Return of the gift

She’s back.

Riding on stiletto heels, a mysterious woman walked back into my life a few weeks ago. Still long and slender, the striking blonde showed off a perfectly bronzed body, a long shock of platinum-colored hair and thick lips perpetually stained off-red, not to mention an unusually large bust, my new friend’s favorite calling card.

Sadly, she still had one major deficiency, standing but eight inches from the ground. That’s right, Barbie is once again an official member of the Sands family.

Some of you may recall Christmas 2005 in our home, that magic time when our guest first came into our lives. Back then, she was still riding atop a winged Pegasus, had a medieval motif going and called herself Princess Annika. In 2005, her passions included ice skating, finding Prince Charming and cuddling with a little white bear named “Shiver.” And of course, my then 3-year-old, Skyler, was madly in love. Mom and Dad, on the other hand, had serious reservations.

Some will also recall that yours truly, in a move of petty criminal genius, orchestrated Princess Annika’s mysterious disappearance. In an especially diabolical move, I arranged her return in a shabby, disheveled state and subsequent fall from Skyler’s grace. The first episode ended happily – Annika joined Mr. Potato Head, Bozo the miniature clown and a slender Barbie knock-off appropriately named Paris on the pile of Christmas past. The whole pile was just a few short months away from a romantic holiday deep in the depths of the Bondad dump.

Those were the beginning of happy times. The family spent extended winter days Nordic skiing together, spring opened up river trip season and high altitude, family hikes weren’t far behind. In that era, Barbie was a vacant afterthought, and Skyler seemed to admire strong female role models – athletes, activists and the better Disney heroines (the ones not afraid to wield a sword, topple tyrants and then send Prince Charming out to mow the lawn). With Annika on the periphery of our lives, everything seemed so promising.

I’m sorry to report that those days are over.

The recent change began innocently enough – a happy 5-year-old birthday, my daughter enjoying rides on her new scooter and begging for a bike ride in the morning. But the winds mysteriously changed when a late arrival offered up a slender, wrapped present to my prodigal kindergartner.

In swift and single rip, the brightly colored paper fell away and the gift was revealed. There, in all of her rubber glory, Barbie smiled wistfully at my daughter, flashing me the evil Hasbro eye at the same time. To make matters worse, this was no ordinary Barbie. Skyler held the “I Can Be” Barbie in her hands. No longer a mere bimbo or Ken’s domestic slave, Barbie now had a “real life career.” She had aimed for the stars and landed the position of baby photographer (Vastly better than another “I Can Be” option – Pet Sitter Barbie).

With Barbie back out of the bag, Skyler took one look at me and announced to her cabal of four- and five-year-old girlfriends, “Quick. Come on girls. Before my dad sees.” The six girls, joined by a certain lad named Baxter (it’s just not the same without a Ken doll), split at high speed for Skyler’s room, the door slammed and the lock clicked into position. The sound of giggles and secret pleasures sounded from behind the wood panels.

Clearly defeated, I surrendered, poured myself into a beer, took a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach and forgot all about my resurrected house guest. No good. The next morning arrived too soon, and a newly liberated “I Can Be” Skyler arrived at the breakfast table wearing a white denim jacket, the word “Barbie” embroidered in sparkling letters across the back. Appropriately enough, the jacket was a secret gift from my mother-in-law, the original architect behind Princess Annika’s arrival.

Breakfast over, I decided to conduct a little fatherly investigation. After only a casual search, I found “I Can Be” Barbie, I found Princess Annika Barbie (wait a minute, you’re supposed to be in Bondad), and I found a veritable trove of Barbie paraphernalia. Somehow, nearly 10 loose, little women had made their ways into our lives, all without my knowing it. There was a rave Barbie, complete with heavy make-up, streaked hair and dancing shoes. A tourist Barbie sat adorned in a grass skirt equipped with a point-and-shoot camera dangling around her neck. There was a beach Barbie, a mermaid Barbie and even an angel Barbie. The ultimate topper, the coupe de grace of it all, was that a Justin Timberlake doll had found his way into the bunch. There – fuzzy-headed, goateed and earringed with boxers hanging out of baggy jeans – Justin was holding court with his entourage of eight blondes and one brunette.

Dad was more than a little shocked. Days later, I got it back under control.

As I lay quivering on the therapist’s couch, I made a confession: maybe, just maybe, I had been repressing Barbie dolls, cheerleading, makeup, clip-on earrings and several other choice manifestations of the hormone estrogen. Thanks to some help from a strict Freudian, I realized there was only one way to close the circle.

So stay tuned. There’s a strong chance that Fashion Fever Barbie, “fun, flirty and too fab for words,” could make a surprise appearance under this year’s Christmas tree. And with a little help from Sigmund, the whole family will be back doing laps at the Nordic Center in no time flat.

– Will Sands



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