You know you've been sucked into the Ithaca vortex when you begin to question whether there might be a better doll than Barbie. Let me paint a picture of Ithaca for you: it is fair-trade, buy local, drive a Subaru Forester, breastfeed until they go to kindergarten, wear socks you knitted yourself while eating kale land. We love it, but we are still aliens. We've only eaten kale once. I've come to appreciate and love our little local shops and today I visited a couple that specialize in making you feel like every toy you've ever gotten for your child is not merely wrong, but, in fact, debilitating. I perused the shelves, admiring the all wood, not-made-in-China wares. In particular, I noted two families of dolls: one was all wooden (of course) with yarn hair, clothes clearly made of hemp, and cheerful smiles. They live in a lovely wooden house with wooden furniture, a wooden dog and cat, and no car in sight. The other house was also wooden, with another little cheerful family. Sensibly dressed mom with a bob haircut and a pair of high-waisted denim-ish pants. They had what appeared to be a fuel-effecient car and a recycling bin in their kitchen. I was drawn in by their simplicity. They reminded me of my first dolls: the Sunshine Family. The Sunshine Family had a long jumper-wearing mom with sandals, a dad with a shaggy haircut, turtleneck and hiking boots, and a baby. They had their own pottery studio and seemed quite content with the furniture I constructed for them out of plastic strawberry baskets and kleenex boxes. As I took this nostalgic trip in the downtown toy stores, something occurred to me --- I had never seen a Barbie in Ithaca. Oh sure, maybe there were some in Wal-mart or Target, but those aren't REAL Ithaca stores. I began to think, "Maybe Barbie is too shallow. Materialistic. Hung-up on clothes and parties and her career and tanning. Maybe Emma Clare NEEDS the Sunshine Family or their responsible recycling or wooden counterparts." What a traitor I am.
Barbie was my friend (until I was 12, truth be told...). She had an awesome house --- they don't call it "Barbie's Dream House" for nothing. She had a car. A Winnebago. (OK -- if you were born after 1976 and are asking yourself, 'what the heck is a Winnebago?', please go and Google it right now.) She had an enviable wardrobe. Little tiny food in her fridge. A flushing toilet. A boyfriend with perfect hair and an equally substantial wardrobe. She could whip herself instantly back into shape after giving birth. She was perfectly comfortable in high heels (although not so comfortable in flat shoes, alas...) She was fluent in many languages (Spanish Beauty Barbie, Jamaican Fun Barbie, Parisian Barbie) How could I abandon her so easily? The wooden family didn't have extra clothes in their closet. The recycling family was not very stylish. They were probably manufactured in the USA -- not very diverse or well-travelled.
I think Barbie can fit in here. She has an outfit for every occasion, so it's not a stretch to assume that she has a pair of sandals and a knit hat in there somewhere. Her house is large, so she can rent some rooms out to Cornell students. The Winnebego -- perfect. And I'm sure Mattel manufactures a pink Prius. Now all she needs is a hemp bag and a boyfriend with braidable hair. Look out Ithaca - there's a new girl in town.