds character. Or if she’ll go to Doll Hospital for a new head, which isn’t covered by our health insurance.
One thing I have decided: the more she develops, the less I feel cut out to parent. Oh well, at least I’m pretty decent at cutting Pudding’s hair, and I probably got that way from chopping at my own dolls when I was her age.
“I have survived the American Girl store experience. I am bloodied but unbowed.”
My husband’s Facebook status yesterday evening.
After a month of earning tokens, Pudding finally got to bring her Kelly doll home. As one last treat, we’d arranged her to have dinner at the American Girl Bistro. We’d used a velcro calendar system to count down the days, and by the time it came around, Pudding was buzzing with excitement (and with her very own little cocktail of autism and ADHD).
I told the kids that the day had finally arrived and we were going to go to American Girl. Cubby immediately announced that he wanted to go to American BOY!
Now once upon a time, back when I was an Idealist, I’d have been horrified at such entrenched gender stereotypes as my children were displaying. I would buy books and blocks for Pudding, steer her away from Barbies and other dolls. But every time we went for a play date, she would gravitate towards dolls. From the first day she could state her preference, she announced pink was her favourite colour. She would wear dresses only. She loved princesses. She was a girlie girl, despite my best efforts. Like many things, I soon learned that I couldn’t steer this child- I was along for the ride.
Her apparent femininity was sometimes at odds with her personality. She was always hyperactive, and she loved running and climbing. She loved chaotic environments, and being with other kids. She was also the toughest kid I ever met. She would fall a lot, but rarely cry. I didn’t know at the time that this hypo-sensitivity was a symptom of her autism. I was just bemused by this tomboy-meets-princess.
And then along came Cubby. I assumed that growing up in such a girlie environment, he’d play with the dolls and princesses too. But very early on he expressed an interest in firetrucks and trains. And unlike his tough cookie sister, Cubby overreacted to most sensory input. He seemed delicate and fragile; preferring peace and quiet, he shied away from other kids. Thanks to early intervention, he is far less defensive these days, but most days he is still the polar opposite of his big sister.
Nothing teaches you about gender stereotypes like actually spending time with young children. By the time we learned how difficult it could be to engage them, we were happy to use any and all interests to play with them both. I let them choose what those interests are. I let them choose who they are, even if that doesn’t quite match with all those good notions of parenting I had before I was actually a parent.
Armed with a train set for Cubby, we reached American Girl with a prancing Pudding. She galloped around the store with her new doll, smothering her in hugs and kisses. The wait for the table was excruciating. She was excited by the doll having its own special chair and cup and saucer. She was excited by all the pink. She was excited by all the girls and dolls. Naturally, she was too excited to actually eat. She hummed with pleasure.
When the server made an announcement for us to sing Happy Birthday to another girl there, Pudding wanted to join them for cake, and we had to explain that we can’t sit with people we don’t know. To her credit, she returned to her seat. We ate as quickly as we could in the face of imminent sensory overload. Though she was dazzled by her surroundings, she made every effort to follow the rules for dining out. We were bloodied, but unbowed.
To the average observer, they looked like just another American Girl and Boy, but forgive me for thinking they are so much more (they’re English too!).
Last night’s Spectrummy Mummy Facebook page status:
(Medical procedure + new special interest + trip to the mall) – spare cash = guilt to the power of 10. My equation for today.
We have another new interest. I’ve quit calling them special, my Pudding is a little too easy in her consumer affections these days. A few weeks ago we were at our local mall, when I noticed a large crowd gathered in front of a new shop. We moseyed on by and saw that there was a new American Girl store. There were little girls everywhere with multiple red boxes. Something tells me that our part of America is not quite hit so hard by these economic times. For those unfamiliar, American Girl is a shop that sells ultra-expensive dolls and matching clothes and accessories for girls. We looked through the window, and Pudding was enthralled, and quickly demanded to go inside. The place was so busy, that there was a ticket system to gain entry. Even if we were prepared to wait hours to get inside, the place was still crowded. I promised her we’d go in another time.
One day I pulled up the web site, and she quickly discovered a favourite, and named her “Kelly” (Pudding likes to give her own names to things she likes). Since then, at least once a day, she has asked me to show her pictures of Kelly. I heard that our store also has a bistro and girls can dine with their doll, and I knew how much Pudding would love it. I talked the hubby into it, and found the earliest reservation we could make was for the last week we were here. Perfect- one last treat for our American girl.
Yesterday we had to take Pudding to have an EKG to check that everything was fine with her heart (it is) due to her new medication. She didn’t want to go. She has seen enough doctors lately, I don’t blame her. Enter the guilt, because of course, it isn’t fair that this is her life. It especially isn’t fair that this is her life for what little time she has left of being an authentic American girl. Armed with stickers and lollipops, Pudding did great, in fact, she eventually liked it so much there she didn’t want to leave. We decided to do something nice for her, but at 99F, it was too hot to do anything outdoors. We made our way to the mall. Somehow, this translated to going to the American Girl store.
Oh I know, what you’re thinking- we got her the doll, right? Well, we have decided to get her the doll she likes. But it is expensive, and her birthday isn’t until December. We need to get the money together for it, but also it has to be seen as special for her. She can’t just get something because she wants it. We’d planned on buying her one for when she goes there for her meal. That week will see her packing up all her toys for a few months, and the Kelly doll will give her something to focus on for the flight.
We went into the store, and it was Pudding heaven: dolls and pink everywhere. She was very enamoured with a doll’s iron and ironing board, which bemused me- ironing is man’s work in our house, she has never seen me do that particular task. Of course, she wanted everything and the struggle was keeping her little fingers out of the boxes. We took her to see the restaurant where we’d be taking her in two weeks. Naturally, she wanted in. I tried to explain that we could go there next time, but I’m fairly certain she wasn’t listening. She had her own agenda.
We made our way downstairs and she found the Kelly doll. Immediately she hugged it, planted kisses all over the face, and smoothed the hair. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed a reaction to something that was at once so typical and so Pudding. She wanted that doll like any other 4 year-old, but she loved it like only Pudding can. She is the very definition of all or nothing, my girl.
Spectrummy Daddy and I looked at each other helplessly. Moments later Cubby decided he needed a boy doll too. Where was a doting grandparent when you needed them? We had to get out of there. I tried reason to get her to put the doll back, but Pudding loves beyond reason. Eventually with more guilt than it is humanly possible to feel, I had to prise it from her hands, place it out of reach, and carry the screaming Pudding out. All eyes were on us, of course, but I doubt I’m the only mother to have carried a brokenhearted little girl out of there without a red box.
As we neared the doors, a sales assistant approached with a sticker. Pudding was incandescent with rage, thrust the sticker back at the lady and between sobs forced out:
…which was just awesome pronouns, especially when distressed! I’m sure the lady was confused: there are many dolls with names, but none of those are Kelly. Once we were safely out, her newly motivated language skills were in full force.
“I don’t want to go to the playground, I want to go back to the Kelly doll. I want Mummy to get her. Mummy, please get her.”
Each polite, appropriate, functional request an extra little stab of guilt. Eventually the tears stopped, and I talked to her about earning the doll with her tokens. She seemed to get it. The chart had worked before in getting what she wanted. She began to cooperate, and after some time in the playground, we left for home.
This morning we began the day with her usual insistence that she stay home with me instead of going to school for the morning. Later she told me she had to go to the mall, for Kelly. I’ve got to make a calendar with a picture of the Kelly doll. Two weeks is going to be exhausting when time is measured in guilt minutes. And then of course, I feel guilty for Cubby. More guilt dollars. There is going to be a point where I’ll be the first ever stay-at-home autism mother who is forced to return to work because of the guilt.
American Guilt, at a mall near you.