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For her imminent eighth birthday, Zoe has asked for sparring gear (so she can participate in the sparring class at Evolve All, where she takes marPrincess Leia legotial arts), a Jedi robe (in part so she can be Luke Skywalker for Halloween, after having been Princess Leia this past Halloween), action figures from Big Hero 6; and Legos. Oh, and to get her nails done with me.

I don’t know what exactly this means, but she is a far cry from the fairy princess she used to  pretend to be. Her favorite books right now are a series about clans of cats that fight each other to establish dominance. When she asked her grandfather to guess what she planned to be for Halloween this year and he said Princess Leia, I reminded him that she had already been Princess Leia, but that he was close. I meant close as in someone else from Star Wars, but he thought I meant another princess, so he said, “someone from Frozen?” Zoe scoffed. She does like Frozen, and we watched it again just last week, but not as much as she loves Star Wars, and she said, “I would never be a princess from Frozen.”

Certainly Zoe still loves her American Girl dolls, and has taught her brother how to properly brush their hair, because he wants to get in on the grooming action. He loves to take care of her babies (and the baby–Sam–that he received for Christmas this past year) and is often stuffing pretend food into their mouths. But Zoe also has her American Girl dolls teach her baby dolls how to do tae kwan do. I think her dad is relieved that the days are over when Zoe wants to play mommy-having-a-baby or be a princess with Randy acting as prince.

She also loves to play board games and word games and sometimes she beats us at Othello and Trivial Pursuit. She loves to draw and she has created a cartoon superhero named Pet Girl, who takes care of lots of animals. She still draws lots of rainbows that say “I love you Mommy.”

She is stubborn and argumentative and has already mastered the teenage glare although she’s still five years away from adolescence. She loses things and doesn’t pay attention and asks over and over for things she know she can’t do or have. But she is also the sweetest big sister who deeply adores her little brother, even though she does get annoyed when he gets into her stuff, which happens all the time. She is thoughtful and compassionate and curious. I love the person she is and the way she is learning to see the world and her place in it. I love that she would rather look in the boys section at Old Navy for Star Wars or soccer t-shirts instead of the girls’ section for Hello Kitty. Although she did wear a sequined panda shirt today that she recently picked out. I love that she wants to wear matching clothes with her brother and take baths with him. And she wants to be elegant and beautiful and go to royal balls and tea parties and try on makeup. I don’t love the makeup. But I get it.

Part of me cringes at the thought of her sparring, and I wouldn’t let her do it if it weren’t part of the instruction at the martial arts school we love so sparring glovesmuch where they teach you that the black belt attitude is about caring, responsibility, respect, determination, and patience. It’s not about fighting. I imagine the sparring will help build her strength and confidence, which is a good thing for any kid. And you won’t be able to see her manicure underneath the sparring gloves, but her nails will definitely be lovely.

The other night we had Chinese food for dinner and Zoe opened a fortune cookie. Her fortune read “Your dearest wish will come true.”

She revealed that her dearest wish was to have an American Girl doll. But we already knew this.

A few weeks ago Zoe was looking at books on cd with me at the library. Completely at random she picked out the stories about Molly, the spunky American Girl from 1944 with wire-rimmed glasses and braids. Molly is 9 in the stories, as I think all the American Girls are in their own stories. And I’ve observed a vast array of American Girl products aimed at the 8- to 11-year-old demographic. But Zoe is precocious at almost five, and she absolutely loved the stories. She listened to all six discs at every opportunity. I even listened to as much of the stories as I could. They were interesting! And well-written! I wanted to know why Emily from London came to live with Molly, and what Molly’s dad, an army doctor serving in Europe during the war, was writing in letters home. And how Molly and her friends were making Halloween costumes out of scrap materials because things were rationed. I’ve always enjoyed history most when it comes coated in fiction.

Then we got the Molly movie from the library, which she watched with Randy. He cried, and actually thought it was well done too.

All of us were a little smitten with Molly.

Coincidentally, or perhaps karmically or cosmically or whatever you want to believe, my mom had picked out Molly as a doll for Zoe long ago. She planned to wait until Zoe was a little older to give her the doll, but then Zoe started developing this deep desire. And what are grandparents for, if not to grant your wishes?

In addition to the Molly doll, my mom had procured some furniture for Molly and a set of the six books about her as well as a tiny version of the Molly doll. Perhaps the regular Molly doll’s own American Girl doll. She sent me to the American Girl store in Tyson’s Corner to find some additional accessories, including Molly’s dog Bennett.

I was in awe at the store. You may know I am a complete sucker for good marketing, and the American Girl people seriously know what they are doing. It’s a two-level store that includes a bistro for girls and their dolls to dine, a hair salon where grown women give your doll a new hairdo, and oh so much merchandise. Many, many dolls. Many, many outfits. And all kinds of accessories, from doll-sized grand pianos to a DVD that shows you how to style your doll’s hair (since you can’t take her to the doll hair salon every day, of course). It was masterful.

And of course, it was expensive. I will not argue with that.

But I saw all these girls who looked to be 8 or 9, holding their dolls, shopping with their moms. And it seemed so wholesome! The girls were not trying to be teenagers or be sexy or be adults before their time. They were really intent on accessorizing their dolls. And most of the dolls are historical. There’s Kit from the Great Depression; Addy, an African-American girl during the Civil War; Josefina from 1824 New Mexico, Kaya, a member of the Nez Perce tribe in 1764; and others. They all have many books about them that actually talk about history, and don’t shy away from hard truth. Certainly they’re still nice stories for girls (and I acknowledge I haven’t read any besides Molly’s) but they’re legitimate literature. They are not like any Dora books or My Little Pony books or Disney princess books in which someone has written down a story based on a show or movie in the most basic language you can imagine.

So I know people think it’s a racket and you can get a cheaper doll at Target (of course you can, but it’s not the same), but if Zoe’s going to be into something, I think American Girls are a lovely choice. I certainly prefer them to Barbie. They’re wholesome. They teach history. They have books (did I mention the books?). And no batteries required.

Tomorrow is Zoe’s birthday, so tonight when we were at their house, my parents made Zoe’s dearest wish come true. We are all very excited to welcome Molly (and mini-Molly) and Bennett into our home. They’re tucked into their bed, right next to Zoe’s bed, and are all sleeping peacefully.

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