Dear Emily

Disclaimer: This was written several years before being posted. The date of this entry therefore does not correspond with the date of this experience. My 21-year-old niece would be rather baffled if I publicly suggested that she was playing with dolls yesterday!

Dear Em,

Yesterday we went to the shops with the intent of buying you a DVD of your current favourite movie (“Pitch Perfect” – I’m really grateful that you’ve picked a favourite movie that I enjoy so much too!). On the way through the maze of products we happened to pass the toy section on the way to the DVDs. As we did I saw you double-take at an aisle containing some dolls that used to capture your heart and imagination in the same way that Pitch Perfect does now! Before you were watching college students singing pop songs while love blossoms you were playing imaginary games with dress-up dolls. 

You’ve liked a lot of dolls in your lifetime – even briefly (and to my deep discomfort!) those horrible Bratz dolls that were inexplicably popular for a while! I’ll never forget the excitement on your face when you unwrapped a box of Lalaloopsy Dolls one mini-Christmas; I had imported them from overseas for you so you could have one that you’d fallen in love with in an online catalogue that wasn’t yet released in Australia. Then one day you found a doll that seemed to bridge the gap a little bit between your young innocent world of dolls and the ‘cooler’ world that you were heading towards. These dolls referenced classic horror figures – ‘Claudine Wolf’ the werewolf and ‘Laguna Blue’ the lake monster were your favourites!

It has been a while though – quite a long while – since you’ve played with your collection of Monster High dolls even in the privacy of your own room, let alone sought out the latest releases out in public. Yet your attention seemed caught and it was as though you were being dragged into the gravitational pull of nostalgia! So we stopped and looked, with you all the while trying to justify and rationalise. Casually assuring me “oh I’m so over these but I’m just a bit curious about what new ones have come out since I used to play with them”. Yes, of course, you used to play with them so so long ago back in the distant past of your long-forgotten youth! We checked a few out and chatted, then you spotted a set where you could ‘make your own’ Monster High dolls. Little limbs and accessories were carefully arranged in plastic case providing the opportunity to pick and mix to create a unique monstrous model. You spent quite a while looking at this. You even spontaneously announced, “You know, I’m almost tempted to get this, just because it’d be interesting to have a go at making one”. Yes, of course, not to play with, just for a bit of an interesting sociological experiment! I waited for you to ask me if we could buy the set. You seemed quite taken with it, and you’re usually pretty confident about making the request (but, to your credit, you’re equally understanding when I have to say no!). You didn’t ask. You examined it, and turned the box back and forth, and eventually put it back on the shelf so I asked “are you ready to head to the DVD section?”

When we got there we found that the DVD lacked special features, but was still at an especially high price! So I mentioned that maybe we should wait for a special edition to be released and buy it at that point. I thought you’d disagree and say we should just buy it now anyway. You didn’t disagree. You immediately agreed, no argument, no questions asked! As we walked back the way we came I saw your face and read your expression. I asked “You’re planning to ask me for something else aren’t you? You figure that since we didn’t spend that money on the DVD we could spend it on something else instead?”. You laughed, caught out, and admitted that was the plan! I reassured you that I only managed to guess it because that’s exactly what I would have done! I love those moments where I just look at you and see a mini-me (but the new and improved version!). It’s true that I also love the times when I see the inimitably unique “Emily” aspects of you, I don’t need to inject myself into all that is good about you because you have so much that you have created just for yourself, but it is a privilege that I am able to share so many traits with you. We giggled for a minute about our similarities, and you mentioned that your mum had pointed out that you’re “turning into Jecky”. Then you got back to the point and, again with that oh-so-casual tone, mentioned “I was thinking of maybe just grabbing that Monster High set, you know, just to check it out.”. The set was actually a bit more expensive than the DVD – I’d clocked the price when you first picked it up from the shelf – but I wasn’t going to say anything. In that moment, with you so painfully self-aware of the cognitive dissonance of simultaneously wanting to revisit your childhood while striving to grow up, I would never have tried to push you towards one or the other.

To be honest, it was lovely to see you having a moment of regression! You are so grown up in so many ways and I appreciate when you can let your guard down and just be little. This is why I still piggy-back you around, or pick you up in what you call a “Princess carry”, despite the fact that both leave me almost hobbling! I know that one day soon you won’t ask anymore, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to rush the arrival of that day. Every time you’re still willing to ask to be my little girl in a Princess carry I’m going to make sure I let you! Otherwise I will have only myself to blame when you’re “too cool” for it and I’m sad about it! So this was the same; I knew all I had to do was mention the price and it would have been just enough to knock you towards the self-conscious denial of your continued interest in dolls. So I kept quiet and we bought the doll.

When we got home I watched you play. I observed as you picked out the pieces and built your dolls. You needed my help to figure out how to attach the little wolf-like ears on one. I felt lucky to sit beside you playing dolls; it’s been a while since we’ve done that and I don’t know when we will again. You seemed calm and happy with the doll in your hand. The night before you had stayed up til 4am with your mates posting selfie photos on Instagram like a true teen (although you’re still, technically, a “tween”). Today your legs curled up under you as you braided the hair of your doll, just like the little girl of yesteryear.

You don’t have to choose Em. You don’t have to be one or the other – grown up or innocent, coolly cynical or sweetly optimistic, self-consciously mature or naively free. For a period of time in the next few years you might think you have to choose, and you might decide to hide certain aspects from your peers, but one day you will realise that balance and dichotomy make you richer. I believe you will become an adult who will always still be silly, funny, free and open of heart and mind.

I love you for who you were, who you are and who you will become. Yesterday, today, every day and always.

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