My daughter has a secret. Despite having reached the ripe age of eleven, she is unable to give up an embarrassing habit from her younger years.
It’s not what you think. She doesn’t suck her thumb or crawl on all fours, and we lost her pink bunny security blanket a couple of moves ago. And sorry to disappoint those of you who read Time magazine, but she stopped breastfeeding at 7 months, so get your mind out of the gutter.
Our youngest daughter doesn’t want anyone to know, but she still plays with dolls.
Once or twice a week, she disappears, and we know she’s upstairs, deeply immersed in elaborate play with her dolls. There could be bombs going off in the house and she wouldn’t know, because Barbie is getting ready for her date with Ken, and Polly and her friends are on a Caribbean cruise.
Our youngest has never been one to rush things. She needs her weekly sessions with her dolls to remind her to get the most out of childhood. Like hypnotherapy or deep massage, she emerges from her play trances refreshed, renewed and ready to face the unavoidable fact that she is growing up.
The other day, I was lugging my son’s fermented football gear through the upstairs hallway, when I came upon my daughter spread out on the floor. A dozen of her Polly Pockets were lined up against the wall, and our Clue game board was in the middle of the hallway.
“Watcha doin’?” I asked as I stepped over her. She looked up with an obvious twinge of embarrassment and smiled, “Just playin’ with my Pollys.”
As I trudged to the laundry room to detoxify the stinking mess in a deep sink full of hot sudsy water, I thought, what a sweet innocent kid. I hope she never changes.
A little later, I went back upstairs in search of more dirty laundry. With her chin resting on her hands, my daughter was staring intently at her Polly Pockets, which she had lined up around the perimeter of the Clue board. The Clue pieces – the rope, the knife, the candlestick, the revolver – were piled in the center.
Hmm, I thought. Such an imaginative child . . .
“Hey Sweet Pea, what are your Pollys doing now?” Before my youngest could answer, her older sister popped out of her bedroom and yelled, “She’s playing Polly Pockets – Hunger Games style!”
“Wait, what?” I stared down at the Clue board and realized that my sweet child was setting up a scenario of bloody carnage that her Pollys had never experienced before.
What have we done? I thought. Why did we let her read those books? Getting her to read anything had always been a pain. We tried Dick, Jane, Spot, Clifford, Arthur, Ramona, Amelia and Junie. We filled her shelves with The Borrowers, The Littles, The Magic Tree House, and The Magic School Bus. In desperation, we lowered our standards and went for the laugh – Captain Underpants, Wimpy Kid, and Dear Dumb Diary. Nothing seemed to work.
Panic set in when her language arts teacher imposed a1000-pages-per-quarter requirement. We were forced to supplement reading log with cereal boxes, street signs, and brochures on periodontal disease in the dentist’s waiting room. At the end of the third quarter, we started contemplating summer school.
Then one day, our youngest came home with The Hunger Games, telling us she wanted to read for herself if Peeta was as cute as everyone was saying. There was no time for parental discussion about appropriateness, we were too excited that our daughter was actually going to read something without being threatened or bribed.
She read in the car, on the porch, in bed, in the bathroom and at the kitchen table. Our joy over seeing our child easily meet her reading goals was only slightly tainted by the murderous subject matter of the books. How bad could they be, we thought.
But then, the other day in our hallway, as I watched my sweet little girl decapitate her blond-ponytailed Polly Pocket with the knife in the Conservatory, I realized that, if we are not careful, kids go from Hungry Hungry Hippos to The Hunger Games in the blink of an eye. And in the game of parenting, there’s no going back to start.