January 13, 2016
(Eva's daughter introducing the baby doll to Batman.)
I was shopping at the Value Village one afternoon when my son picked up a baby doll and started carrying it around. I bought it for him, thinking it would be fun and possibly even helpful to have him play with it before his sister arrived a few months later.
The doll spent the next 15 months as a bludgeon. Picked up by one foot, whirled around a few times, and then brought down solidly on the head of one’s brother, it was a far better weapon than most other toys - hard enough to produce a solid whack, but too soft to cause actual harm. I finally hid it in the stuffed animals the day it went flying through the air and nearly took out a lamp.
Fortunately, the doll’s maltreatment did not mirror the way my sons treated their new sister. They were never particularly affectionate with her, but they also didn’t use her as catapult fodder. So I chalked that up to a win.
Then one day when my daughter was about a year old and just starting to walk, she happened to find the doll on the floor of the boys’ room. She picked it up, gave it a kiss, and hugged it.
For the next few months, my daughter would carry the doll around and hold it. She wanted me to play the same lap games with the doll that I play with her, and to sing to the doll the way I sang to the kids.
A funny thing started to happen after that. My sons also started playing with the doll in gentle ways. They started to pick it up, rock it, sing to it, and cuddle it. They showed my daughter how to wrap it in a blanket. They started to hug it, then hand it to her, and hug her too.
My daughter had given my sons a new perspective on what the doll was and could be. I had tried to show them how to play with the doll as if it were a person, but they just weren’t that interested in it when it was me playing with it. When another child played with the doll, they saw the potential for what else it could be, and although I doubt they’re aware of it, the doll - and having my daughter’s perspective present - has changed the way they play.
Today my youngest son asked my daughter to play tea party with him. He “baked” playdough in his brother’s desk, decorated it, and served us all tea and Gingerbread Darth Vaders.