Instead of a party with grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, acquaintances and people who just wondered in off the streets, Amy decided it would be a good year to take the girls to Chicago to visit the American Girl store.
I thought it was a good idea, too, until I found out just how much an American Girl doll costs. It would have been cheaper for us to throw a birthday party and invite everyone in Ottawa County than it would have been to go to the American Girl store.
Nonetheless, we gassed up the Toyota and headed to Chicago on a clear, cold day in late March.
The American Girl store was almost, but not quite, what I had expected. The store was bigger, pinker, louder and more accessorized than I had envisioned. But essentially it was what I thought it would be — girl central.
That store didn’t have anything — not one thing — that any red-blooded boy would be even remotely interested in. There were no guns, no trucks, no video games, no action figures, no exploding projectiles and no sports equipment. The closest that place came to sports equipment was a doll dressed in a gymnastics outfit.
There was also a doll in camping gear, but her tent and backpack were both pink. Needless to say, there were no lines forming outside the men’s room at the American Girl store.
In fact, I’m surprised there was a men’s room at all. I was hoping I’d have to wander across the hall to the Lego store to find a men’s room, but no such luck. Just beyond the beauty salon and spa for American Girl dolls (I did not make that up), right next to the American Girl doll hospital (I did not make that up either), and behind the tattooing and body piercing stand (OK, I made that up) was the sparsely used and very clean men’s room.
There were other fathers besides me at the American Girl store. I observed their behavior for a few minutes and quickly adapted to what they were doing — pretending. I did what every self-respecting father would do: I pretended to be interested in doll dresses, doll nightgowns, doll slippers, doll combs, doll headbands and doll earrings.
There were dogs for dolls, cats for dolls, furniture for dolls, musical instruments for dolls, toys for dolls and even dolls for dolls. And, as far as Evien and Maggie were concerned, I found it all very fascinating.
After an hour or so of very convincing pretending, I sat down on a bench with a bright red American Girl bag on my lap. I scanned a large display of dolls with every shade of hair and skin color imaginable and thought, “They should have an American Boy store.” I started nodding off a little bit and, in my half-awake slumber, it dawned on me that “Cabela’s” must mean “boy store” in Spanish.
We had a special birthday lunch at the American Girl store with birthday hats and cake for Evien and Maggie, and their new dolls. Even the menu at the American Girl store restaurant was tilted toward girls. I choked down a teriyaki chicken breast sandwich with a pineapple slice and an artichoke, and spinach salad on the side.
After lunch, Amy, I and the girls headed back to Michigan. Just outside of Chicago, I stopped at a convenience store for a beef stick and a bag of Doritos.
On the ride home, I’d peek over my shoulder from time to time at Maggie, and she’d be talking to her new American Girl doll, singing to her, changing her clothes and combing her hair. I’d look at Evien in the rearview mirror, and she just propped her new doll up next to her and was playing games on her mom’s iPad.
Evien’s becoming a young woman right before my eyes. She’s 10 now — double digits.
She’s tall for her age and we have to buy her clothing in the women’s section now. Her shoes and Amy’s shoes are the same size. Evien’s friends are becoming more and more important to her, and there’s a boy in her class that she talks about often.
I’m feeling a sense of urgency toward Evien. I want to play her favorite card games with her, shoot hoops with her in the driveway and go for long bike rides. I want to go back and watch all of the Disney animated movies with her again.
There’s a woman inside Evien that’s eager to get out. Right now, she’s just nudging and bumping her way out, but it won’t be long and she’ll be pushing and shoving. I want to do all the things I’ve always done with Evien because I don’t know when they will be my last time. I have to get it in now.
I asked Evien how she likes her new American Girl doll. She looked up from the iPad and told me all of the things she was planning to do with her. She was going to build a bed for her doll and a house for the doll’s dog. She planned to change her into her pajamas and put her hair into a ponytail, or maybe braids. As Evien talked on and on about her American Girl doll, I thought about that woman inching her way out. If I could speak to that woman, this is what I’d say: “I know your time’s coming, and then it is your time, I’ll be sad and proud. Listen to her talk about that doll,” I’d say. “Evien’s still a little girl. And for now, she’s still mine — and you can’t have her yet.”
— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist