“What is your favorite thing to play?”
“Critters” she said.
“What’s the next thing you like to play with after Critters?” I asked.
“Train” she said.
“And after train?”
“Mike” she said. (Referring to her Monsters University Mike Wazowski doll).
I asked several more times, going through the list of favorite play things. Dolls and more dolls. Penelope loves em’. She sleeps with some of them. Others keep watch throughout the night, sitting on a shelf facing her crib. Still others stay in her toy chest, rejected for reasons only Penelope knows.
At the end of the evening I had one more question. “What should daddy write about?”
“Alex” she said.
Alex is monkey doll numero uno. He took the stuffed animal crown from T. Bear on Christmas. How could a teddy bear with a bow compete with a multicolored monkey with a full outfit? He can’t. Since Christmas other stuffed animals have come along and enjoyed their 15 minutes with Penelope. That’s why I think one-eyed Mike’s “most favored doll” status is temporary. I’m glad to see her playing with him though. She has an eclectic group and isn’t put off by Mike’s luminescent green hue and large eyeball.
I remember very little of the dolls I had at her age. Winnie the Pooh comes to mind because of some photos I’ve seen. The last dolls I remember were two E.T.’s. One was a large teddy bear brown color, the other a small chocolate-colored one that seemed out-of-place, like E.T.’s forgotten kid brother. I held “real” E.T. when I went to bed and carried him around my dad’s place.
There’s something fundamental about playing with dolls. They allow us to project our feelings to a willing subject, one that will never reject or hurt us. Our dolls are with us no matter what (or until a dog gets ahold of them). I watch Penelope carry hers around everywhere. Some are “travel buddies” for car trips. Why some get picked to travel and others are not is a mystery. Ditto for the dolls of honor that stay in Penelope’s bed each evening.
I’m thrilled with our daughter’s attachment, especially to the less conventional teddies. Several years ago I purchased the “Muzzy” language learning set (and wrote a review of it). Included as an added “buy it now!” bonus was a fuzzy green Muzzy doll. “We’ll give this to our daughter one day” I told myself. Last weekend that day came. Organizing a cabinet I found fuzzy Muzzy still wrapped in plastic, waiting for union with a pair of tiny hands to hold him.
I decided to wait until…nah, I wanted to give Penelope the doll right then. I opened her door slowly, and stuck Muzzy’s head through while talking in my best Muzzy voice. “Hi Penelope, I’m Muzzy. It’s great to meet you.” Excited laughter and pleas to open the door erupted. She loved him. And when I told Penelope there was a cartoon with Muzzy she dropped everything and said “watch Muzzy”. Score one for the BBC’s language learning series. That night Muzzy displaced one of the overnight doll crew in her bed.
At the current rate of stuffed animal accumulation we’ll need another closet by the time Penelope is five. When she’s ten I imagine we’ll be getting trash bags to fill with discarded playthings, including many of the aforementioned dolls. Maybe it’s harder for me than Penelope to see some of them go. I’ll hold onto the ones she loves most even if her pre-teen self doesn’t care. I didn’t save any of my toys from childhood. Last year my mother found two broken Transformers. I sold my G.I. Joe collection for a pittance after high school. And E.T.? He went home. Sometimes I wish I had a box or two of childhood relics to reminisce over. The reason for their absence is another story, for another time.
Barring physical catastrophe, Penelope will have some of her toys when she is my age. And when she holds them I hope her memories bring back the joy she feels now.