The girls sometime play this game on the subway, in which they pretend to be strangers who meet on the train and become friends. Their ability to stay in character for extended periods of time can be quite impressive. I felt like we were role playing a bit on Saturday, the girls and I, pretending to be fancy New Yorkers as we got ready to head into Midtown. Maybe it’s because the girls wanted to wear dresses and I wore high heel boots, but we were already feeling a little fancy when we stepped out the door in the morning. “Girls!”, I said. “We’re spending the day in the city!”
Sometimes when I’m procrastinating and daydreaming, I wonder what it’s like to be one of those families. You know, the ones who live in big fancy apartments, who ride cabs everywhere instead of taking the subway, who brunch and shop and drop cash without any internal debate about whether the purchase is necessary or practical. I wanted to spend the day in the city with the girls as it was probably the last leisurely weekend to do so before Mark and I turn into over-caffeinated holiday elves. Armed with some birthday cash and early Christmas money generously given to them by an aunt, we set out for a day of frivolous fun with a set budget for them to spend however they wished.
It was really mild this weekend, temps hovering somewhere around 60, and it made for perfect weather to walk around. We started out in Bryant Park, already decked out for the holidays as it transforms itself every year to something they call “Winter Village” which is a set up of small outdoor shops housed temporarily in glass structures. There’s also an ice skating rink where the lawn usually is and places to sit, sip hot drinks and watch the skaters. Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier every year, doesn’t it? And now the benchmark for when retailers seem to go full blown holiday is the day after Halloween. Thanksgiving is now just lumped in with Christmas. Even the Salvation Army had its holiday ringers out on street corners this weekend. The kids and I browsed around the market, wandered rather spontaneously inside the New York Public Library where we discovered an amazing exhibit (I’ll tell you about that later) and bought some books and Christmas gifts at the gift shop. We popped into a few more stores up Fifth Avenue as we made our way into the gridlock pedestrian traffic jam known as Rockefeller Center.
If you know the area, you might be able to guess where this is headed, especially if you remember this post from 3 years ago. The girls gave a lot of thought all week about how they wanted to spend their crisp 100 dollar bills that my aunt had given each of them last weekend and they both decided right there that they wanted to spend them at the American Girl Doll store. Oh good god, nooooo, not the American Girl doll store! Anything but the American Girl doll store! But parental guilt crept in when I acknowledged to myself that we really don’t ever buy them toys outside of birthdays and Christmas, so off to the store we went.
I don’t know what it is, but the Rock Center area around the holidays is like a vortex of mayhem, the crowds so thick that walking 5 blocks on 5th Avenue is a major challenge to keep calm from sidewalk rage and not lose your kids. “Girls!”, I shouted, “Hold onto my coat tails!” I couldn’t always see the kids among the crowds of people, but as long as I felt 2 little tugs on my coat I felt reassured that we were sticking together. As we neared the store I had a little flashback of the first time we stepped inside the American Girl store. In a naive rookie move, we made the mistake of visiting during the holidays (and coming out empty handed) and I was relieved to see that there wasn’t a line outside to get into the store this time around. I peeked in the windows and it didn’t look that bad. Once we got inside, I felt my energy level drop considerably when I saw how hectic the store really was. The girls rushed to look at the dolls. Mia knew she wanted a new doll, but Claudine wasn’t so sure what she would get. I think in general, the American Girl brand is a racket with their overpriced merchandise, but I will say the girls do play with their dolls a lot. They’ve been wanting another doll because “all our friends have at least 3 or more dolls!” (Oh really?) and I’ve been pushing back a bit, but I also don’t want to be that mom who says no to everything all the time (even though I do still think it’s a racket).
If you’ve never had the pleasure of standing in the middle of an American Girl store during a busy weekend, then I wouldn’t want to wish this hell on anyone because you know it’s the parents as well as the kids who get equally caught up in the frenzy of the shopping. It’s quite the scene if you stand there and really start listening in on the conversations going on around you. But here’s the thing: for a brief moment *I* became one of those moms. The scene for the rest of the day went down like this:
Me: “OK, which doll do you want?”
Mia (looking at the glass case of 2 dozen dolls): “I don’t know yet, don’t rush me.”
Miss C: “I’m not going to get a doll, I’m going to get accessories like clothes or crutches.”
Me: “Crutches? Really??”
Miss C (grabbing a box of accessories): “I’m getting…this!”
Me (looking at the contents and the pricetag): “It’s $28 for a shirt, a hat and a miniature notebook and pencil which will probably get lost in the house in like an hour.”
Miss C: “But I like it. I’m getting it!”
Mia (pointing to a doll with light brown hair): “I know which doll I want. Number 13.”
Me (realizing how ridiculous I sound the minute these words come out of my mouth): “She has bangs. You want another doll with bangs? Don’t you want a doll with a different hairstyle? Otherwise you’ll have 2 dolls with the same hair. You need to diversify. What about her? She’s cute.”
Mia: “I don’t care if she has bangs, I want number 13. Besides, Ivy (her old doll) is Asian and she’s from the 70s. This doll is white.”
We look around for box number 13, which isn’t an easy feat by the way because the boxes aren’t in any logical order. We finally find it and Mia picks up the large box. Meanwhile, Claudine grabs 2 more accessory kits and I tell her, “that’s 100 bucks right there, these 3 boxes.”
Miss C: “Really? I can’t get anything else?”
Me: “No.” Foreseeing a possible meltdown later on when Mia plays with her 2 dolls while Miss C only has the one, I say, “are you sure you don’t want to get another doll today?”
Miss C (takes a minute to think): “Ok.”
1 doll down, 1 more to go.
Miss C: “I like this doll, what about her?”
Me: “You want a doll with big curly long blond hair?”
Miss C: “So?”
Me: “She looks like a pageant contestant with that big hair! And you know that butt-long hair is going to be a tangled mess in less than a week. Then she’ll look like a dreaded hippie Deadhead.”
Miss C (looking around, thinking it over some more): “I know! I’m going to get the doll of the year, Saige!”
Me: “Who? What? What is that?”
We go upstairs and retrieve the doll of the year – a long, auburn, wavy-haired doll named Saige who likes horses. We pay for the dolls and the cashier hands over a HUGE American Girl shopping bag and I have to admit, I feel a little bit sheepish about carrying this bag into the subway.
As we leave the store struggling to carry 2 heavy shopping bags full of dolls and books, we pass the Rockefeller Christmas tree which is in the process of being decked out in lights. There is scaffolding all around it. “Look, there’s the tree!” the girls shout. “Where did they get a tree soooo big?” At this point I’m done with the day, my back tired from carrying shopping bags and my big heavy camera which I didn’t get to use because of an unexpected dead battery (these are iPhone shots), my feet tired from wearing heels. “Yup, that’s a big tree. Nope, no idea where they got it.” A classic Griswald family Grand Canyon moment as I hurry the kids into the train station.
As we settle into our seats on the subway, the huge American Girl shopping bag by our feet, a man and his son enter the train car with an accordion. He starts to play a song while his son, a young boy about the age of 4, walks around with a metal bucket collecting change. I roll my eyes at the juxtaposition of this scenario as I gather a few dollar bills to give to the boy, feeling a bit apologetic as I watch my girls fawn over their new $110 dolls because they couldn’t wait to take it out of the box until we got home. I swear we aren’t rich people, I silently plead to the boy with my eyes.
“We’re not buying any more American Girl dolls”, I say to them as the train rumbles into Brooklyn. “Four dolls in the house is enough. Besides, in a few years you’ll outgrow them and then you’ll leave for college and then what am I going to do with all these dolls you’ll leave behind? They’ll scare me at night when I’m stumbling into bed because I’ll do a double take thinking they’re you guys shrunken down and it will give me nightmares. That’s what happens when you get old and crazy.”
The girls just stare at me and blink slowly. We ride the rest of the way in silence, happy to have had a fun day in the city, but equally happy to be going back home to Brooklyn.