Three lessons I learned at American Girl Place

American Girl Place, Chicago

 photo: theotherway, via Flickr Creative Commons

 

 

Can I admit something right now?

Since becoming a parent, I’ve been a little bit – oh, I don’t know – judge-y about the whole American Girl doll craze.

Maybe it’s just that I’m still a little bitter that I missed out as a kid. My aunt Kay gave me the book introducing Kirsten, a pioneer girl from Sweden who immigrates to Minnesota in 1854, when I was about 11…a bit too old to get the accompanying doll, and let’s face it, I don’t think my ultra-frugal mom would have gone for it, anyway.

Instead, I ogled my two-years-younger cousin’s Samantha doll: her impeccable wardrobe, her miniature accessories, her glossy brown hair – and regretted having been born in 1977 instead of, say, 1981.

Or maybe it’s just because, let’s face it, American Girl dolls aren’t cheap. And it seemed to me like the height of indulgent spoiling to buy such an expensive doll for a little kid.

But when I was invited to attend an event at the American Girl Place in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, I thought, “Why not?” I hadn’t been to one of the stores as an adult, and I was curious about the draw that brings mothers and daughters, and grandmothers and granddaughters, and aunts and nieces, through the doors.

I kept my heart and debit card guarded.

And then I walked through the doors. And all that guardedness fell away.

americangirl

I think this Caroline display might have been the one that put me over the edge. I mean the Regency dress and furniture and tiny little mantel and wee model sailboat?

I managed to keep my wallet closed as I wandered around the store, checked out the salon, and browsed the extensive book collection.

But I admit it: I got emotional, excited, and totally sucked in. It was like being a little girl again, only one with the power to actually buy a doll, if I so chose. And, you know, furniture and clothes and hair accessories too.

After wandering the store, the other bloggers and I headed upstairs to the cafe to hear a presentation from my friend Danielle Smith of Extraordinary Mommy, one of the event’s hosts.

As she began talking about the message of American Girl and what it’s meant to her and her daughters, I glanced over at Lindsey Ferrier, and saw what everyone else was feeling reflected on her (seriously gorgeous) face:

Lindsey-motion

And then Danielle announced that we’d all be getting a surprise gift – a Bitty Baby to give to a special girl in our lives. Which is when the room pretty much exploded:

American Girl Bitty Baby Announcement

(the lady with the lovely lavender hair is Morgan Shanahan of The 818.)

Clara’s Bitty Baby – which I got to choose customized to her eye and hair color – arrived the other day, and I was skeptical. She’s only four. Would she really appreciate a $55 baby doll more than a $15 one?

The answer, in short: yes.

She immediately fell in love, and now that I’ve had some time to spend with her Bitty Baby, I can see why. Every detail is perfect and realistic: the baby’s weight and heft, its features, its opening-and-closing eyes.

Clara named her baby “Stars” and has taken very good care of her, as you can see:

stars-doll

I guess I’ve learned a few things during my American Girl awakening.

First, it’s not fair to judge other parents for wanting to do something special for their kids, even if the experience is costly. We all choose to spend our money in different ways and it’s not up to me to decide which is the right way, especially considering I’ve blown money on things other people would consider extremely frivolous.

Second, expense is relative. Yes, a Bitty Baby costs $55. But Clara has a toy box filled to the brim with $10 – $20 dolls and stuffed animals she rarely plays with (in fairness, many were hand-me-downs, but still.)

Having pizza delivered to feed our whole family can cost almost as much.

One of the bigger dolls – complete with an amazing outfit and a book – costs $110. That’s about as much as Jon and I would spend on a night out at a nice restaurant. These dolls can bring a child years of play, imagination and joy. Seems like a fair investment to me.

Yes, American Girl dolls will be out of the financial reach of many families, and that’s unfortunate – but it doesn’t mean the doll isn’t worth the price.

Third, there is definitely more American Girl in our future. Now that I’ve been in the store, I’m hooked. Yes, the dolls, and the books (they are very well written), and the clothes and wee accessories are a huge draw, as are the historic lessons and girl-power messages.

But it’s more than that. American Girl is about becoming a little girl again, if only for a little while. It’s about remembering how it felt to hold a doll, to almost believe she was alive, to imagine a new world for her.

It’s one of the most fun parts of being a parent: getting to re-live a little bit of that childhood excitement through our children’s eyes.

And, in my case, getting to make up, just a little bit, for never getting that Kirsten doll when I was 11.

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