I’m excited about a doll-making workshop I’m attending this Saturday. Why would an adult like me—with grown children (and no grandchildren)—be interested in making a doll? I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s about connecting to my inner child. Or maybe it’s about connecting to my mother’s inner child. I’ve been quite focused on my mom’s childhood over the last ten years and the doll theme keeps recurring. (My character, Katya, in Red Stone has a disturbing relationship with a doll.) I find the concept of dolls and our connection to them fascinating.
A few years later I received a huge walking doll who’d wear my own toddler dresses. She too remained nameless. My mother seemed more enamored with her than I ever was. When I was ten and my parents were having a new house built, it was this doll that moved in before the rest of us. I put her into my future bedroom and she stayed there all alone until I finally moved in some months later. I don’t remember having an emotional connection to her. She was stiff and formal. Too nice to be a real friend. My mother saved this doll and gave it to my own daughters. She had a rough time in our house. Not enough respect and a dog who liked to chew. When she finally passed on, I was glad to be rid of her.
What I’d dearly wanted as a child, was a Cabbage Patch doll. Something I could cuddle and hug. Something that wouldn’t poke me with a stiff plastic arm in the middle of the night. But my mother disapproved of rag dolls. I’m not sure why. She called them wobbly. True. They were flabby and limp like the white bread I never got to eat in my school sandwiches. We were Germans who only ate hard, rye bread. Instead, my well-intentioned parents got me a new baby doll that was just as hard and stiff as my unloved walking doll. This doll did have a little hole in its rosebud mouth and I would bottle-feed it water and let it wear tissue diapers. I don’t recall trying to feed it real milk, but I do remember making Pablum and pretending to feed her while spooning it into myself instead.
I knew my doll playing years were coming to an end when I started junior high. But it had taken me until then to convince my parents of my need for a Barbie doll. So at an age when my friends were snubbing their adolescent noses at doll-playing, I was just getting serious. Luckily I found a kindred soul and we’d meet on weekends and play dolls for hours upon hours. In secret.
I didn’t have a real Barbie made by Mattel. I had her poor cousin, Mitzi, made by Reliable. Instead of a long golden ponytail, Mitzi had a head of red curls. But she could wear anything that Barbie wore. My parents wouldn’t spend the money that a real Barbie cost. (Same thing with jeans. I never got real jeans—Lees or Levis—until I was old enough to buy my own.) Still, Mitzi (even without the proper pedigree) lived a full, dramatic life during my middle grade years. My friend and I would create incredible worlds for our young women dolls. I’d borrow my brother’s GI Joe doll —a hunk of a man (plus, he had bendable hands)—while my friend had a Skipper with beautiful long, straight hair, and a Ken-like Allan doll. We had such fun with our homemade doll furniture, clothes, and wild imaginations.
Another type of doll I remember playing with were paper dolls. We’d make our own. These, like the Barbie-types, had beautiful clothes that we’d design with crayons or pencil crayons. I can still visualize some of the gowns I created. The beauty of paper dolls was that they didn’t take up much room and cost next to nothing to make.
We crafted elaborate stories for our young adult dolls—love stories, mysteries—complicated plots filled with intrigue. I never realized until now that these dolls were more than toys. They were characters of unwritten novels.
So when I go to my doll workshop this weekend, I’ll truly be re-connecting with my inner child. Oh the places we’ll go!