She’s back so we beeline to Barbie. After college plus a bonus year in Burlington, VT, my daughter has come “home”—in quotes because here is her launch pad to elsewhere, though she spends hours hanging her latest paintings and training pothos vines across her room.
In my childhood rewind, Barbie makes confounding cameos. She’s too stiff-limbed to swivel into the navy cocktail dress my only-skirt-in-her-med-school-class mother somehow found time to sew. She’s disheveled, ridiculous, when my sibs strip tease her. In my grad years, she ups her ante. I find her, in a salon window filled with “A Thousand Golden Barbies,” gazing at goddess reflections and carved into shrink-wrapped Barbie-Q parts. She teeters, a rich-voiced but whittled Karen Carpenter, through a bootleg screening of Todd Haynes’ Superstar. Anorexic ironist-idealist, she sings: “We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow . . . . We’ve only just begun.”
On my daughter’s toy shelf, Barbies were neither supplied nor denied—an oversight, perhaps, and a panged afterthought. “I liked my stuffed animals,” she assures me. I’ve bagged some in the attic, not quite remembering all their names, all long since surpassed in her passions by Zoology and a pet bearded dragon. Make Prehistoric Barbie, Mattel. She’d bask beautifully in leopard-poly beside this small dinosaur.
I slip into pink I rarely wear, breast cancer swag I’d rather not have. My daughter matches her tatts in black. At the indy cinema, we browse the gallery, shoot a selfie, find our seats. The art space director, flanked by beaming Barbie lookalikes, greets us in a short. We’re dubious till Barbie disarms, Ken sings, and giggles get us good.
“That was dumb,” my daughter laughs after, but I want to process. “You paint and I’ll write. How ‘bout Surreal Barbie?” I nudge, knowing how readily my daughter could stretch her, twisting like a cigarette in the trippy visions she creates. But her days give way to bffs, beaches south, and camping trips back north. I’m back at work in the thick of it, and a ticket will take her in two weeks to two months WWOOf-ing in Puerto Rico, one more place and plan on my list of never been and never done.
Our mother-daughter’s a petite, pink interlude. I’m greedy and grateful. Reel Barbie has everything and wants more. Real time with my grown girl will never and always be enough.