When I was a little girl, baby dolls didn’t “do” anything. We dressed them in frilly clothing, carried them around (often by an arm or a leg), and pushed them around the neighborhood in a stroller. When we got bored with them, we tossed them into the toybox.
In later years, manufacturers added features making them more realistic. They talked, they cried, and they dirtied their diapers. I’m not sure this was an improvement, although it was good practice for future parenthood.
After my siblings and I were grown, our mom tried in vain to keep a doll at her house to entertain visiting grandchildren. Each time she purchased one, one of her grandchildren would fall in love with it. They would cry and beg to take it home with them. Usually mom relented, once again leaving her own house without a doll baby.
After replacing the “house doll” several times, Mom had an idea. At the next family Christmas party, when Santa passed around the toys from his bag, there was a gaily wrapped baby doll with a tag reading, “To Grandma from Santa Claus.”
Mom’s plan worked. She was able to keep this doll at her house. Even the youngest grandchild understood that, because the doll was Grandma’s Christmas present from Santa, no one else could have it.
But when Mom took the doll out of the package, we were in for a surprise. If she had read the fine print on the package, she would have known that her new doll baby was a very realistic, generously endowed, anatomically correct male doll, which we named Walter. The grandchildren took Walter’s appearance in stride, since they had baby brothers and male cousins. Walter didn’t have anything they hadn’t seen before when their parents were changing diapers.
We adults were a bit shocked. Until then, dolls always had been genderless. They were smooth and unadorned under their diapers. I think Walter may have been the first to be so endowed. I was going to check that by Googling “anatomically correct dolls,” but I was afraid that request might toss me into an unwanted algorithm. I don’t need those kinds of suggested purchases to pop up in my feed.
We welcomed Walter into the family and included him in all holiday events and sometimes in family photos. The entire family played along. Walter always received thoughtfully chosen gifts and cards on the holidays. Whenever my mom and dad went out, she would pay one of the grandchildren to babysit Walter.
When we called Mom on the phone, we would ask if Walter was still teething or if he had learned any new words. Did she have him potty trained yet? We even took Walter to meet Mom and Dad at the airport when they returned from a vacation. Other travelers at the airport viewed us with curiosity and gave us a wide berth.
Walter had another feature which proved to be useful. He had a noise-activated voice box. If the decibel level rose too high near him, he would cry as boisterously as a real baby. Mom would say to her rowdy grandchildren, “Shh, you’ll wake the baby!” Mom had used the same method to quiet us when we were children. It usually worked. There were five of us and usually there really was a baby sleeping. We knew if we woke it, she would make us babysit.
I have tried the same method with my own grandchildren. When they were younger, it used to work. The last time I told them, “Shh, you’ll wake the baby,” one of them said, “Grandma, there’s no baby. You’re too old to have a baby. Way too old. I mean way, way, WAY too old!” Geez, I got the message. Thanks alot, kid.
Poor Walter met an untimely and undignified end a few years after we had welcomed him into the family. Our neighbor found him naked in her yard. Whichever grandchild had been in charge of babysitting Walter that day should have been fired. Our neighbor pronounced Walter’s realism “disgusting” and tossed him into her trash can. We had planned a showy funeral for Walter when he met his demise, but, alas, poor Walter rode to his final resting place in a garbage truck. Rest in peace, Walter.