Facing Forwardby Wendy Murray Zoba
When struggles and disappointments arise, we risk remaining mired in grief and bitterness. God graciously grasps our shoulders and turns us around, urging us to stride forward with a stronger faith. In writing candidly about her own life experiences,Wendy Zoba shows how God has stretched her along the way and propelled her forward with fresh faith. See more details below
When struggles and disappointments arise, we risk remaining mired in grief and bitterness. God graciously grasps our shoulders and turns us around, urging us to stride forward with a stronger faith. In writing candidly about her own life experiences,Wendy Zoba shows how God has stretched her along the way and propelled her forward with fresh faith.
- Tyndale House Publishers
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By Wendy Murray Zoba
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Wendy Zoba
All right reserved.
I knew something had gone off the boil when I read Changes for Molly by Valerie Tripp and it made me cry. Changes for Molly, book 6 of The American Girl Collection, is about an American Girl named Molly. Molly, it should be noted, is a doll. My nieces, Kate and Anna Harrison, then twelve and ten, introduced me to the world of American Girl dolls generally, and to Molly specifically, when they, with their mother-my sister Carol-visited me last summer. Because I am the mother of boys, my cultural reference points when it came to American youth included Z-Bots and Inhumanoids, and later, boxing gloves and phones that make body sounds. Wardrobe colors consisted of combat green and lots of black. Blue-glitter toenail polish and kitties named Jelly Bean were not part of that picture. So when my nieces, my sister, and I took a "girls day out" to visit American Girl Place in downtown Chicago, I knew I was in for an adventure.
It was a beautiful day in Chicago, as the late Chicago sportscaster Harry Carey used to say, with sapphire skies, low humidity, a cool breeze off the lake. Kate and Anna, tanned, delicate little birds with flaxen hair and cheery eyes, hailed from Asheville, North Carolina, and hadn't ridden in a big-city cab. I wanted them to feel relaxed and adventurous, so when I slid into the front seat of the taxi next to the driver, I handled the moment with panache that befits big-city navigation.
"So where are you from?" I asked the driver.
"I am from Ghana. Do you know where Ghana is?"
"Yes," I said. "My sons' youth group took a trip there a year ago."
"Where is it?" he asked.
"Where in Africa?"
I paused. Its precise coordinates escaped me. I looked at the girls in the back. Kate, watching traffic out her window, wore an insinuating half smile, and Anna was perched forward, her chin slightly raised, awaiting my answer.
"Somewhere in the north?"
"No! No! Your sons went to Ghana, and you don't know where Ghana is?"
"My sons didn't go to Ghana," I said haltingly. "I said their youth group made a trip to Ghana. My sons went to Ecuador"-as if this would absolve me of not knowing where Ghana was.
"Why do you say you know where Ghana is if you don't?"
"So where is it?"
"This is Africa." He draws an outline of Africa with hand motions, which meant that for brief flourishes his hands weren't on the steering wheel. "Ghana is here"-he points-"I have been in this country twenty-seven years. What were you doing twenty-seven years ago?"
I looked at my sister. "How old would we have been?"
Neither of us were inclined to do the math.
"I can't remember," I said.
"See, I was in America working for twenty-seven years in this country. All my kids go to college here. My kids get paid scholarships because they keep their nose in the books. You have to put your nose in the books."
"I have two sons in college."
"Does your government pay for your sons' college?"
I said a sheepish and muted no.
"Have you asked your government why they do not pay for your sons' college?"
I didn't answer.
"College should be free in America," he said. "I am proud of my sons, but I do not tell them. Then they might not work hard. You have to work hard."
"We'll get out right here. Thanks." I needed air.
Coming in on the train, each girl had sat with me a few minutes to brief me on their respective experiences with American Girl dolls. Anna has Molly, a World War II American Girl, frozen in time at age ten in 1944 and who, according to the literature, is "a lively, lovable schemer and dreamer." She has auburn braids for "the long-hair look," said Anna, and wears "a navy blue skirt and sweater and a little painter's hat thing," which I took to mean a beret. Molly is supposed to have glasses, but Anna doesn't like Molly's glasses, so her doll doesn't wear them.
Kate has Samantha, "a Victorian beauty living with her grandmother in 1904." Kate's Samantha has brown hair, though she told me it is possible to have a blonde-, red-, or black-haired Samantha because "you can buy made-to-order dolls with clothes from any doll, and they have today dolls, too." Kate keeps Samantha's hair in a braid because it "got messed up and ratty." Kate also tells me she bought a Bitty, whom she named Susie. A Bitty is a baby version of an American Girl doll.
I ask my nieces what they do with their American Girl dolls, and Kate says, "We play house. We're both the mothers."
"I'm a nice mother," Anna is quick to add. "I work at Chuck E. Cheese and Molly's aunt"-that would be Kate-"works at Dairy Queen. We always go to Chuck E. Cheese and Dairy Queen."
"Sometimes I read Samantha's book to her," adds Kate. "The dolls all come with a story." The American Girl dolls represent different historical periods, and the accompanying books offer lessons in history along with girlish adventures. Kate adds as an afterthought, "They don't make it all girlie. They, like, have sports dolls and stuff."
So much to learn, so little time. We have a half day to walk the three well-organized levels of American Girl Place and then cap off our adventure with tea at the American Girl Caf�. On to American Girl Place!
They start you off with a photo opportunity on the sidewalk outside the entrance. We sit on a huge red couch thing that looks like a prop from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Click. Click. One more! Click! We move on in deference to the small horde of other visitors waiting to begin their day the same way.
The revolving door sweeps you into a display of books, school supplies, and other practical accoutrements connected with the seemingly endless array of American Girl personalities. Kate fondles a pencil holder associated with Amelia. It has a strip of bacon affixed to the top. I don't know who Amelia is, but Kate says she's not a doll. "Does Amelia like bacon or something?" Kate looks at me.
I don't know, I say.
"It seems funny to have bacon on an American Girl thing," says Kate, and I have to agree. In the same section there are books with titles like More Games and Giggles and Again, Josefina! I stumble upon an Amelia's Journal Kit and thus conclude that Amelia must have something to do with writing, what with the bacon pencil holder and now the journal kit. On another wall there are specialty items like varsity jackets, T-shirts, backpacks, and denim jumper outfits, all of which match American Girl dolls' outfits.
"Let's go down first," says Carol. We proceed down the escalator to the window displays where the dolls are presented in historical sequence. Felicity comes first, "a spunky sprightly colonial girl" growing up in Virginia in 1774. Her Christmas gown is satiny blue with lace ruffles, and her frilly hat looks like a doily. Felicity is carrying her own doll, similarly dressed, and is holding an invitation to a dancing lesson. Next comes Josefina, my personal favorite, "a girl of heart and hope." She is Hispanic, growing up in New Mexico in 1824, and her accessories include things like a chicken in a cage, hot chili peppers, an outdoor clay oven, and a goat. �Viva la muchacha, Josefina! Kirsten, "a pioneer girl of strength and spirit," lives in Minnesota in 1854 and is clearly "above average." Under a puffy red polka-dot bonnet she wears braids-oddly resembling hangmen's nooses-tied above her ears. Her cat's name is Missy, and Missy has a kitten. They are her "furry friends on the farm." Addy is an African American girl growing up in 1864, "proud and courageous," who made a daring escape from slavery with her mother. Addy carries a kerchief with the few possessions she escaped with and wears a cowry shell around her neck.
We come upon Samantha, a familiar face. I see a man asleep in a strategically placed chair, his arm dangling loosely to one side, his jaw agape. "Hey, Kate, here's Samantha!" I say, already knowing she is a Victorian beauty living with her grandmother in 1904. We turn a corner and it's on to Molly, and there is a second man asleep in a chair. "Molly doesn't look so bad with her glasses," I say to Anna.
"Hmmph. Whatever," she says.
Kit is a new American Girl doll making her debut, kind of like a coming-out party. She is "clever and resourceful," growing up during the Depression in 1934, and has a bouncy blond pageboy, like Hillary Clinton's headband phase. Kate says she likes Kit's hair.
I see a third man who has fallen by the wayside.
The next phase is a blur. I remember seeing Angelina Ballerina, who is a mouse, and her pink room. I remember standing by the display case where you can choose a customized American Girl doll. Kate asks, "Which one looks like me?" and I tell her I don't know. There's the Superstar Sleepover Kit and Coconut, a fluffy white little doggie who comes with a doghouse and yellow food dishes and a matching American Girl Picnic Time outfit. I remember the Bitty Baby starter set costs ninety-eight dollars, and I remember feeling numb and lost in a world of lavender and turquoise and Sweet Dream satin pillows and jelly phones.
Is that Yoko Ono? I see a doll with long black hair parted in the middle and wearing bell-bottom hip huggers, a tie-dyed shirt, granny glasses, and a headband-an American Girl doll with attitude! A closer look confirms it is not Yoko Ono. She is one of the Halloween American Girl dolls, a "60s hippie" with a "groovy flower-power costume." Catwoman's costume is skintight velour.
Carol and the girls get stalled at the Hair Salon, where a black woman is mercilessly yanking Kirsten's well-worn rats. I meander to the sporty American Girls, the ones Kate says are not too girlie. There is a soccer doll, a basketball doll, a softball doll, a tennis doll, and a cheerleader doll with red, white, and blue pom-poms. The martial-arts doll, "tenacious and spirited," comes with white, purple, yellow, orange, blue, red, and black belts and a karate mat.
Back at the Hair Salon, Kirsten, her eyes bright and her dimpled smile forever fixed, remains unfazed by the pulling. The black woman sprays something on her hair, and Carol and I conclude it must be the secret formula that gives these dolls such good hair. My sister boldly asks, "What are you spraying?"
The stylist looks up. "Water."
We look at one another and gape: Water!
We are near Doll Hospital Admissions, and Kate explains, "It's for, like, if your doll's head falls off. Or for people who want to get new heads or new bodies." I should have known.
It is time for tea. We make our way to the American Girl Caf� and are asked to wait in a holding area where I am surrounded by little girls in clam diggers and spaghetti-strap tops and jelly shoes, sitting on laps of heroic fathers or bantering giddily with dewy-eyed mothers about this outfit or that doodad that adds just the right touch to their personal American Girl collection. Fathers hold hands and mothers remit kisses and hugs, and that's when it came to me, sitting there outside the American Girl Caf�, that my girlhood was better defined not by what happened, though things did happen, but by what didn't happen. What I saw waiting to go in for tea was a picture my American girl childhood did not include.
The marquee outside the theater showing The American Girl Revue displayed a quotation from a reviewer: "[A]udience members can feel they're part of the celebration of girlhood," it said. The premise of an American Girl childhood is celebration and promise. When I think of the young years I shared with my sisters, when we four were more or less the age of these little girls, "celebration of girlhood" does not come to mind as a defining theme. That is not to say we did not indulge in the accoutrements of girlhood such as it was back then. My older sister Sue had Saucy Walker, a huge three-foot-high doll who bobbled left and right, taking tortured, stilted steps if you held her fat plastic arms just so and pulled her along. Carol (we called her Susie Homemaker) had a pink play-kitchen set with little pans and teapots and muffin tins and later, an Easy-Bake oven that made real cupcakes. Nancy liked animals, so stuffed dogs and kitties filled her play world. I tried my hand at Barbie and Ken and Skipper, but it never took.
It is not to say there weren't precious moments we treasure. I remember early on, when we were all under five, my father would sometimes tuck us in at night, and when he did, he always turned his head so we could whisper in his ear, "Buy Dots and KitKat." He traveled a lot back then, and this ritual served to plead and remind him to bring us treats. Such special moments soon evaporated, however, when he started his new business in the basement of our house, the fourth child was born and the demands of life became acute, and the drinking took hold. Then "Buy Dots and KitKat" disappeared into the shadows.
When I was the age of the little girls surrounding me outside the American Girl Caf�, I went downstairs in our childhood home and discovered a lock on the liquor cabinet. A few days later I discovered the lock had been forcibly pulled off its hinge. I don't know what prompted the placing of the lock, and I don't remember what happened between that time and the time it was ripped off. I only remember feeling that something was very wrong and the world I lived in stood on the edge of disaster, and that somehow it was probably my fault. I carried that feeling into adulthood. And when I looked into the faces of the primped and poised little girls before me, being coddled and caressed by their fathers and mothers, it occurred to me that for all I do remember about my childhood, I don't remember being coddled and caressed. Such a bond did not exist.
Not all American girl narratives are happy stories, which is why I cried when I read Changes for Molly.
Molly, being a lovable schemer and dreamer, hatches a plot to win the role of Miss Victory in the school program called "Hurray for the U.S.A." Playing Miss Victory is a special prize because it means doing a solo tap dance during the grand finale and wearing a shiny red, white, and blue costume with a silvery star on the right shoulder and a star crown. Conniving with her friends Linda and Susan, Molly calculates the odds: Yes, Miss LaVonda, the teacher in charge, is fair in her judgment and would likely confer the starring role to the best tap dancer. But girls, being girls, know that when it comes to getting starring roles, being the best tapper may not suffice. "A lot depends upon how a person looks, not just how she sings or dances," notes Linda amid the scheming.
Excerpted from Facing Forward by Wendy Murray Zoba Copyright © 2002 by Wendy Zoba
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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