Friday, May 6, 2011

Child's Play

A few years ago my mother decided it was time to rid her garage of clutter.  She asked my sister and I to go through the stacks of boxes to decide which childhood relics we would keep and which we would give away or sell.  She asked in that tone mothers have where you can't say no.  Because we were sisters and only three years apart, we had many of the same toys.  In one of my boxes, I discovered twenty-five pristine Strawberry Shortcake characters complete with matching pets and combs, their sweet smelling outfits intact.  Crystal Pistol’s box contained a jacked-up bald Blueberry Muffin with lipstick smears on her face and a Purple Pie Man wearing striped Barbie legwarmers.  My Strawberry Shortcake collection, because it was pristine, went for a very nice price on eBay.  My sister’s doll assortment, although it started out exactly the same as mine, wasn’t even deemed worthy of the Salvation Army pile.

Another lucrative finding for me was a Betsy Wetsy doll.  These incontinent made-in-China baby dolls of the 80's came in old timey trunks to make them seem fancy like their porcelain 1950's counterparts.  The doll was strapped in on one side of the trunk while the other half acted as a wardrobe.  Betsy’s clothes hung on a rod and her shoes, bonnets and other accessories were housed in a small drawer.  I don’t remember ever playing with my girl Betsy.  I thought she was lovely and I was deathly afraid I'd ruin her.  Plus, the idea of changing her diaper did not sound fun to me. It sounded gross and needless.  I just wouldn't feed her!  Then she'd never need a diaper change! After 20 years, she looked just as she did when I found her under the Christmas tree, not a hair was out of place, her clothing was organized by color and by type.  Pistol’s doll was discovered later that day.  When we opened the trunk, we found a naked Betsy crammed upside down and backwards into the crayon-colored interior.  Her hair was in complete disarray and, while we didn’t find any of Miss Wetsy’s own clothing, we found several stray Barbie shoes and a melted Smurf.

I hard-core made fun of my sister for this.  Her only comeback was calling me “Monica” after the anal retentive Friends character.  I felt very smug in my clear superiority.  Obviously I was better at taking care of things;  look what my silly sister did to them!  It’s amazing my parents bought her anything!  I won!

Later than night, settled into the bed in my childhood room, I stared at shelves still covered with  Madame Alexander dolls I’d never even fiddled with after receiving.  I thought about my strict warnings to friends who spent the night:  Touch those dolls and I’ll kill you!  I remembered that I hardly ever played with my Cabbage Patch Kids until a surly pre-teen me hung one of them by a noose. (That was Charlie.  He was evil.  I figured he'd go Chucky on me at any moment.)  My toys were sorely neglected, especially the dolls.  I either thought I'd break them or I didn't care to play with them.  Or both.  I think the only items in my childhood bedroom that would show any signs of wear today would be my books or my records, which, like my good attitude, didn't make it past the late nineties.

And, that was the thing.  My sister’s toys were messed up and near unrecognizable because she actually played with them.  She played house with her Barbies while I made mine have sex with Darth Vader.   She actually fed Betsy Wetsy a bottle and then changed her diaper when Betsy inevitably peed her plastic self.  She lined up her Cabbage Patch Kids and taught them about life.  While I was giving my dolls an indifferent cold shoulder, my little sister was practicing becoming a mother.

My sister and I are both in our thirties now.  Crystal has two awesome little boys.  I have a dog and twenty houseplants.  She is an amazing single mother, deftly juggling a full-time managerial position, her personal life and the bringing up of two small, intelligent and impressionable human beings.  I manage myself pretty well most days.  I have no desire to mother anything but I recognize the effort and natural ability it takes.  Anyone that thinks children don't show an inkling of their future personalities early in life should take a closer look at their own childhood toys.

My mother’s house is free from our kid clutter now.  I kept an ewok (Wicket, of course), a Boogie Oogie charm necklace and a Good Luck Troll that I’m pretty sure was solely responsible for my getting cast in every play I ever did and maybe a couple of good grades in Algebra 2.  I’m not sure if any of Crystal Pistol’s toys were salvageable but it doesn’t matter.  She took what was most important with her.  She uses it every second of every day.

Happy Mother’s Day to Pistol and all of you other Moms!

*photo by salimfadhley.