A lump of Barbies sits before me. Many are naked. Some have skirts on, a few wear a single shoe. One has a microphone; another a race-car-driver helmet. Some have hairstyles that could only have come from a 5-year-old.
I’m holding back tears not over the sorry shape of these once-lovely ladies, but because I don’t want to part with them just yet.
There must be at least 30 of them, their hair askew, their eyes staring up and their pink lips smiling. I remember each one, because after scoring our first handful of dolls for just a few dollars at a yard sale, my daughter gave each one a name. There’s Abby, with auburn hair and a blue ball gown. Betty, with shorts and a tank top; Carol, resplendent in a pouffy bridal outfit. (Carol represents the last of my valiant effort to name each one in alphabetical order.)
These gals are headed for a new home. My tween, who in her younger days spent hours dressing up, posing and interacting with her beloved dolls, is now more interested in texting her friends and playing Candy Crush. She’s moved on — to more grown-up activities and to activities that don’t include me — but I haven’t. I’m clinging as hard as I can to her hand that she only sometimes lets me hold.
Wasn’t it only yesterday I had to sneak that huge, pink, plastic riding-car out of the garage to give to a neighbor? Wasn’t I just doing my best actress work and asking in a singsongy voice, “Oh, I wonder where it could be?” when she asked where one of her really-complicated-to set-up games were? Didn’t she just squeal with glee when we finally bought her an American Girl doll?
“I don’t want any dolls in my room,” she now says. She needs space for other things: art supplies, nail polish, her flute. The toys are just another jab in my calendar of past-events for my daughter. I can still feel the pang I felt many years ago, when, while shopping for t-shirts at a department store, I suddenly realized she no longer fit in the clothing in the baby section. Waah! When had she become a toddler? When did she outgrow 6x? Now she shops at a trendy store at the mall where all the middle-schoolers shop. Equally shocking to me: She now fits into my sweatshirts. Yes, my tween is wearing my hand-me-downs.
When we go to the library, I’m aware how far away we are from the room where she shook the shaker eggs and made craft projects that I gushed over. We’re nowhere near the picture books, where we could always find a Laura Numeroff or Mo Willems book to take home. Junie B. Jones, Katie Kazoo, and the Magic Treehouse chapter books no longer call out to her. Instead, she tells me to be quiet as we enter the teen room, where older kids sit at computers or check out the latest issue of Seventeen Magazine, Teen Vogue or Mad magazine. I don’t say anything as she picks up a hefty Meg Cabot book. Cabot is a favorite author from my girl’s earlier reading days (we both loved the Allie Finkle series), but I make a silent note to read the back cover of this teen one before letting her read this or any of the other books she’s chosen.
My girl is doing her job, growing up. I’m trying to do as good of a job in letting her. So far, she’s winning.
It’s a few hours since I packed up the Barbies. My girl is home from school, about to do algebra homework. She notices the dolls. My heart skips a beat. I’m ready to play, I want to tell her. She can be the race-car-driver doll and I’ll be the news-anchor one explaining what a close race it was. I stay silent, watching her plop her heavy math book onto the kitchen table. Then I speak up.
“Should we donate these or do you want to put them in the basement?”
A beat. Then her decisive, preteen voice: “Let’s put them in the basement.”
Phew. As much as I love getting rid of clutter, I’m just not ready to get rid of what these toys mean to me — that my daughter is still young enough to play silly games — and young enough to still need me. Maybe even that I’m still young.
But I don’t kid myself. Soon, that lump of dolls will be in a plastic bag, with the donation center’s name scrawled across it. It’ll happen soon enough. And it should. But not today.
My girl is back at the kitchen table, math papers spread out. I know I shouldn’t, but I interrupt her. “Hey, want to take turns playing Candy Crush after your homework?”
Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.