While at the store picking up some food for the holidays, my wife noticed that our girls took a special interest in a particular book. This was not surprising as it was an American Girl® doll encyclopedia and our girls have become addicts to all things 18’’-doll-related. They each received their own dolls (of a less expensive brand) as Christmas gifts a couple of years ago, and while they have enjoyed them since then, apparently it took some time for it to fully get into their systems (much like lead poisoning). But, as they are fully in the craze for the dolls now, they laid down on the floor in the middle of the busy aisle to examine it.
My wife suggested that we do that thing that parents do where one runs a decoy mission while the other makes the purchase without the kids’ knowledge. I don’t know if I should be ashamed to admit that while I now realize that this maneuver was likely performed on me on many occasions, I honestly can’t recall it ever being executed with me aware that I was participating in it.
Anyway, I got the book and, on Christmas morning, the girls were surprised to receive the very book that they were so excited about in the store. That all-too-brief moment of self-satisfaction followed—you know the one that provides the incentive to keep doing awesome parent stuff in the future. Then my thoughts turned serious as I released what I had just unleashed.
I was reminded of a couple of years ago, when my wife suggested that our oldest daughter do a summer dance class. It was presented as “just a couple times a week for a month.” It soon became obvious that this introductory class involved buying shoes (two types) and a dance outfit, as well as exposed us to the very real possibility that our daughter would like it and want to continue. As she had two younger sisters, this summer deal became not just a summer deal, but the entrance into an interminable future of classes, leotards, and recitals.
So, in like manner, this book (MSRP: $24.99, on sale for only $14.99) was actually 200 pages of ransom notes for buying our daughters’ affection with merchandise (MSRP: if you have to ask, you can’t afford it). In the days since Christmas, I think that I am now committed to obtain the bunk bed, the gymnastic suite, the camping set, the deluxe school accessories, travel gear (including TSA-approved luggage that interestingly costs more than the luggage it is scaled to simulate), tree house, play house, summer cottage, carriage house, servant quarters, interrogation room, scooter, Segway, and a few other odds and ends that are carefully written in first grade handwriting on a list that sits ominously on my bedside table.
Perhaps I should consider us to be lucky. We made it through eight-and-a-half years of parenthood relatively free of this kind of stuff. Sure, we have a few Barbies and other figurines, but on the whole we haven’t collected many worlds.
I attribute much of this to the fact that our kids have not been exposed to much broadcast television. While streaming services have a monthly fee, this price is finite. When they are left to broadcast television, it is remarkable how quickly they are asking for random products advertised. Then if we walk past the “As Seen on TV” aisle at the store, our kids light up like some wonderful magic trick has made the stuff on TV come to life. “Look, it’s the pillow that doubles as a thermos!” “And there’s the nightlight that whitens your teeth while you sleep!” “Come on, dad. It’s only four easy payments of $19.99!”
Remarkably, despite having the ability to access a seemingly endless supply of content produced over many years, of late my daughters have taken to watching videos on YouTube of other kids talking about their dolls. Even more remarkable to me is that fact that lots of other people’s kids are doing the same thing, as these videos have hundreds of thousands of views.
I’ve sometimes wondered if this is the new frontier of cyberterrorism. While foreign governments used to need to go through great time and expense to develop complex sabotage campaigns for America’s youth like video game systems, opioids and Raffi, now they just need to give a little girl some bandwidth to show off her toys to keep America’s next generation occupied.
Soon enough, I suppose (hope) they will lose interest, so hopefully we can make it through this phase financially solvent and without having to give up our room to the dolls and their appurtenances. But, perhaps I should reintroduce some Qubo viewing and see if their hard-sell ads for Snackeez® can break the spell.