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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Way Back When Wednesday: The Pace Of Childhood

It was inevitable. Sometime in late June, a day would arrive when the burden of our Summertime Freedom was too much. Laura, Lisa, and I had already rollerskated until our knees and elbows were scabby and sore. We had played jump rope until arguing over misses and whose turn it was had frayed our friendships more than the street surface had frayed our skipping rope. Our koolaid stand idea never got off the ground, and we got tired of hearing our mothers say, "You kids get out of the house and go play outside!" That's when my mother would say, "Go get a big blanket, spread it out in the shade, and play dolls."

By dolls she meant, of course, Barbie dolls. My two friends across the street had Barbies, too, and tons of clothes in vinyl zippered cases. Our front yard had a nice shady maple tree, so we always played at our house. My mother provided the blanket or big comforter, and pretty soon we'd each be at a corner, setting up our Barbie's "house" and sorting her clothes. A few hours later, we'd be called inside for lunch or dinner or something, loathe to gather up our things and end our playtime.

We were probably eight or ten years old, not unusual for doll-playing back then. And sometimes it wasn't Barbies when we played dolls. If we all got Crissy dolls (with beautiful hair that grows!), then we played with those; if we had Barbie's cousins (Francie?) or sisters (Skipper?) or whomever, we played with those. We pretended they were going to work, going shopping, going out on a date, heading to the beach, or meeting for lunch. They had conversations and shared clothes and those teeny little shoes that never stayed on. We played for hours.

It is with some sadness and disappointment that I have noted Barbie dolls being given as gifts to children as young as two and three years old. On Mattel's website, some Barbie dolls are recommended for ages 3+, such as Barbie Video Game Hero, Barbie Fashionista Dolls, and Barbie Dreamtopia Bubbletastic Fairy Doll, to name only a few out of dozens. I guess I'm wondering why--and more importantly, just how--babies are playing with Barbies.

So much of Life has become accelerated for kids. I remember chaperoning prom and being astonished that there was a Garter Dance, once only a wedding reception ritual. High school students go to Florida, the Bahamas, and on cruises for Spring Break, the traditional rite for college students. And the elaborate setups involved now for merely asking someone for a date to Homecoming or Prom far exceed most people's proposals for marriage.

Where are these young people speeding off to? What is the ultimate destination, and how will they know when they've arrived?  It's exhausting.

Back to Barbies.

I actively played Barbies until junior high school, I think, and so did my friends.  And I had a built-in playmate with my sister Susan, five years my junior, when we weren't fighting.  Or when she wasn't bending my Barbies' legs backward and ruining them, leaving gaping holes in the rubber and exposing the plastic joints, rendering them stiff-legged and very unladylike forever.  (Probably Susan still owes me about four Barbies, but I've never collected.  She's likely compensated me in tomatoes and home-canned goods.)

I often say that I'm glad I raised my sons before the ubiquity of smartphones, social media, and the Internet.  And I am.  It was hard enough there at the end of their adolescence with AoL Instant Messenger and a shared Sega Genesis.   I could always remove the power cords for the computer and the game system when necessary. There was no way I would have survived anything else.

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14 comments:

  1. I'm still always a bit surprised to see very small girls (preschoolers, kindergarteners) clutching Barbie dolls because (back in the day) Barbies were always the territory of what we now call Tweens and, yes, even young Teens, who, back then, were not yet getting professional mani-pedis and curating an Instagram feed. Maybe they seemed inappropriate for really young children because they were so fashion-forward or because they had Boobs (Chrissie and Velvet did not, as you recall.) Maybe because they were so obviously grown women and at 4 or 5, you're still very much a Little Girl -or you were back then. I still remember with great fondness, getting Barbie's Town House for Christmas in 6th or maybe even 7th grade (along with a copy of 'Jo's Boys' which I also loved) and being wildly delighted. Like you, I'm glad I raised my boys before screens and smartphones became ubiquitous, but I do admit that I would have tearfully thanked my Maker for access to something like an iPad when we made those 8-hour cross-country car journeys to Granny's when the boys were small.

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    1. MsCaroline--Exactly. Very small children should be playing with something that has more application to them and their lives, like the entire Fisher Price and Little Tykes catalog.

      With regard to wanting an iPad for long car trips, it would not have solved a thing. They would have fought over the iPad, or if they each had one, there would have been an argument still about who was hogging all the room in the back seat. And then the matter of charging it, them not being able to see the screen because of all the sunshine in the car, and perhaps one getting a headache or neck/shoulders ache from looking down all the time. Kids + car + long trip = always something.

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  2. Oh wow, I forgot about Crissy and her hair! Do you remember Barbie's friend Midge - she had a boring middle parted flip, and freckles, and I always figured the reason she was Barbie's best friend was because a) she was in no way glamorous, thereby making Barbie look even better, and b) "Midge" - really?

    Anyway, I know it sounds like I'm saying grumpily, "Back in my day ..." but I am saying it, and I'm not grumpy. Just sad for what kids don't get to do or experience today because even babies have to be fashionable somehow.

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    1. Bridget--I know--"Midge." Did you ever, ever in your real life meet anyone named Midge? We lived practically on Lake Erie, so we knew about being invaded by the midges, but that was about it. I always felt the same way you did about Midge--the Stereotypical Friend, just like in all the rom-coms.

      Whenever I write this type of post, I feel like I'm a hundred years old and shaking a pointed, crabbed old finger. And I'm only 58. But our past, especially our childhood, feels eons ago and in an ancient time. The world has made such incredible leaps in culture and technology, and not all of them have had beneficial outcomes. Like you, some of the progress makes me feel sad for kids because some of them can't just be kids.

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  3. I got my one and only Barbie when I was in first grade. I had to buy it with my own money because my mother thought Barbies were awful, sending the wrong message to girls about what it meant to be an adult. However, she didn't stop me from getting one, and even bought me a case + some clothes for it. I played Barbies until I was about in 7th grade, which I imagine no self-respecting 13 y.o. girl would do now. Girls grow up sooner now, then get to 30 and suddenly start worrying that they look too old-- never content with who they are, it seems to me.

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    1. Ally Bean--I doubt that my mother spent much time worrying about the sort of toys I was playing with, especially what messages they were sending. The one and only time St Patsy ever rang in on anything I was interested in was when she expressed disapproval of my great admiration of Elton John's music in high school, and that was after she found out he was gay. Her view on such things has vastly changed and mellowed, but back then she tried to get me to stop playing his albums on the family stereo. I think I said something to the effect of, "Oh, Mom, for heaven's sake" and played them anyway since my father never weighed in on the subject.

      I like that your mother made her stand but didn't go overboard with it, still gifting you with Barbie accessories. She probably saw that a simple doll didn't change much in your world after all. And look at you now: no empty-headed fashionista in pursuit of only materialism. You're a Well-Rounded Bean.

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  4. I never liked Barbie, or any dolls for that matter. It was a shock to me that Maya wanted one so desperately. LIke Ally's mom, I was against them and would not buy her one. My in-laws thought this was cruel, and bought her one. Not to be daunted in my rules (she was maybe 3 or 4 at the time, btw) I said she could play with it, but only at their house. HA! Eventually, our rules of no Barbie (and no Disney) backfired, and she became OBSESSED with both, so we had to relent. I bought her an Ariel Barbie when she was 5, which was about as big of a concession as I can imagine.

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    1. J@jj--My sons and I always rolled our eyes at what we called The Pink Aisle at Toys R Us and other toy stores or toy departments in stores. They never expressed a desire for a traditional doll, so I didn't have to make a Barbie-related decision. Instead, I had to make the gun decision, among other ones.

      I do understand that so much of it is the Almighty Marketing. Barbies are marketed to the very, very young. And while I was somewhat impatient for my sons to reach their milestones (sit up, talk, use the potty, be more autonomous at play), I don't think I rushed them along quite so energetically as kids seem to be pushed along now.

      I continue to be both appalled and dismayed by the Cult Of Disney and its hold on people from ages 35 down. It's absolutely scary.

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  5. I still have my 9 month old Crissy doll - in fact, I can see her from where I’m sitting right now (but only because our unpacking got stalled when my hip gave out so she still sits where she landed. We’re planning to tackle all of that in January, after the holidays & when it’s too dreary to be outside.)

    I loved my Barbie dolls! I had several, plus Peace, Love, & ? I don’t remember the third doll’s name. Hope? My mom knew a seamstress who made doll clothes, so although I didn’t have many shoes, I had a LOT of clothes. Fun! Except when my brother used them as hostages in his Big Jim action scenarios. Very annoying.

    I always tell this story, so you may have already heard it. I REALLY did not like boys & couldn’t imagine having a boyfriend or husband, but I wanted my Barbie to have kids. So I just said that they were all illegitimate, because I figured that you didn’t need a man for that. Ah, the innocence of youth - at least back in the 70s.

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    1. Bug--I never heard of the Peace, Love, and whatever Barbies. I had several Barbies and a Francie, who I liked the most because she didn't have those imposing torpedo-like boobs. I liked mine, too, and always made clothes for them despite being a terrible seamstress. Playing dolls--all kinds of them--took up lots and lots of my time when I wasn't reading.

      Bless your dear sweet heart for thinking illegitimate children were those who did not come from men, period. Oh, the innocence of youth, indeed.

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    2. Look - I found the catalog for the dolls. Apparently I was groovy & didn’t know it :)

      http://plaidstallions.com/hasbro/love.html

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    3. Bug--Oh, so NOT Barbies, but a Hasbro fashion, Barbie-esque doll. Barbies were made by Mattel. You had a knockoff Barbie. A counterculture Barbie, if you will!

      Plaid Stallions sounds like a sort of Scottish Porn label. LOL.

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  6. Totally had a Crissy doll, loved it.

    My daughter was given a Barbie at about age 5 or so. Didn't play with it too much, and I never made a bit deal out of it. The interesting thing is that there is a very subversive animated Barbie "Life in the Dream House" show on Netflix, and I actually get a kick out of it.

    Technology is a double edged sword, to be sure. A long time ago my husband and I told our son about our rules for what he can and cannot do online/social media. We had another updated chat about it not too long ago. He knows that what he says and does can follow him around for the rest of his life, which honestly, is terrifying. My daughter has begged for her own YouTube channel for years, and I told her she can have one when she is 18. All of it is terrifying.

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    1. Gina--Of COURSE you had a Crissy doll, too. Honestly, if you and I don't meet IRL, it will be a shame. We have so much to talk about.

      I recently watched a Dr. Phil show (a two-parter!) about a woman who has her own YouTube channel and puts her whole life on there. She is so sadly starved for attention that she has invented medical conditions (food allergies and fake reactions), thrown herself on the car of a person who was following her and trying to prove she was a big phony (she calls them her Haters) and then said they tried to run her over, and all sorts of crazy behaviours. I was thoroughly entertained.

      I watch YouTube videos to learn new knitting stitches or techniques, which is decidedly more tame than all of that. Or to find clips of Seinfeld with quotes I want to use for the blog or once in a while, to see if there are full episodes of old TV shows, like Designing Women (there are).

      Isn't your daughter still in grade school? I admit, I've lost track of exactly how old she is, but I know she's still very young. What would she do on a YouTube channel, or even How does she know what a YouTube Channel is? I wouldn't trade places with you for anything right now. Terrifying is right!

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