Saturday, May 27, 2023

Barbie and Me

With Greta Gerwig's movie about how the beloved doll Barbie became Death, the destroyer of worlds* coming out soon, there's a lot of Barbie discourse going around. I am reminded of my own Barbie story.

No, I never played with Barbie as a kid. My sister had Barbie dolls, as did my cousins. I think my sister even had a Ken doll, with preposterous stick-on facial hair. But my own Barbie story comes many years later.

It was probably 1999 or so. The CD/DVD manufacturer I worked for was still classified as a profit center, meaning our role in the corporate ecosystem was to maximize profits. (Years later we would become a cost center, where our goal would be to minimize costs.) We were all flush with cash, and the company expected us to be good corporate citizens and contribute generously to its charitable efforts.

Every year at Christmas we had a "giving tree" covered with tags bearing the names of local underprivileged children and their wishes for Christmas. You could grab one at random, or you could shop around for something that interested you. That year there must have been a major video game system release, because half the tags were kids asking for the expensive, ephemeral system. Others asked for other expensive gifts. But I found one that just said "BARBIE." This one, I thought. This one will get more than she asked for.

I stopped at Toys 'r' Us on the way home, the destination for toy shoppers, which had outlived other toy stores like Kidz and Kay-Bee, though it would itself go out of business in little more than fifteen years. Toys 'r' Us had the legendary Pink Aisle, the home of all things Barbie. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and entered the aisle, an enormous man dressed all in black, pushing a shopping cart, surrounded by pinkness.

I first grabbed a classic Barbie. Blonde, pink skin, blue eyes. About $7. I was prepared to spend much more.

Who am I shopping for? I asked myself. Is she white, black, Latino, Asian? I had no way of knowing. Will she see herself in the doll she gets for Christmas? 

No problem. Even then Barbie had a broad racial diversity. I grabbed one of each and tossed them in the cart. Now she will have one that will look like her, and she can share the others.

Barbie needs clothes. I grabbed a multi-pack of clothing, and then another. She would have lots of outfit options. Barbie needs shoes. I found a shoe collection, tossed it in the cart. Barbie needs a place to store all this stuff. I found a wardrobe case. Into the cart.

Then I saw a Barbie playset. Barbie as a veterinarian, with a little girl figure and a dog. Yes, that too. That rounds things out nicely. Into the cart.

I came home and arranged everything so I could wrap it together. I taped the tag to the package and took it in to work. 

I hope some little girl had a great Christmas that year.

*Maybe that's the Oppenheimer movie, coming out the same day.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Very Late Greeting Card


It is three months today since my mother died.

A card came in the mail today for her from my aunt, her sister-in-law. I thought that was odd - why was it addressed to her? Why wasn't it addressed to us? She knows my mom is dead. I opened it, and saw it was actually written TO my mom as though she were still alive and recovering. Then I looked at the postmark.

February 8th. The day my mom had her fall. The day an unmasked ambulance crew showed up to take her to the hospital. The day she likely contracted the COVID that would result in a massive stroke six days later, on Valentine's Day, a stroke that would lead to her death on February 24.

So from the time this card was postmarked it took THREE AND A HALF MONTHS to get to us in the mail.

Perhaps I will take it with me next time I go to the cemetery and read it to her.

The card at our family gravesite, May 25, 2023. I washed and scrubbed the stone off the other day, so there's a lot less lichen and bird poop on it than there was before.

(Some small consolation: This card was postmarked February 8, a Wednesday. There's a slim chance it might have been delivered Friday or Saturday, but odds are it wouldn't have gotten to us until Monday, February 13. I went to visit her in the early afternoon that day, before the mail is usually delivered. I would have probably come home to find it, would have mentioned it in my phone call with my mom that night - the last time I talked to her - and we would have probably agreed that I should leave it unopened and bring it up the next day. She had a massive stroke that morning, February 14, Valentine's Day, so she would never have gotten to see it anyway.)

Monday, May 15, 2023

Mother's Day 2023


Mother's Day 2023. The first one since my mother died. Three months since she had the COVID-induced Valentine's Day stroke that would result in her death eleven days later.

The place where she is buried is very beautiful. The grass has finally grown in over her grave. The stone needs cleaning, but that's something I will take care of after all danger of frost has passed. (Cleaning involves a soft brush and plenty of water, and you don't want water seeping into tiny cracks and freezing.) I visit there at least once a week, sometimes more often. 

I visited on Mother's Day. The cemetery was relatively crowded, as I expected. Most of the time I am visiting in the early afternoon on a weekday, or late afternoon on a weekend, so I am often the only visitor there. I had gotten a much later start than I intended and had several other things to do, but I decided to go for a joyride after leaving the cemetery. That's something I haven't done since my mother died. Usually our only outings were trips to her doctors, but sometimes I would take us off-course on the return trip to go out to places that we hadn't been in a while. Yesterday I set out to find the source of a big fire with thick, yellowish smoke somewhere in the distance, but close enough to cause a stink at the cemetery.

I never made it there, finding the road blocked on two different approaches. Eventually I turned around and decided it was time to deal with the next item on my to-do list, mowing the as-yet-unmowed lawn at my house across town. (NOTE TO SELF: NEVER LET IT GO THIS LONG, HOLY CRAP WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.) But first I stopped at Rita's Italian Ice to get a mango gelato. I had always wanted to take my mom there as a treat, but she was never very excited about the idea. (We made plenty of stops at local ice cream shops, and for a while she was on a McDonald's vanilla ice cream kick.) I sat in the parking lot and ate my gelato and thought about how much I missed my mom.

Then I headed back home to do the other things I needed to do.