Over at High Calling Blogs they’re celebrating Marcus Goodyear’s new book of poetry, Barbies at Communion: and other poems
with a bit of a Barbie-fest. My first thought was that I couldn’t possibly join this party, not me. Not with my tragic, Barbie-less childhood.
But then I realized…my Barbie-free childhood makes great grist for the mill! And, like it or not, Barbie did play a roll in my early years, as she seems to have done one way or another in the lives of most American women. My desire to play with Barbies was less about actually playing with them (I found them boring, I would rather have played with baby dolls) and more to do with wanting to be “normal”. Whatever that is. I grew up with a mother who shunned all things feminine and was enraged with the way that society encouraged girls to act. I’m sure she meant well. What she didn’t take into account was that some women are just…born girly. That was me. I loved to cook, sew, baby sit, and shop. I dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom, raising kids of my own, and wearing skirts whenever I felt like it. I hated being mistaken for a boy in early elementary school (thanks to a bowl-cut and gender neutral turtle necks and corduroy pants) and longed to be like the other girls in class.
Later on, efforts were made to meet me half-way. My mother bought me a Sindy doll when we lived in Norway. For those of you who haven’t met Sindy, she was the sturdy British version of Barbie. Sindy wore a modest brown dress in a pattern you might find on your grandmother’s couch, sensible white knickers and a pair of very reasonable vinyl flats. She was superior to Barbie in that she had bendable knees and her bust was not so out of proportion so as to make her pitch forward whenever you tried to play with her, but she was…well, sort of like Barbie’s frumpy Aunt.
I also owned a Sunshine Family. I loved my Sunshine Family. The dad in his red turtle neck and impressive belt buckle, the mom in her wonderful floral 70’s pesant dress, and the baby…Oh, how I loved that baby! A blond afro and soft yellow sleeper made the baby of the family just perfect. They had wonderful sparkely eyeballs, too. My interest in the Sunshine Family waned when…well, you’ll have to read the poem to find out about that one.
Somewhere in my memory is an actual Barbie that a babysitter insisted on buying for me for Christmas one year. It was almost perfect, except that my mom had allowed the purchase on the condition that she choose the clothes. To this day, I have no idea where my mother found, in 1980, a tiny flannel shirt and jeans for Barbie. I hate to suspect this but I think I may have been playing with a Barbie who had been cross-dressed from Ken’s wardrobe. True story.
After all that, I have to say…my girls don’t really own any Barbie dolls. They had princess dress-ups, countless baby dolls, and plenty of pink and lacy dresses. They’ve had a few Barbies over the years, but these were never their favorites…I remember Middle Child opening a Barbie, taking it out to play with, and abandoning it on the table after only a few minutes. When I asked her why, she pointed out that Barbie didn’t look normal, she was all out of balance and couldn’t even be made to stand up…her feet were too pointy and her chest was too large.
At any rate…the Saga of my Barbie-less Childhood, in three parts……..
I envied those girls
in their frills and ringlets
whose mothers could endure
the color pink, and daily braided
with expert fingers
their daughter’s flaxen hair
these girls played with Barbies
tugging tiny fashions over
the bulbous vinyl heads
of many different dolls
identical in their tanned nudity
the floor a confettii mess of
tiny shoes, lacy dresses.
at their houses I ran my hand
though brown hair shorn short
longed for dresses like these
in child-sizes, pink and purple
coveted the plastic princesses
that littered the floors
of every other girl
Sensible Sindy gathered
with Barbie, Skipper, and others
’round plastic table
hot pink tea cups and saucers
Sindy, in her brown dress
looked drab, forlorn
like a fat brown sparrow
surrounded by vividly plumed
and strutting Barbie-birds.
The other girls grabbed her
at her white cotton knickers
rudely manipulated her jointed knees
and, arms akimbo, secrets exhausted
abandoned her on the dining room rug.
I took my Sunshine Family
all happy, plastic bliss
to Danielle’s house
and we played with them
in the dollhouse
and when we went to lunch
I didn’t see her brother
abduct them from the living room
couch, which we had made ourselves
from cardboard and rags.
I was surprised, but Danielle was not
when we found them later
goulish and terrifying
their eye sockets empty
and that was when
Danielle showed me the little velvet
marble bag that her brother kept
under his bed, the bag with a dozen
Sunshine Family eyeballs
blue, green, brown
rolling free inside