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Nathan surprised us at the zoo on my birthday.  I took the kids to see the new lion exhibit (Which was terrifyingly awesome, since the female lions are not getting along with the new male and have been attacking him.  I’ve never seen lions in a zoo do anything but lie around and pant – and as soon as they started leaping off the rocks, growling at the poor guy and giving him the evil eye, everyone was ushered away and curtains were drawn in front of the glass.).  I love me some zoo – and Nae let me indulge my whims without letting us know he was taking the afternoon off work to celebrate my birthday.  He showed up at the zoo restaurant for lunch, surprised Finny in the most spectacular way and then whisked us all off to Denver for a “special surprise.”

The stage was set for this wonderful 32nd birthday experience when I was about six…  Like many girls at the time, every time the American Girl catalogue would come in the mail, I would pour over it; studying every last detail, and wishing for the day when someone would miraculously fork over $85.00 for a doll for me to fawn over.  After patiently waiting for four or five years, I burst into bona fide tears of joy when I unwrapped my Christmas present from my grandparents.  I think the first thing I opened was Molly’s pajamas, and by the time I dug through the pile for the doll-sized box, I was shaking.  It was like hugging a pen pal you had spent (literally) half your life pouring over every detail of their life (from the books) and silently clutching their letters to your bosom hoping for one day to meet them in the flesh.

It was, without exaggeration, the happiest moment in my young life.  It was if I had met a celebrity and now she was destined to be the very best friend I had ever dreamed of.  For those of you good at math, yes… I was close to eleven at the time.

Start 'em young.

Starting ’em young.

And now, at the age of 32, Nathan was driving me to the American Girl store to buy Molly’s best friend Emily.  Once the catalog came (addressed to Alice these days) announcing Molly and Emily’s retirement, I was inexplicably heartbroken.  I could not find a single good reason to feel sad about a toy being discontinued…  I had Molly, she served me well in my adolescence, stood guard over my bedroom from her perch atop my dresser until I moved out of the house and now is safely tucked away into storage at my grandmother’s house.  No matter what the reason, I mourned just a smidge for Molly and her WWII world.

Though I’m not much for finding solace in retail therapy, the promise of Emily was a little exhilarating.  And there it was, that same feeling of twittery anticipation I felt when I was ten, pulling the lid off of Molly’s burgundy box as gently and quickly as I could without tearing it.

When we arrived, Alice was beside herself amidst the army of plastic faces smiling down on her.  While Nathan and Finn gracefully bowed out to take refuge in the Lego store, Alice and I spent the next hour studying all the tiny accessories, taking doll strollers for test drives and stroking all the dolls’ hair.  We gathered up Emily, her tiny little scrapbook and cardigan and headed to the register.  Sure, Emily was mine, but I’m not a heartless bastard.  We took her out of her box, and for the rest of the day, Alice carried her around the mall, hugged her the whole way home and almost lost it as I tucked her in without the company of sweet, little Emily.

My original plan was to strip Emily of her 1940’s-era outfit, make her a stand-in outfit for Alice to play with her in, and when Alice lost interest, redress her and tuck her away.  Once Alice was old enough to respect the fact that I could buy a week’s worth of groceries with the cash I spent on this doll, we would haul her out and she may become the friend to Alice that Molly was to me.

Ha.  Cue the moment when Alice starts ripping out her hair, and Emily was packed away early the next morning.

When my mom sent me money for my birthday (something she NEVER does, and told me she was not proud of herself for doing so), I whipped open Craigslist on my phone and set to work finding an American Girl Doll that Alice could love as much as Emily.  And rip her hair out without causing me to go into a holy conniption.  Before long, I was and negotiating prices, pouring over pictures and getting ready to break my number one rule about Craigslisting; NEVER GO PICK ANYTHING UP WITHOUT NATHAN.

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When we got her, she was a hot mess.  Her hair was a nest of tangles and her limbs wiggled sadly from their joints.  This is why you are getting her for a steal, Lisa… She needs work.  Her previous owners thought of her as a lost cause, but you can resurrect her!!  (Until Alice destroys her once again.)

I scrubbed her down with Clorox wipes and buffed her clean with a Magic Eraser.  While Alice impatiently grunted next to me, I meticulously alternated misting her hair with water and tediously combing out her snarls.  By the end of that ordeal, she didn’t look so bad.

Woah.  Those are some BANGS.

Woah. Those are some BANGS.  Fo reals.

We washed her clothes, dressed her in a new outfit, pulled her hair back, and Alice set about toting her little shadow around the house.  She kept calling her Emily, which is one of the most adorable things EVER for a little person to try to say “Emily,” but since we can’t go around having two dolls with the same name, we dubbed this one Natalie…  I tried Lily, Elizabeth and even Buttercup (as in the Princess Bride – awesomest Rob Reiner film EVER), but Finn thought Natalie was the best choice.  And so it is.

I watched a few YouTube videos on how to restring AG dolls (to make her limbs nice and tight) and was equal parts excited and horrified.  If you would have told my ten-year-old self that I would one day dismantle an American Girl doll, I would have punched you in the face.  The thought of taking apart Molly would have been akin to shaving my head.  But here I was, steeling my nerves and untying the strings that held Natalie’s head in place.

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It may not have been the best idea to do this while Alice was awake.  She watched on with a look of slight panic plastered to her face as I pulled out the doll’s stuffing.  The sewing nerd in me thought; hey, this is some NICE polyfill…  

Instead of opting to take her completely apart and reassemble her, I found a YouTube video that promised to fix doll’s limbs with just a handful of ponytail holders.  I decided to give that a try.

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And whadya know?  Worked like a charm.  By the time she was all stuffed again, Alice had gone upstairs, gotten another doll and plunked her on the dining room table next to me and my own operation.  As I tied Natalie’s head back on, Alice fiddled with the strings on the other doll.  Oh, no.  I may have just inadvertently created a doll-surgeon-monster.  As a tiny kid, I would sneak my mom’s manicure set into my room and perform surgery on my stuffed animals and dolls.  My mom would spend countless hours sewing them back up, and I got my share of sitting in the corner because of it.  Was Alice going to be the same way because I let her witness the beheading?

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TOTALLY worth it.

So, yes.  It was still a bunch of money to spend on a doll for a not-even-two-year-old, but like I told my mom, it is as much for me as it is for her.  She’ll never get to experience the years of anticipation and buildup that make a girl truly treasure a Christmas where you open the toy you have been dreaming about for years.  And my bet is she won’t have the same amount of respect or appreciation for American Girl dolls that she should.  But just as Nathan giggled like a little boy when we got Finn an obscene amount of Hot Wheel track for (a way-too-young) Finny, I’m reliving part of my own childhood through Alice.

photo 5 (2) If you think I’ll ever get her into acting, modeling or pageants, though..  THAT kind of living through your child is not something I’ll ever subject the kids to.  Suggest that, and I might actually punch you in the face.  Just sayin.