The Ugliest Doll in the Shop
How a doll from 1984 taught me a lesson last week.
I walked back and forth along the aisle, staring intently at box after box. Peeking at me through each cellophane window was a hopeful face that quietly implored, “Me! Me! Choose me!”
I was as stressed out as an eight-year-old could be, torn between the one with blue eyes and blonde pigtails, and the one with brown hair, dimples and green eyes. I could not believe this day had come. I was going to become a Mommy!
It was 1984 and to celebrate my eighth birthday, I was adopting a Cabbage Patch Kid.
This was serious business. Cabbage Patch Kids were not simply dolls, you know. They were orphans who needed mommies (they were supposed to be orphans who were grown in a cabbage patch, which was slightly weird, but details…)
I felt the full weight of this immense responsibility on my little shoulders. How was I going to choose the right one?! Oh, the agony of indecision. There were endless choices and combinations – dimples on one cheek or both, blonde hair in a ponytail or pigtails, green, grey or blue eyes. This would be a decision of epic proportions.
Having narrowed my choice down to pretty blonde and cute-as-a-button brunette, I decided to walk another lap and clear my mind.
That’s when I saw The One.
On the bottom row, in a slightly dented box that had frankly seen better days, was the most pitiful Cabbage Patch Kid imaginable. Instead of a frilly pink dress, this doll wore an insipid brown tracksuit. A woolen beanie slipped down the poor Cabbage Patch Kid’s face, so only its mouth was visible. On its feet were the ugliest, plainest not-quite-white shoes ever designed. Ever.
“That one.” I said, as I pointed at the box.
My mother looked bewildered as her eyes followed my outstretched finger. Why on earth would her little girl want to buy what had to have been the least appealing doll in the shop?
“Are you sure, Mishy?”, she tentatively asked.
I solemnly nodded. I was sure. I carefully carried the box to the counter, serious about this ceremonial ritual that would transport me across the bridge to early motherhood.
As she paid, for the doll, my mother asked, “What made you choose this baby, Mishy?”
With tears glistening at the corners of my eyes, I explained, “They’re orphans! This is the ugliest one of all, and if I didn’t adopt her, she’d be all alone in the orphanage FOREVER!”
Oh, it was a sacrifice, I can tell you. I was not happy. I had really, really, REALLY wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid in a party dress and fancy shoes, but my conscience just wouldn’t let me. I wouldn’t have been able to leave that pathetic orphaned doll behind. It makes me smile to know that I was a softie, even then. I was rallying behind the underdog (plastic and inanimate as she may have been).
We didn’t even wait to get home before I was ripping open the box to properly meet my ‘daughter’. I’d successfully shifted my thinking and put aside thoughts of dolls in pretty party dresses. Now, I was desperate to take off her hat and discover whether she was a blonde, brunette or maybe even a redhead? In the toy shop’s car park, I opened the long-awaited package. Tossing the box aside, I blissfully squeezed my new baby to my chest and breathed in that signature Cabbage Patch Kid scent. Then I reached for the beanie and yanked it off.
Sharp inhale. Squeak. Gulp. Gasp.
My. Daughter. Was. Bald.
Choking back a sob and inwardly grieving the hours of hairdressing I had instantaneously lost, I looked my bald baby in the eyes. I resolved there and then that I was her Mother and that I was going to love her no matter what. That’s the deal with motherhood, after all, isn’t it? Unconditional love.
The magical time had now arrived. It was time to learn her name. I had watched the ads on TV where pretty little girls had opened up their Cabbage Patch Kids’ birth certificates and gleefully announced that they were mothers to Veronica Janine! Shirley Francine! Marjorie Violet! With clammy fingers, I carefully opened the envelope and retrieved the extremely official-looking birth certificate. My eyes slowly scanned the information.
It could not be!
My daughter was, in fact, my son. I was now mother to a boy.
“Unconditional love…unconditional love…” I repeated my mantra to love my baby no matter what. I WOULD unconditionally love my son. What was his name? I continued to read.
Really? REALLY? I read the designer’s name. With respect, Xavier Roberts, when you designed Cabbage Patch Kids, you seriously decided that there was a kid out there who was going to be insanely happy to be the mother of a bald boy named Horace Cleeves? H O R A C E.
This was a moral crossroads in my young life. Eight-year-old Michelle had to make the call.
Horace Cleeves and I sat together, eyes locked, sunlight glaring off his powder-scented bald pate. I took in the hideous shoes, the ugly tracksuit, the lack of dimples, the brown eyes and hard plastic where memories of hairdressing moments were supposed to be made.
My heart melted. I loved him.
Horace, my bald, brown-eyed, un-dimpled, stylistically challenged son never left my side after that. I defended him when girls were mean, I allowed him to express his feminine side when he wanted to wear frilly dresses, and I kissed and kissed that hard, shiny head.
Then, one day, another little girl came along and Horace was adopted once again. I was a little sad but it was time. I moved from kissing Horace’s bald head to practice-kissing my pillow. Slowly, slowly, I grew up.
I am now 38 years old.
Thirty years since Horace. And now I find myself facing a similar cross-road.
Every day, I am faced with my own balding head in the mirror as Alopecia takes more of my hair.
Like my eight-year-old self, I’m not happy. I don’t like what I see. Not at all. Tears prick at the corners of my eyes as I stare at the spot where the light glares at me from a multitude of bald spots on my own head. I feel that familiar temptation to cry and yell at that great Xavier Roberts In The Sky that THIS IS NOT FAIR.
Then I look into the brown eyes in the mirror and they stare back at me. I take in the lack of dimples and the emptiness where only memories of braids now reside. And I realize that I love this imperfect woman in the mirror. Unconditionally. She isn’t the prettiest or best dressed. She has no crowning glory to boast. But I love her regardless. I have to. She’s all I have.
Maybe, when he created a plain, brown-eyed, dimple-free, bald Cabbage Patch boy named Horace Cleeves, Xavier Roberts knew what he was doing after all.