An Adult’s Guide To Playing With Dolls


Babysitting was my ticket to wealth back in high school. I had all the neighborhood moms in my figurative rolodex and made sure they knew I had no life to speak of that didn’t involve supervising the shit out of their kids (sometimes literally, if they were potty training). A favorite family of mine to babysit had two little girls, both bright and well-behaved. (Note that this story is not an accurate portrayal of babysitting, for anyone who aspires to that vocation. Ninety percent of the assholes I babysat for were complete demons.)

These little girls were obsessed with Barbie dolls. I mean, we played with Barbies literally every time I babysat for them. We’d start out by each choosing a doll. I made sure to choose one who hadn’t gotten her hair ruined in an unfortunate bathtub incident. There’s nothing worse than plastic Barbie hair after it’s been shampooed, am I right? That’s why I always elbowed the girls out of the way so I could pick my doll first.

Then we’d dress up our dolls in the latest fashions. I had to do all the dressing for these girls because it takes considerable dexterity to get a Barbie’s limbs through those tiny sleeve holes. That was Mattel’s way of forcing parents to play with their kids.

And then, our dolls were all dressed up with nowhere to go. “What now?” I’d ask the girls, already growing bored. One of them inevitably always suggested that her doll’s boyfriend come over (the lone Ken doll), but no one could agree on whose doll Ken was currently dating. Welcome to high school, ladies. Like any good innovator, I turned the problem into a fun game—I used the problem to educate the girls on something that would soon become part of the cultural lexicon, something they’d need to know about sooner or later if they wanted to fit in socially: the reality dating show.

We took out all of the Barbie dolls they owned, including the ones with vertical hair, the vintage dolls their mom had given them, and the oddly ethnic-but-still-sorta-white-looking dolls. Then we dressed all of them in ball gowns (and by “we” I mean “I”), brushed their plastic hair, and lined them up.

Enter: Ken doll. The girl dolls would all swoon and giggle as the Ken doll entered and sized them all up. He’d go down the line, one by one, and introduce himself to each doll. I played the voice of Ken and all the unclaimed Barbies.

“Hey cutie, what’s your story?” Ken would say.

“I’m a librarian by day and a party girl by night, tee hee,” vaguely ethnic Barbie would say.

“You’re too smart for me. Next!” And Ken would move no to the next in line. Vaguely ethnic Barbie would cry and run out, and the girls would laugh at her misery. Again, welcome to high school, ladies.

“What’s your name?” Ken asked the next doll, who had on an ill-fitting 80s prom dress that had also been handed down from the girls’ mother.

“My name’s Barbie, hot stuff.”

“Interesting, so was hers! Let’s dance, Barbie!” And they’d do the junior high sway (there’s not much you can do with immovable, plastic joints) while I hummed the love theme from Cinderella.

The little girls clapped with glee.

One by one, Ken would eliminate the dolls. Some were dressed poorly (and Ken let them know — we’d find out years later that he was a closeted gay), some had boring or unprofitable careers, and some were brunettes.

Finally, it was down to three Barbies, my doll and the two girls’ dolls. Ken would go on a one-on-one date with each doll to get to know them a little better. All of the dates ended up with Ken copping a feel in the back seat of the pink Jeep and Barbie putting up with it because she’s a woman. Get to know them, he did.

At the end of the game, he lined the last three dolls up again and stood in front of them holding a single rose. He gave a speech about how difficult it was to make a decision, and how terrible it was for him to choose. He felt awful, and this choice was the worst thing to ever happen to him. Then he gave a short speech about what was wrong with each doll.

“Barbie, you have little to no personality and cankles. Other Barbie, you talked too much. Other other Barbie, I just didn’t feel a spark with you.”

Then he’d make his decision. “In the end, I have to go with… Barbie!” Ken would always choose my doll because I like to win, and because I didn’t want the two girls to fight with each other. I could have let Ken choose both Barbies, or even all three of them, but I thought they were a bit young to be learning about Hugh Hefner-style polygamy. The world is a scary enough place when you don’t watch The Girls Next Door at age eight.

Once the final doll was chosen, Ken would spin her around the dance floor/living room one last time, and they’d ride off into the sunset/kitchen in her pink Jeep, where they could get to know each other happily ever after.

Yes, playing with kids can be fun sometimes, and getting paid to have fun is the best. I think the key to making bank as a babysitter is to find kids that will just watch you have all the fun and won’t complain when you take all of their toys for yourself. I once babysat for a kid who wouldn’t even let me help him finish a puzzle — and he was doing it wrong! That’s the kind of thing I physically can’t stand for. Our relationship didn’t last long.

Now that I actually have to work for a living, I look back on those days longingly and wish I could once again get paid to play with children. But now that I’m old, that sentence just sounds creepy. 

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image – Tracheotomy Bob