Monday, March 7, 2011

The Art of Being a Kid Again, or We Are All Children at Heart

The Toy Story 3 Barbie doll is a remake of a classic.
My very first Barbie had this same outfit, sans sparkle.
This past weekend I went on a road trip. No friends, this was not one of those college road trips where you pack the car full of junk food and drugs and set out West with a handful of tourism pamphlets and a few printouts from Mapquest to seek your fortune (although, come to think of it, we were headed west, and we did end up at a college). My stalwart companions on this particular trek were, in fact, people I have known much longer than my college roommate: my mother and my sisters. Our mission: to boldly go where no family had gone before (okay, where some families have gone before), Berea College, to witness my baby sister's stage debut.

This is probably the first time in about ten years that the five of us have been together absent husbands, boyfriends, BFF's, and other hangers-on, and it was like being a kid again, just us girls. It was somewhat comforting to note that family never changes: my older sister was still the 'pokey' one (the last to get ready for breakfast and the last to finish each meal) and the moody one (both the happiest and the grouchiest of the group, depending on her sleep and anxiety level). My younger sister was still a stickler for details (as she remembers them) and the first to call 'shotgun' or 'jinx,' but also a generous soul, offering to pay for our tickets and share her daiquiri. The baby of the family was probably more like her childhood, free-spirited self than I have seen her in years, without the load of frustration and loneliness she had borne during her teenage years. And Mom was, of course, Mom: conservative and cautious, plain-spoken and proud as a red hen fussing over her brood of fluffy yellow chicks.

We fell back into old patterns easily enough, recalling ancient disputes with humor and discussing new developments in our lives un-self-consciously. Letting Mom drive and allowing the group to make decisions and for me to be personally off the hook for a while was a nice change. Reliving some of our cherished memories and family lore together was priceless. I found it relaxing to be the kid again, away from my own children and responsibilities, if only for a day.

Walking down the toy aisle at Wal-Mart with the girls, discussing Barbie's newest look and what we like and don't like about Mattel's design changes ushered in vivid memories. As children, we would spend hours setting up homes for our own Barbie dolls. The two older sisters and I would meticulously arrange bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, schools, etc. with homemade miniature books, stuffed animals, food made of baked dough, you name it, before we could begin playing in earnest. Dad would walk in and ask what we were playing.
"Barbies," we would reply unanimously.
"Who is winning?" he would ask.
"You don't win at Barbie's Dad, that's not how you play."
Then our baby sister would swing the door wide, asking to play with us, the big girls. As always, we would say, "No, you don't play right," and she would go crying to Mom, heartbroken because of her exclusion. This weekend she had not been excluded: she was the Star.

In the check-out line, I smiled in anticipation at the new dolls my mother was buying me as a late birthday gift, once again remembering things of childhood. The first thing I did when I opened the package was to take off the dolls' clothes to see how they were constructed, and my sisters laughed at how little I, too, had changed since I was a kid.

The moral of the story: we are the same people we have always been, and we will always be children at heart, especially in the eyes of our mothers. 

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