Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gifts We Give Our Kids

Getting in to the swing of the school year is uncomfortable for many of us. I still marvel at the kids who walk off to school on the first day with a new teacher, new kids and a new backpack then wave and walk away from their parent. That is not my child. Actually it might be my little one, but it is definitely not my girl.  She did better this year than I have ever seen her, but the first Monday back after the first weekend she was overcome with anxiety. She walked to her spot in the line and froze. She clenched my hand in hers and begged me to stay. When I said I couldn't she asked if I could get her at lunch, then maybe just 1:45, then she grabbed my hand harder and asked if she could please just come with me. She began crying then sobbing.

My first response is to try to calm her down, tell her it will be okay, and remind her that once she gets into the classroom she will have fun. We talk about the butterflies in her belly and that they can be there but they aren't allowed to take away her day of fun. She lets a few tears run down her face but does her best to walk into her room. I say goodbye and as I go towards the hall she screams after me out of her classroom. I hug her, calm her down, say goodbye, walk away again, and repeat. Twice she came after me, and it took so much strength on my part not to cry with her.

This is so familiar because this was me when I was a little girl. This is anxiety. It's genetic thus I have given her this gift and I wish I could take it back. I can't, so instead I am going to try my best to give her the tools that weren't given to me as a kid so that through her life she can feel like she can control her anxiety so that it doesn't control her. This is something I am still learning but as a team this family is starting to practice a bit more mindfulness, breathing and acceptance. It is absolutely a practice and not a magic trick but I am one determined mama. I can't take anxiety away from my child but I am without a doubt going to do my best to help her get through it. I want her to know she is not alone and that I totally understand. I want her to know I know how she feels because I still feel like that too sometimes. I have been reassuring her that worrying is an okay feeling, and that sometimes we worry about things that aren't real. I explained that it is up to us to figure out  the difference between what is really happening and what we are worried about happening. With her it is the moment she says goodbye she feels like the day will be so long and it will be too long before seeing me again. The reality is though when she gets into school she gets busy and time isn't an issue anymore when she is having fun.

We have had much better days since Monday. She is getting a little system down of putting her backpack on the hook then coming back to me for a hug before heading into her class. Little by little, day by day this will get easier. I went off to college in London for a semester, and when I got to my dorm I called my mom panicked and asked her if she could come if I needed her. She assured me she would, then later confided to me that of course she wouldn't have flown all the way to London. She said as soon as I heard she would come my breathing relaxed over the phone. She may not have gotten on a plane for me but learning what I needed to hear in that moment helped me tremendously. If I can pass that on to my daughter then Oh the places she will go...Just not overseas, thats too far.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

American Girl

The doll that seems to be the "Cabbage Patch kid" for my daughters generation is an American Girl doll. No one is getting trampled outside Toys R Us like when I was a little girl, but little girls seems to want them just as badly. I was pleased when my daughter never seemed to notice them. She asked me once why there were older girls carrying dolls dressed identical to them, but it was more a "Isn't that weird, mama?," kind of question. That was before her friend from London (not American) came to visit us and brought her new American Girl doll. Since this little girl is my daughter's best friend, the doll suddenly got my daughter's attention.

The American Girl company was started by Pleasant Rowland, a former school teacher who wanted to create a line of dolls that represented American history. She started a small catalog-only business that was family owned. I read that she vowed to keep it that way as to keep it high quality and authentic.  Each doll came with a book that told the story of a girls role in that time period. The 18-inch doll was a success and history lessons were now available in a package that girls were excited about. After twelve years though, Pleasant Rowland sold her company. I guess vows get broken when Mattel offers to pay you $700 million dollars.

What was lost in that business deal was much more than a little catalog company. Little by little, the dolls gradually lost the historical richness they previously represented. A new line of friends were made. The idea that every girl in America could find a doll that looked like them was a marketing idea that Mattel ran with. The image of the company changes along with the look of the doll. You can always count on the Barbie makers to make the doll thinner than it was, the feet smaller, and the face more made up. A once female-owned company went to Mattel which has about eight board members and only one of them is a woman. So once again, a popular girls toy gets more focus on it's look and image than its empowering stories that made it appealing in the first place.

A friend told me that despite the company's issues the American Girl store is such a fun place for girls to go. She described it as warm and inclusive. I don't doubt that it is a dream come true for little girls to have a place to play and lunch with their dolls. The cost of everything in that store is anything but inclusive though. How does it represent America if only the wealthiest of people can afford it. The doll alone is $125. To get its ears pierced is $17 (which involves screwing a hole in its plastic head). The dolls used to be made out of high-quality vinyl, but are now hollower and made with thin plastic. The American Girl doll is also of course made in China. I have plenty of items made in China but it seems odd that a doll meant to celebrate American history would be produced in another country.

My daughter forgot about the doll for a few months but was reminded when she noticed another friend of hers had one. She liked how the had so many accessories and that she could care for them. I watched her with a Build-A-Bear doll that she got at a birthday party and saw that she actually played with it. I wondered if a I was depriving her of a doll experience. She had baby dolls but no dolls that represented her current age. She didn't want the doll for her birthday because she knew it cost so much and that she would only get that and that alone. She opted for a party. One day we went to Target for something else and she noticed the "Our Generation" dolls. They were the same idea as American Girl dolls but without the history part. I love the idea of learning history through play and especially if it is with the focus of a female story, but lets face it the American Girl company lost it's original goal years ago and what ti got replaced with was longer eyelashes and a skinnier frame.

When my daughter saw the dolls that were in Target, she really wanted one. I explained that they were not the same company but the same idea. She asked how much they were and when I told her that they were $27. She asked if she could have this kind of doll. I reminded her of the birthday present that she had already asked for and that if she wanted this instead she could have it. Or I offered that she could buy it with her own money. She went home counted up her coins and had over $40 in coins. I told her if we went to the bank to get papers to roll the money that we could return with the money to Target that same afternoon. When she returned to the store with her rolled coins in her hands she was so excited to pay for the doll herself. She handed the cashier her money and went home a very happy girl. That was over a month ago and she has played with that doll everyday since. When someone asks her if it is an American Girl doll, she says proudly that it is actually an Our Generation doll. Both products are the same height, the same concept and both give kids a lot of joy. She didn't end up learning much history, but she did learn a lesson in economics. It was the first time she learned anything about branding, advertising, and overseas production. She learned that consumers often buy into an expensive package and that you don't always have to. And that lesson is a valuable one.  

photo credit: Orit Harpaz