Monday, October 29, 2007

These Dolls are Too Much Work!

In the toy department at Fred Meyer's last week, I watched as a mother dragged her daughter over to the doll department and asked her to choose which color stroller she wanted. The girl, maybe 7 years old, wearily said she'd take the purple one.
I have been researching dolls for my book on childless women. I knew what we had when I was a child, but not what kids are playing with now. Only a childless woman with no little kids in her life would have to rely on Google and trips to Wal-Mart and Freddies to find out what dolls are hot now. I felt like a spy, whispering into my little voice recorder as I roamed the aisles. Keep in mind I live in a small town. We don't have a Toys R Us.
Thank God there are still plenty of baby dolls, but some of them do so much I can see how they'd wear a little girl out. The first ones I saw, on the end display, actually defecate. Seriously. They come with fake food, fake poop and fake diapers, which I suppose one has to replenish on a regular basis. Who decided that was fun?
Other dolls drink and wet, just like good old Betsy Wetsy of the 50s. Water goes in one hole and out the other. The baby dolls close their eyes when they lie down and open them when tilted upward. Some are programmed to randomly wake up giggling or crying. Some say a few words. They come with lots of accessories, including diapering supplies, bottles and food, play pens, car carriers, strollers, and sleeping bags. You'd need a station wagon to carry all their stuff around.
However, these dolls are awfully cute and lifelike. In addition to pressing all the "try me" buttons, I wanted to scoop one out and hug it. I guess that's why I still have my Chatty Cathy doll, pictured above. She speaks as if she's had a stroke now, but I still enjoy her company.
There are plenty of older dolls these days, referred to as "fashion dolls." These include the Bratz line that has been demeaned for teaching shallow values. I don't know; I think they're cute, although their huge painted-on eyes are kind of strange. We also have lots of Dora dolls. And Barbie's still around, slightly more realistic-looking than she was in the '60s.
Most girls enjoy dressing their dolls and pretending to send them to school or parties or into glamorous careers. Kids get to practice for real life. I don't see a problem with that, although many of the childless women I have interviewed claimed they never liked to play with dolls. Foreshadowing their future?
It's encouraging that today's dolls come in multiple ethnicities. On the other hand, it worries me that so many of them come with names, prefab dialogue and written histories. I think one of the best parts of play is using one's imagination. Let the little girls name their own dolls and make up their own stories. That's part of the fun, having those conversations that start, "Let's say we're going to the store and . . . "
In addition to the many dolls, Wal-Mart and Freddies offered lots of stuffed animals, including a parrot that never shut up, and a dog that supposedly lifted its leg and peed if you pushed the right button. Again, like the defecating doll, a little too real.
I'm happy to report that there are still plenty of dolls, and they're not going to corrupt our society's children.
As a woman who never finished growing up, I kind of want one. Is that why we get pets? An adult woman doesn't look half as crazy cuddling a terrier as she does holding a Little Mommy doll—unless of course she can find an actual little girl to play with.

Copyright 2007 Sue Fagalde Lick

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Alone in the Emergency Room

Going through my old notes, I find this, written in the local hospital emergency room where I drove myself last spring when my eye turned red and began oozing puss so thick I was half blind.
Sitting in this little room in the ER at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital, I feel more and more sorry for myself. Everyone else has people with them: parents, children, siblings, friends, somebody.
“Who drove you here?” the first nurse asked.
“I did.”
A look of concern passed over his face.
My husband, 15 years older than I am, has Alzheimer’s and can’t drive anymore. Nor could he help me with insurance cards or forms. In fact, if he were here, it would be like having a child along, an impatient child who kept fiddling with the medical equipment and asking when we could go home.
I had sat down to dinner but wasn't hungry. My eye was getting worse. I got up, put the food away, brushed my teeth, grabbed my purse and drove myself to the hospital. No, wait, I called a friend who always says to call her if I needed help. She wasn’t home.
So here I am, alone, half blind, stuffed up, thirsty and wondering if I will be able to drive home. Husbands die, I think. I should have had children. They'd be adults by now and could take me to the hospital.
I sit on the table, swinging my legs, waiting. I can hear a small dog barking. He has been barking for at least an hour.
Going nuts with nothing else to do, I make notes about the room I’m in. Not much bigger than my bathroom, it has fluorescent lights, a fire sprinkler, and white linoleum with grey speckles. There’s a green plaid curtain, a gray stool, a plastic wall rack holding four boxes of blue plastic gloves marked small, medium, large and extra large. There’s a hazardous waste depository, a paper towel holder, a Corporate Service Excellence award posted for the third quarter of 2006. I see a rack with tissues, swabs, sheets, plastic covers, pillow cases, blue hospital gowns, and barf basins. There’s some sort of heart machine, a bed, an IV pole with four hooks, a rack full of flashlights to look in your eyes and nose, an oxygen machine, a blood pressure bulb, a wastebasket, brochure racks—empty except for pamphlets on HIV/AIDS. A magazine rack holds copies of Metropolitan Home, People, Western Interior, and Sunset. Swell. If I could see to read, I could do a little freelance-writing market research. There’s a code call button, a phone, a red light switch and a gray help call button. I want to push them all.
Across the hall is a bathroom with a commode and a handicap toilet. I'd use it, but I'm afraid that's when the doctor would come. After two hours, I'm not taking any chances.
The doctor finally comes in, swabs the gunk for lab tests, looks in my nose, mouth, and eyes, listens to me breathe and disappears for another hour.
Let’s describe the doctor: wiry hair, green scrubs, white tennis shoes. Grouchy.
Nearing four hours, he comes back with a diagnosis: On top of pharyngitis--an infection in the voice box--now I have conjunctivitis, popularly known as pink eye. It’s a viral infection, very contagious. I need to use wet compresses and eye drops and keep my stuff away from everybody else’s. For the throat, he advises salt water gargles. He hurries away, his shoes squeaking on the linoleum.
For this, I waited here alone until almost midnight.
A nurse comes in with a package of pain pills. They are exactly the medication I told the first nurse I couldn't take. Besides, it doesn't hurt bad enough for narcotics. On a scale of one to ten, I rated my pain at one and a half.
With the gunk wiped away, I can see a bit better. I go home and prepare my own gargles and compresses. In a couple days, the first eye is clear. The infection has moved into the other eye, but I know what to do, and it soon goes away.
It’s all very minor, but I can’t help thinking: what if this was something more serious where I could not drive, could not speak, could not tell anyone my name, date of birth, medications, insurance numbers or allergies. What if they just gave the me the pills that make me sick because there was no one to say, "Hey, wait a minute."
Damn, I should have had kids. Those ever-present buddies on TV shows are a myth. Childless, parentless, we're on our own. What is that Tennessee Williams line about always depending on the mercy of strangers? I don't want to.

Yes, I know everyone says you can't count on your children to help you in your later years. But at least, if you have children, it's a possibility. 

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Monday, October 15, 2007

I'd Be Wishing They Were Dogs

Do You Want the Dog Honda or the Child Honda?

Honda in Japan is giving childless customers the option of installing a dog crate or a Pekingese-sized glove compartment nook instead of child car-seats. With the childless rate nudging toward one-quarter of the population, the car manufacturer figures if they build it, people will buy it.

Since I have no chance of having a baby at this point,I would. One dog Honda, please.

I recently read an article on by Reuter's Sophie Hardach ("In Dog We Trust: Japan's Childless Turn to Canines") about Japanese professional women pushing prams with tiny dogs inside, tiny dogs dressed in little doggie clothes. A surgeon quoted by the author said she was too busy for husbands and children, but she got lonely, so she adopted dogs. Does this not sound like little girls torturing the family dog with bows and doll clothes? Suddenly I think of an old joke where a guy looks into a carriage at a dog in a baby bonnet and says, “That’s the ugliest baby I ever saw.”

Over the years, we've all known people who treat their pets like children. Look at my friend Carol, whose parrot Barney runs her life. The other day when we met at the mailbox, she said she had to hurry back in because Barney knew she was home from work. If she dallied outside, he would get angry and poop on her.

On weekends, Carol wears shirts torn by Barney's talons and teeth and stained by his droppings. Every day she plays music for him, takes him into the shower with her and shares her meals with him. She and her human partner never leave town together because they can't leave Barney alone. After Barney bit Carol recently, leaving a deep red gouge in her finger, I said if it were me, I'd smack him so hard there would be green feathers flying all over the house. She just smiled and shook her head. "I just told him not to do it again."

Childless interviewee Bonnie says, "I treat my dogs like children at times. My adoptive mom always said she'd like to come back as one of my dogs. Maybe I treated them better???

It's probably good that I don't have kids. I might kill them. One night shortly after we adopted our dog Sadie, I dragged home from work exhausted and hungry, put my dinner on the counter for a minute and turned around to find she had eaten half of it. I whacked her so hard I felt bone against bone. I apologized afterward. Being a dog, she forgot all about it. She’s still trying to cadge my chow 10 years later.

I flash on my Grandma Rachel’s dachsund, Gretchen, whom she referred to as "Gretchie." She coddled that dog, much to the frustration of my grandfather who preferred the big old mutts that used to keep him company on the ranch. Grandpa’s second wife, Rachel never had children of her own. She was such a terrible cook that her offspring might have starved, and she was more than a little eccentric. I can still hear her reading poetry to us one visit and see her behind the curtains pretending she wasn’t home the next. But she was completely devoted to her dog.

Two generations later, I don’t have children either, but I have Sadie. And yes, she runs my life. If she breathes funny or limps, I'm on the phone with the vet. Every little sneeze or wheeze and I ask, "Are you sick?" Lately she has taken to moaning. I jump down to the floor, asking, “Are you all right?” She eases away from me, annoyed.

"She's fine. She’s just trying to talk," my husband says. Typical father. He’s not the one who gets up in the night to let her out. He’s not the one who abandons whatever he’s doing to open a door or feed her a "cookie." He’s not the one who says, “Sadie's bored. Let's go for a walk."

He’s also not the one who makes faces at the dog to see if she'll make the same face back. I have gotten her to yawn and to lick her lips. I think I can make her smile, too. Okay, I’m a little nutty like Grandma Rachel. Every generation should have a crazy artistic relative, right? But maybe she shouldn’t reproduce.

When other people call me Sadie's mom, I say, no, I'm not her mother. Her mother was a canine with four legs and a tail. And yet . . . I know every inch and scar of my dog, but I don't even know if any of my stepchildren ever had the measles. Furthermore, while other women go gaga when someone brings a baby into the room, I stand off to the side, not sure what to do. Bring in a dog, and I'm all over it. I gush over puppy pictures the way other women melt over baby photos.

Dogs and I connect. We communicate. In fact, I would love to be surrounded by dogs, all rolling around together in a pile. Babies are complicated. Dogs are simple. Eat, sleep, poop, play. They never grow up into something that wears size 13 shoes and decides you're an idiot.

Good thing I didn't have kids. I'd be wishing they were dogs.

copyright 2007 Sue Fagalde Lick

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

"My Art is My Baby"

I'm standing at my book table in Lincoln City, Oregon on a cold, rainy October Saturday. It's the "Plein Air" festival, expected to be a happy mix of painters painting, sculptors sculpting, musicians playing, and crafters, artists and authors selling their wares, but it's just miserable. I'm already tired of the MC making wisecracks about enjoying our Oregon weather.
Despite the rain, quite a few people have come, many with toddlers in pink and blue jackets and tiny dogs in little raincoats.
A pretzeled older woman wanders into my skimpy shelter and says she's trying to think of what to paint. An all-gray canvas? "How about a sea of colorful raincoats?" I suggest. She nods. "I was thinking of that."
A while later, two younger women wander over to check out my books. The tall dark-haired one says she's from Latvia. They ask what I'm working on now, and I tell them I'm writing about childless women. They look at each other and grin. "We're childless," they say.
"Really," I say. "Are you childless by choice?"
"Yes," they chorus.
"About once a year," says the Latvian lass, "my husband and I ask each other, 'Should we have a baby?' and we say no. My art is my baby." She makes intricately shaped and painted ceramic vases.
"Well, yes," I agree. "It is hard to be an artist and raise a family."
"I just have too much else to do. I don't have time for kids," says her curly-haired artist friend in the yellow slicker.
"But someday," I suggest, "you might be lonely."
Immediately comes the standard answer I have heard at least a hundred times: You can't count on your children to be around when you get old. They move away. They're too busy. "Look at my family," says the Lat, "My mother's all the way in Latvia. I hardly ever see her." Then she twists the knife. "What about your momma and daddy?"
"Well, my mom is dead. And my dad lives in California, which is far away."
"You see!"
And they go back to their art. Yeah, I see. But if I had kids, it would be different. Of course, everyone says that, too.
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