Essay: Forget the American Girl store. Just give us a Sprite.

My daughter, 6, spent more money on a hairstyle for her doll last weekend than I spend on a shampoo, cut and dry for her at the local salon. It was hard to watch, but also really sweet to see her carefully open up her pink plastic princess wallet and count out her birthday money at the cash register for something that she really wanted.

Still, it’s embarrassing. Talk about first-world problems.

We were at the American Girl store in Tysons Corner for lunch, shopping and a trip to the doll salon. I had made a deal with her: I would pick up the cost of lunch, but any shopping she wanted to do had to come out of part of her birthday money.

I could do without the intense marketing and the constant barrage of catalogues in my mailbox, but there are also things that I love about American Girl. It’s wholesome, and the books teach history and how girls’ lives have changed over time. The historical girls are spunky and smart.

I was braced for a battle at the store, though. American Girl stuff is pricey, and my daughter was on a budget.

I knew her money wouldn’t go very far, but I wasn’t sure that she did, even though I had prepared her for the limitations. I thought she would get upset that she had a limit (when girls around us were trotting around with personal shoppers, multiple dolls and arms full of clothing for themselves and their dolls), but instead, she checked out the store, asking about the price of different outfits or accessories.

She spent lots of time weighing her options and frequently commented that she couldn’t believe the cost of some things, or that the cute hat that went with the outfit cost extra.

“That’s just crazy,” she told me. I agreed with her and noted that the doll outfits cost more than what I would generally spend on an outfit for her.

We had a lot of fun on our little girls-only excursion. It’s kind of like a trip to Disney World. If you go, you have to resign yourself to the consumerism and just enjoy the time with your child.

I think my daughter enjoyed the Sprite and milkshake she had at lunch (rare treats) more than anything about the store. She also seemed content to have me to herself for a few hours, which doesn’t happen often.

So next time, I think we’ll have a tea party at home with her dolls. Or a trip to the burger place for a milkshake. She’ll be just as thrilled with the activity, and we will have more money in our pockets at the end of the day.

Tell us about your adventures with American Girl in the comments section.

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