Our family is going through a lot of change right now. We recently lost a cat, I’m about to make a large shift from working from home for the past 2.5+ years to take on an on-site freelance gig, and Aurora is about to start preschool. It’s tough for a child, and I’ve been trying really hard to find her a creative outlet to help her cope with the lack of stability.
I thought back to my childhood and remembered one consistent thing during moments of great change: Barbie. When they brought my brother home from the hospital, they also brought home a Barbie Dream House for me. When I was having a hard time with the loss with our family pet, I inherited my mother’s Barbies from the late 1950s and early 1960s. When I had to have stitches on one of my hands after a bad accident with a drinking glass (I’ll spare you the details!) I got a stuffed animal for comfort and — you guessed it — a Barbie. That’s not to mention the countless times friends and family bought me clothing kits and accessories over the years. Barbie was, in retrospect, a huge part of my life, and, I think, a great way to help me learn, develop, and conquer challenges I faced.
Now, it’s not about the accumulation of “stuff” or playing with specific toys to suit a gender expectation. My parents encouraged me to play with Barbies because they knew I was a creative child and they wanted to encourage creative, stimulating play. Barbie is a tradition of imaginative play that has passed through our family for three generations now, as it has with millions of families around the world. It’s about creating stories and scenarios that take children to another place, or help them through a difficult situation. It’s about making a whole world out of just a few props by just thinking beyond what you see. It’s about a child expressing herself (or his self!) through the Barbie they pick, the clothes they put her in, and the situations they place her in.
And now, for me, it’s also about sharing a moment from mother to daughter, from daughter to granddaughter. When Aurora got her hands on the Barbie Camper that Mattel provided us with, I saw my childhood through my mother’s eyes. I understood, in that moment, why Barbie became such a big part of my childhood. Aurora came alive and, with one Barbie and her camper, created such an intricately woven plot for her doll that was beyond anything I ever expected of a preschooler. Of course, there were lots of breaks in between the action (“She has to bake cupcakes”, Aurora told me — the perfect use of a camper kitchen, if you ask me!), but seeing the creativity pour out of her was a completely different experience than when we have art time, or build things with blocks, or read together. Somehow, in that moment, I even felt closer to her — like somehow, our shared experiences suddenly became yet another bonding experience. While she had played with Barbies before — she’s inherited both my mother’s Barbies as well as mine for quite the family heirloom collection — it was some combination of the introduction of the camper and the fact she’s now old enough to really use them that sparked such an amazing moment to see. Needless to say, the Barbie Camper is now Aurora’s favourite toy in her entire hoard, and I’m looking forward to encouraging her to continue to play creatively as my mother once encouraged me.
*This post is sponsored by Mattel.