a rite of passage [long]

Because my blog is a bit all over the place these days and because this is where I’m capturing special moments in my life, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a really big milestone that took place  over Thanksgiving: my parents gave  Maya her first American Girl doll for her birthday and we took her to the American Girl store and cafe in Chicago for an  absolutely … unforgettable day.

Oh yes. Unforgettable in every way …

Backing up, I was just a tad too old when AG dolls came out to actually own one myself; we got the catalog with the original dolls (Samantha, Kit, Kirsten, Molly, etc.) and I enjoyed reading about them, but I was past the target age — it was more for someone my sister’s age (four years my junior). That said,  I always loved the dolls and appreciated what the brand stands for — female empowerment, tolerance, loving ourselves for who we are, tackling really tricky tween and preteen topics … I knew that if/when I had a daughter, I’d want her to have a doll and would hope she would get into the brand.

I didn’t have to wait. My mom called  me last  winter with BIG.NEWS. American Girl dolls (the Truly Me ones that are designed to look like each unique girl) were on sale on Zulily–her favorite website for kids’ clothes and accessories. She wanted to buy it for Maya for her fifth birthday and I wasn’t about to argue ;). (My husband — who enjoys nice things in life but is pretty cheap otherwise — would have totally balked at spending $100+ on a doll. #men).

Anyway, I assumed the reason they were on Zulily was they were either overstock of certain dolls or the previous year’s Truly Me girl outfit, but who cared — Maya, who has loved baby dolls since day one, wouldn’t know the difference in which year the doll came out! Plus as a bonus, the dolls all came with a  bonus outfit: an adorable ballet ensemble — and she had just started formal dance a couple months prior.

Fortunately, my mom acted and was able to score a blond haired, blue-eyed doll that looked like our girl. That doll sat in her closet from February til November, when they came for Thanksgiving. And then it would be time for the big reveal.

Since Maya didn’t know what  an American Girl doll was yet, I had started casually planting the seed by showing her the catalogs in the mail or bringing one home from Chicago when I’d go for work over the summer and early fall. She loved looking at the “dollies” and pointed to the exact doll my mom got her saying, “HEY, that looks like me!” She circled some outfits she liked  (more on this later) and squealed with delight when she got to the page with the ballerina. “So stinkin’ cute!” She also fell in love with Grace, the 2015 Girl of the Year and her Parisian accessories. But she kept coming back to the mirror image of herself, and I couldn’t help but smile each time she’d comment on how similarly she and the doll looked.

I told her these are very special dollies and that maybe someday she could get one. Of course, she wanted one immediately.

I had made a reservation at the AG Cafe for Saturday, November 28, for my mom, sister, Maya and I (the plan was my dad, Luis and Ben would hang out and hit the Lego store next door). Thanksgiving night — two nights before our Chicago trip — my parents gave her her present. Her eyes lit up when she saw the box and she knew exactly what was inside! It was, in many ways, a rite of passage: journeying into the American Girl world.

That night, she named her doll Naya (a character in the tween version of Dora), changed her into her ballet outfit, and brushed her long blonde hair. I told her she needed to be very careful with Naya; that she couldn’t color near her or let Benny play with her. I tried reinforcing that Naya is her very special doll from Gamama and Pop. She nodded her head in understanding.

It  was to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Naya rode around Chicago in our double buggy all day while we did some sight-seeing, had lunch, and explored  Chicago. (My  family had never been). Then it was time to go to the American Girl store.

In retrospect I am SO glad we had budgeted some time for pre-tea shopping because, as it would turn out, we needed it.

(Photo: Naya and Maya on our way to hail a cab).


As soon as we girls got out of the cab, my mom and sis took a pic of us in front of the store.


And that’s when everything went to hell.

As we’re about to go in, Maya tugs my arm and says to me, “Mommy, my dolly’s head just came off.”

I turned to look at her and saw my (then) almost-five-year-old looking absolutely terrified  with her doll’s head in one hand and her body in the other.

“WHA?! Honey what happened?!”

“I don’t know, but her head came off!” Her tiny face crumpled; she clearly thought she’d done something wrong, but as it turns out, she hadn’t.
Naturally, I was in complete shock. Here  we were about to go into Doll Heaven/Mecca … and the doll was decapitated.

Not knowing what had happened or why, we rushed into the store. The lovely elderly greeters were about to offer their standard cheerful welcome but instead I barged in and showed them the headless doll. (Truth be told, I feel awful now for how rude I probably came off but at the moment, I was in save-my-kid’s-day-beast-mode).

I’ll never forget what the lady said, in her Midwestern twang. “Oh dear! The doll hospital is that way,” pointing toward the middle of the store. “Good luck!” she trailed as we raced off.

Our reservation was for 4 PM tea, so we didn’t have a ton of time. Fortunately, I found customer service quickly and showed them what we were dealing with. Apparently we’d cut the string on the back of the doll’s neck–and apparently that’s a no-no. Mind you, the doll was attached to the box with similar strings so how the hell were we to know that that ugly string is actually a necessity?!!


Anyway, the doll was not actually going to be seen that day — she’d have to be shipped off to the AG doll hospital in Wisconsin and wouldn’t be back for 2-3 weeks. We knew we had to move fast since we had the tea (which was the whole impetus behind this Chi-town trip) so we did a little pow-wow and went over our options.

My mom was incredibly bummed and wanted to just buy her another doll so she’d have something for the tea and told me to sell Naya on Ebay when she’d come back … but I really didn’t want her to do that. And Maya didn’t either. In spite of  my mom’s generous offer, she said she wanted HER dolly, her Naya. I was so proud of Maya for being so easygoing about the whole thing — it would have been understandable for a kid her age to be upset or even throw a tantrum because her doll was ruined, or to want another one IN THAT MOMENT … but her concern was just if her doll could be fixed. We assured her it wasn’t her  fault — we’d cut the string on accident — and that she could be fixed.

But first …the tea.

So I made the call. Instead of  getting another doll, I told the customer service woman we’d be back to fill out the paperwork to ship Naya out after tea. I shoved the doll’s head back into her neck, held on to her so her head wouldn’t fall out, and prayed she wouldn’t make a grotesque scene in the cafe. And then off we went to join the throngs of girls and  their families waiting for our seating.

As it turns out, the AG Cafe has shelves with every doll you can imagine inside when you walk in (for birthdays, in case a child doesn’t have one   … or perhaps in case hers is decapitated 😉 Either way, Naya was going to make it so we didn’t even look at the other dolls but I did appreciate that they took into account that not every child would own a doll.

We got settled at our table and the waitress went to grab Naya to put her in a doll-sized chair that attaches to the table. Before we could stop her, Naya’s head fell off and rolled under the table. Laugh-crying, we rushed to explain what had happened, and told her not to worry. Her initial horror turned to a big grin and we all had a laugh. I put Naya’s head back on once again. (Fortunately, not everyone had been seated yet in the room so no one else saw our mishap).

And then we ordered adult beverages — bellinis and mimosas. I didn’t know this, but yes, they are served! Not included in the tea price … but still very worth it 😉

The cafe itself was beautiful –far more elegant than I’d have envisioned it being. And because it was decorated for the holidays, it was especially festive and cozy with garland and lights and the twinkly sparkles of Michigan Avenue just below. I loved all the little touches — the napkins tied in hair bows for her doll, the paper doll set for us to play with and take, the cards on the table for conversation starters (not that we needed them!), the tea cup and plate for Naya to keep — it all just made the experience that much better. Further, the food and drink were surprisingly far better than I would have expected! And the price — for Chicago — was really not too bad (thanks, Mom!) 🙂



The best part of the afternoon by far came when our waitress came over with a cupcake to sing “Happy Birthday” to Maya.  That’s when my kid ducked under the table, and, following the completion of the song, bonked her head on the way up, sending Naya’s head rolling under the table while we felt the eyes of like 100 girls and their moms — already staring at the birthday commotion — on us. I’d been videoing the whole thing and it cuts where my mom, sister and I all shriek, “OH NO!” So freaking funny. I mean, really … Naya’s decapitated head was rolling around the floor of the American Girl Cafe. I guess you had to be there but let me assure you … it was epic.

All I know is we laughed, we laugh-cried, and we laughed some more … It was an amazing afternoon and we pretty much could not stop laughing when we had to tell the guys all that had transpired. Neither Luis nor my dad could believe it.

Afterwards, we filled out the paperwork and turned Naya over after a kiss and a hug. They told us she’d return home in a hospital gown, socks,  and an ID band — and they didn’t charge us, even though there should have been a $36  “head reattachment fee.”

Reunited and it feels so good...

Sure enough, she did return — the day before  Maya’s birthday — exactly as promised.

She was so happy to have her doll back and wanted to play with her as soon as we got home. I had intended to give her a pair of matching jammies for Christmas  but we ended up just giving her that night; the kid deserved them after being so patient and all!


And now  they are besties. Maya loves dressing her and dressing to match or coordinate her. I can’t justify the price of the AG clothes unless on sale, so in addition to those couple AG outfits I’ve been collecting this past year, I’ve found some adorable outfits from Target, Kohl’s (the jammies above), and on Amazon (outfit below). And she’s gotten some great non-AG doll furniture and accessories, as well.


(Her birthday party outfit–Dollie and Me brand)


(Two beautiful ballerinas; came with her doll).

For as many AG brand aficionados as there are out there, there’s quite a bit of negativity, too. A lot of people think these dolls are over-priced and simply not worth it when there are plenty of cheaper 18 inch dolls on the market — but I was OK with encouraging this doll and this brand because it’s something I believe in, and they truly can last forever (heirloom quality). I also love how for every doll purchased at the holidays, a doll is donated to someone in need.

I  support this hobby — and perhaps am encouraging it — because little girls are just growing up so quickly these days  … she won’t be little forever, and she won’t be into dolls forever. But she loves  imaginary play right now, and often asks me to join her  as she plays with her doll — so it’s something we can share together. She loves pretending to be a teacher to Ben, playing doctor … and the way I see it, anything we can do to nurture and preserve that innocent, play-based childhood experience — at least for a few years — is worth it to me.

Further, because she knows this is a “very special toy” — unlike her other dolls — she takes really good care of her. I can see a difference in how she treats this doll versus her other  dolls. I hope she takes such good care of Naya that someday, if she had a daughter, she could pass her along.


I was  really proud of her recently on another trip to Chicago when we returned to the AG store (her birthday weekend). We went in just to look around since the last time we’d been there had been a bit chaotic … and she saw an outfit she really liked and wanted for Naya. She didn’t know that Santa would be bringing her several AG doll outfits and so I told her we would need to wait; that she had just gotten some things for her birthday and that Santa would be coming soon, too.

I sort of expected a meltdown in the store — it was late, she was tired … but instead she had me near tears for a good reason. She closed the little box, placed it gingerly back on the shelf and said, “OK Mommy, another time,” and began to leave.

To say I was floored was an understatement.

Anyway, I share this all with you today mostly so I have a recording for Maya someday of this rite of passage, but also because I would love her to know how this big milestone for her ended up teaching me a really important lesson: Kids are more resilient (and gracious?!) than we give them credit for.

I fully expected  tantrums and meltdowns, but on both occasions at AG, she handled the disappointment so well. I guess part of me shouldn’t be surprised — it’s not like we’re raising her to act like/be a spoiled brat … but sometimes kids will be kids, and you just never know how they will react until they do.

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised both times. She bounced back and moved on, and I can learn a lot from that.

All too often, I get bent out of shape over things I can’t control. Big things, little things … they weigh on me and gnaw away at me. They induce stress  and anxiety. But then I see how gracefully my kid handled  disappointment and it just puts everything into perspective.

I don’t know how long her love affair with her American Girl doll will last but I can tell you this: I’ve learned a lot from her rite of passage into the world of American Girl already. I can’t wait to see what’s to come.


4 thoughts on “a rite of passage [long]

  1. Not long after my daughter got Josefina, I got Addy for my birthday! Now our doll family numbers 10! Etsy has wonderful doll items too.

  2. For what it’s worth, you can easily replace the string by tying a new string to a small safety pin and pushing it through the neck channel. Or do what AG has now started to do and use a zip tie instead, cutting the ends off after pulling it tight. Much cheaper than sending your doll to the hospital!

    1. That’s great to know! I didn’t end up having to pay (they were really good!) but good to know in case something happened in the future! I think the new one, Lea, is like that. She wants Lea — I said for her birthday in Dec, when she’s 30% off 😉

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