Monday, March 05, 2007

American Girl

Madison had a very big day yesterday. In anticipation of her 6th birthday in a couple of weeks, she got to ride into the city with Gwen and my Mom to pick out her very own American Girl doll. They also had tickets to some kind of American Girl "Circle of Friends" show and reservations for a special birthday tea at this expensive and highly manipulative parent trap store located in midtown-Manhattan.

To say our little girl was excited about this trip does not begin to capture it. For the last week or so, she’s been carrying the American Girl catalog around the house with her. Everywhere. Not made to withstand this level of fervid dedication, the thing actually began disintegrating a couple of days ago, forcing Madison to cradle the unbound and dog-eared pages in her arms while she walked, like a bundle of loose socks.

She’d taken me through it, page by page, pointing out specific dolls like they were long-lost friends, sharing thoughts on certain outfits or accessories. She was absolutely set on a doll they called “Emily” – some of the American Girl dolls come complete with names and their own fairly evolved back stories, to wreak havok on parental wallets and purses further captivate young minds. Thankfully, Madison went into this experience with relatively modest expectations. Over breakfast I cautioned her against any major in-store outbursts in the event she didn’t get every single thing she wanted, to which she replied, “Daddy, Mommy said I am getting a doll and an outfit, and that Grandma might get me some other things, and I’m good with that.”

My parents live a few stops further down the commuter rail line than we do, so Mom was already on the train when Gwen and Madison boarded. Ava and I drove them to the station and watched them stand on the platform. Our youngest was doing fine with not participating in this fun little girl-time city adventure until the doors of the train closed behind half of her family, at which point she started crying and wailing about wanting to go along, wanting to be able to ride on a train like her big sister Madison. I tried to cheer her up and make her feel better by stressing how much I was looking forward to spending the day with her, how much I needed her help shopping for food at the supermarket and eating the fresh mozzarella that we planned to buy. And then, after a minute or two of crying, and a minute or two of quiet contemplation, Ava demonstrated once again this amazing ability to find her way through any form of adversity, to thrive in any situation.

“I know, Daddy!” she pronounced with genuine enthusiasm from the back seat. “We’ll make pretend this car is a train!”

I signaled that I thought this was a great idea by motioning as if I was pulling the chain on a whistle that hung in the general area of the rear-view mirror and giving a little “TOOT, TOOT” as we drove, by asking for her ticket and then pretending to punch the little crumpled piece of paper she handed me through the gap between the front seats. Having never ridden on a train before, Ava couldn't have had any idea what I was doing, but she appreciated the show nonetheless. She beamed, and giggled, her little imaginary solution serving as the formal end of the “how come I didn’t get to go into the city with Madison, Mommy and Grandma” portion of the afternoon.

After a successful shop, we shared a nice quiet day at home, the kind that never fails to reaffirm my general belief that if Ava’s diet and level of activity were left under my sole control the chances are excellent she would wind up a 400-pound unmarried TV critic living in Minneapolis. We put away the groceries, had lunch, and devoted the rest of our time together to a mix of the following activities: watching television, snacking, playing Play-Doh, watching television, snacking, reading books, playing with her "I Spy" game while sitting in her princess tent, snacking, watching television, and doing assorted craft activities.

We were knee deep in respective bowls of pasta when Gwen called about 6:30 p.m. to arrange for pick-up at the station about an hour later. I wish I had a picture of Madison walking off the train holding her little American Girl doll. Pure joy, with a small helping of parental pride thrown in as well over this little friend she’d selected. When they got into the car I said, “Is that her? Is that Emily?”

“No, Daddy, this isn’t Emily,” she said. “It’s Michelle!”

Turns out Madison didn’t choose the named model she’d had her eye on, resisted a last-minute temptation to buy the American Girl “2007 Girl Of The Year,” named Nicki, and instead went with a generic little girl with long black hair that she could name and describe on her own. She came up with Michelle because when she first saw the doll it was wearing a bathing suit and she wanted to come up with a name that reminded her of the beach.

I wrote a post over the summer about wanting to remember these kinds of simple and innocent moments, like the time we were driving in Vermont and the girls were totally captivated by a conversation that revolved entirely around what flavors of JELL-O they were going to buy and make. I want to remember yesterday, too. I want to remember the expression of happiness and slightly uncertain anticipation on Madison’s face while she waited on the platform in the morning, and the way she looked about 10 hours later as she ran to the car carrying her doll, after a truly special day that spanned three generations (four, I guess, if you count the newest occupant of our house, Michelle). I want to remember where we are right now, when it's mostly all about dolls and Play-Doh and whether or not there's time enough at the end of the day to have "movie night" between the bath and bed. I want to hang on with both hands to a time when the girls still reluctantly acknowledge that shows like Hannah Montana and High School Musical are "not appropriate" for a 4 and almost-6 year old, when Ava calls the TV remote control the "tre-mote" and still refers to adults as, "ba-dults."

And remembering all of the above will make it easier to forget the moment Gwen and I shared at the back of the car after we pulled into our driveway last night, out of earshot of the girls, as I hauled two enormous red American Girl bags out of the trunk and asked her, “so how much did all this cost me?”

In just six little words, I had my answer.

“You don’t even want to know.”

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