Cookie Cutter Christmas

cookie cutterIt was the introductory year for the Barbie doll. All of the girls were abuzz about it, just hoping against hope that they would each get their own. Now, I have to admit, I never was much into playing with dolls. I did have a “Tiny Tears” baby doll that I played with a bit, but I was never comfortable with it – that hard head and soft body weren’t attractive to me (I did like those pretty blue eyes with long lashes that opened and closed depending on the position of the head). But, wanting to be like everyone else, I requested my own Barbie doll – and repeatedly – of my parents for Christmas.

Now my mother wasn’t one for getting things done early. I’m not sure what that was about but perhaps it is why I procrastinate so much myself. At any rate, while I continually waved the Sears Christmas catalog in front of her, showing her the dog-earred page with the Barbie doll on it, she must have figured she had plenty of time to get one and put off ordering until the last minute.

And so, on that Christmas morning when all of my girlfriends were celebrating their own new Barbies, I was staring at a “substitution” that Sears had made because their inventory was exhausted. Stores could do that back in those days without asking permission. Mom knew it was a substitution, but figured it was close enough so that’s what I got.

Now, my substitution (I can’t even remember the poor doll’s name) was really quite pretty and could almost pass for a Barbie, but it clearly wasn’t. And it was just enough different that Barbie clothes didn’t quite fit it nor did she fit into the Barbie wardrobe case that Mom did manage to find for me.

The first day back to school after Christmas vacation was the day everyone was allowed to bring their favorite Christmas gift and show it off, individually, to the class. One-by-one, each of my female classmates moved to the front of the room and showed off her Barbie. Some were adorned in the original black and white swim suit and high heels; others had obviously landed a windfall and brought their Barbies dressed in evening gowns or little suits.

I didn’t want to bring my “substitute” to school. I knew she was different than what the other girls would have received. So I left her at home and brought a little stuffed dog. Turns out that not only was my substitute-Barbie different, I was different too. One of the boys exclaimed, “You’re the only girl that didn’t get a Barbie doll!” Believe me, that shout was etched into my memory.

So all of those Barbies were lined up on the classroom window sill. Next to them was my stuffed dog. Then all of the boys’ various toys and games.

I was mortified. Not sure how I would have felt had I brought my fake Barbie to stand next to the real ones. She and I were both different.

It was a good lesson for me, even though I’m not sure I ever completely forgave my mother for making such a grievous error (and even though I probably would have played with it for about the same amount of time I dedicated to my Tiny Tears). It was just the beginning of a long road toward understanding that it is perfectly all right to be different.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t try mightily to be just like everyone else for a whole lot of my life. But there were many times I just didn’t fit the mold. There were times that I didn’t want to fit the mold because something told me that the mold just wasn’t right for me or because I could see it was wrong to force someone else into it just to meet everyone’s expectations. Even in the summer between eighth grade and my freshman year in high school, when all of the other girls were “rushed” for their chance to join a high school sorority, I never received a single invitation to any of the rush parties (if I hadn’t been so outspoken about how silly I thought a high school sorority was I might have been invited). The funny thing is that when all of the girls were going to college sorority rush parties, I was never invited to any of those either. Turns out that taking a stand on anything can follow you the rest of your days.

I’ve taken some stands in my lifetime that have proven to be the wrong ones. But when I’ve been right, I haven’t regretted the slings and arrows of judgment that come along with being unpopular. I’ve come to realize that I’m not cut from the same cookie cutter as a lot of people might expect. And it’s not that I’m so proud of that as I am proud that it doesn’t bother me to be different.

The Year of the Barbie Doll turned out to be a defining moment in my life. Non-Cookie Cutter Christmases can produce more far-reaching results that we might imagine.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I don’t hold great expectations for Christmas anymore. It’s better to just let it be a surprise and to let that surprise unfold in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

Kind of like that newborn baby in the manger in Bethlehem.

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