Around the holidays when my mother came to visit, we got busy making a little bed for the dolls Ava Scarlett was to receive for Christmas. My mother gave her one doll, and Santa brought her the other.
I ordered a bunch of stuff online and had it all shipped directly to the cottage, where we planned to spend our time. So, when we arrived on Christmas Eve, I became the greatest wrap-star you've ever seen (Kanye wrap these gifts, yo?) and put paper, bows, and tags on everything in a few hours, after the children went to sleep. Both dolls were with the shipment.
(I know. The clothes and the hairband are kinda hideous, but I don't design these things...)
The first was tagged from my mother, and the second was from Santa. Both little dolls would have room to sleep in the bed.
On Christmas morning, my attention was scattered - my eyes were everywhere at once, in the way one gets when the presents-opening gets underway. She hadn't really seen the little bed, but I did spy her unwrapping one of the boxes I knew had a doll inside. She opened the one from my mother first, and squealed and beamed at it, trying desperately to rip the box open to get it out.
I watched Oliver unwrap some of his things, while I exchanged packages with my husband, wishing him a Merry Christmas... and after the paper came off some other small things, I noticed my girl go for the other box that had a doll in it. I waited.
She had the box in her lap upside down at first, and her mouth hung open in surprise of a second doll, but when she turned it over, her face slowly slackened and went blank. She stared at it. I watched her eyes scan the doll up and down a few times, as she popped her thumb in her mouth, sitting on her heels. She cast it aside, and stood up suddenly... and went back to finish the job of getting the other baby out of it's box.
I turned my head and bit my lip, trying to keep my eyes from watering. I didn't say anything.
After some time sifting through all the stuff, and raking up all the paper and bits of ribbon to set for the trash, I pulled the little bed out from under the tree and said, "Did you see this? Grandma and I made it for your new babies! I think they can both fit in there... shall we try?"
She was overjoyed by the little bed and put the first baby in it right away. But, she was less enthused about opening the one from Santa.
Me: Do you want help with that box?
She: *sullenly stares at box*
Me: What's the matter?
As if I didn't know.
She: Well... I don't really like this one very much.
Me: *deep breath* Why not?
She: I just think the other on is prettier.
I tried not to cry, and I didn't. I wasn't upset that she didn't like what I'd chosen for her, exactly. It was more because I understood. White babies seem more attractive when you're surrounded by them all the time.
I should mention here that she has another black baby doll, made by the same company, that her other grandmother gave her once, sometime before she was two. She almost never plays with it, but I wasn't discouraged about it. Children play with the things they fancy... she seems to choose the stuffed animals over the ones with baby faces. And she extremely fond those little Calico Critters and tiny figurines she's forever messing with. She loves to make meals with her play foods. I wasn't thinking about the fact that she seldom played with any of the babies. I'd always likened this to preference. Or perhaps stage development. I hadn't really considered that she didn't like the black one. The one that looks more like me.
I shrugged the nagging tears back and said, "Ava Scarlett? All babies are beautiful. Every single one. And these two are lucky because they get to be together, and sleep together in this cute little bed, and you get to be their mum. Why don't we see if they both fit?"
She reluctantly pushed the box in my direction, and I opened it, untwisting all the ties in the back that held the doll to the cardboard backing. I admired her clothing, and showed her how the headband could come on and off... and I nestled it into the bed with the other, and tucked them in.
Me: There! Aren't they cute? They're like sisters!
She: Yeah... but they're not twins.
Me: No, they're not... but now they have each other, so neither one will be lonely. That's a good thing, don't you think?
She: *nods with thumb in her mouth*
Me: And you know, they're the same size, so you can mix and match their clothes if you want to. That's kind of fun.
She: Look! *points at each doll's face* Big nose... little nose. *blinks at me*
And there it was - the "thing" that used to plague me when I was young. The distorted, almost dysmorphic view I had of my own self - of my nose being the widest... being the blackest...
I tried not to feel crushed.
Me: Well, everyone's nose is different. There are no two alike, you know. Mine is different from yours, and different from Oliver's. And daddy's. And Holly's... and Jed's! Some noses are big, and some are small. *leans in* As long as they smell good... *taps nose and sniffs*
I lock eyes with her to see if she caught my joke. After a few seconds, she smiles and throws her head back, laughing her guts out.
She: Oh mummy, I just love this bed you made with Grandma Pat. Thank you SO much!
Me: You're welcome! I hope your babies will be comfortable in there.
She: They're going to sleep now...
And she did play with them often during the time we were there. We opted to leave the whole kit behind, since she hasn't a lot of things to play with while we're in the woods.
. . .
Once, when she was still a small stroller-baby, while wheeling her through the aisles of the toy department somewhere, we came to the Barbie section. On display was a limited-time series of uber-fashionista Barbies that not only came with an array of accoutrement like shoes and sunglasses, little doggies and magazines, but they also came in an array of skin tones. There was a black Barbie with a short afro, wearing a black mini dress and sparkly shoes. She looked at it and said, "Dat YOU, mummy!" I smiled at her, and got a little lump in my throat. Sure I'd seen ones that looked like, say, Beyonce... but never one that looked even a little bit like me.
I'm not a huge fan of Barbie (at all) but I bought the thing immediately, and put it away to save for a later date.
This child is going to turn five in a few weeks, and Martin asked me just the other day if we should give it to her for her birthday. Besides the fact that I think she's a smidge young for it, after this Christmas thing... I'm not sure she's ready.
I'm not sure I'm ready. Not ready to have her reject the thing that looks like her mum, and to be disappointed that it doesn't have blue eyes and long, flowing blonde hair. Which is what she wishes for her own self, I know - she tells me all the time. It's what I wished for myself when I was small, too. Le sigh. I'll be sad when she comes to loathe her beautiful brown curls one day...
These are the hard parts. I wish I had a better idea of what to do.
And I wish it didn't make me feel like crying every time I think about it.
Got any ideas or advice, Internets?