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Small Talk: Sugar and spice and lots of sparkles

Jean Gillette hopes you will enjoy some of her earlier columns, in a sympathetic salute to all young mom’s today.

Five years ago, I got my first real doll.

She was a classic and quite perfect: pink and dimpled with golden hair, blue eyes and possessing a wardrobe that made Barbie look deprived.

Unlike most dolls, which grow a bit tattered with time, my doll grew ever more beautiful. Her hair grew longer and more golden, her eyes bigger and bluer and her smile more radiant. My own wardrobe fell to rags. Any money I might have was spent to dress my dolly.

I combed her hair in sweet, tidy braids with bows to match her socks. She started each day coordinated to the last detail. Even her blue jeans had a bow on the back. Dressing her was one of my great joys and self-indulgences, and I basked in constant compliments from friends and strangers on how adorable my dolly looked.

Then one dreadful morning, I found that my dolly was gone! Father Time had snatched her away, and in her place he left a willful, opinionated, 5-year-old fashion disaster. This new little girl flicks her once-impeccably braided hair and says with a touch of disdain, “I want to wear it in one ponytail, Mom.” Her long straight hair remains in one ponytail for about 10 minutes before dissolving into a waiflike droop. I am certain I can hear strangers whispering, “Doesn’t that mother ever comb that child’s hair?” Still, I buckle under, in terror of hearing the phrase “Mom, I want to cut my hair.”

My dolly now lobbies relentlessly to wear nothing but her pink tutu, her bathing suit or a dress that she hopes will possess three attributes: a garishly bright color, perhaps “sparkles” and a skirt that twirls. She is unmoved when I point out to her that these items are heartily unsuitable for the rough-and-tumble world of school and any cool weather. If the frock is too drab for her, she swiftly accessorizes from her collection of tacky plastic jewelry (provided by adoring relatives).

And what must this 5-year-old fashion expert have to complete her outfit? Why, “party shoes,” of course. The cheap, scuffed, white patent-leather ones, purchased last summer to be worn once to a wedding. They are a brutal affront to a mother raised to retire anything white after Labor Day.

I am challenged daily to find negotiating chips. I try to come up with acceptable alternatives to her demands, turning most mornings into a U.N.-level debate. I may have to set fire to her closet to put it all right. But if I should dare dispose of any of her favorite items, I would attain permanent (as opposed to the now daily) villain status. And the capper is that her father, a typical Southern California wear-what’s-comfortable kind of guy, takes her side. I also suspect he is color-blind.

Based on my child’s ability to strip down and completely change outfits in the time it takes me to put on my contact lenses in the morning, I am now considering deadbolts on her closet and dresser. Meanwhile, I will just have to settle for mourning the disappearance of my sweet and willing doll. I must somehow prepare for the cold fact that if the next decade of discussion doesn’t sink it, I will have raised a Las Vegas showgirl.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who still suffers because her daughter now actually prefers Goth. Contact her at [email protected]