Like many ’90s girls with single-parent households and Jewish grandmothers, I wasn’t allowed to have an American Girl doll. The American Girls, if you’re unfamiliar, were a book series and doll collection featuring fictional, young female characters from a variety of eras in American history. The books were written at an elementary reading level, but still made you feel like you were grown up, reading about history and actually enjoying it. You felt like you were living alongside those girls, in their specified moments in time. Which made the brand’s dolls and their highly detailed accessories so enticing. Enticement was all I was allowed.
I could check out as many books from the series as the library had on-shelf, but the dolls were—in my family at least—a preposterous amount of money. And to be fair, that was true. No family should be paying over $20 for an item likely to see its hair cut off and clothes tailored by a pair of safety scissors while the adults aren’t looking. And American Girl Dolls cost considerably more than that (in the year 2019, $98 will get you one doll and a book). I saw them from shop windows and on the laps of occasional kids out in public, but I never had one of my own.
I was a very obedient child. I don’t recall ever being punished or grounded or even so much as a time out being imposed upon me. I was an avid reader, a straight-A student, pretty much every annoying “good child” cliche you can imagine. And still, no doll. So by and large, I grew up believing that expensive things, no matter how much I wanted them or how perfectly I behaved and performed weren’t for me, they were for other people. And thus I never had a Molly, and I learned to never want expensive things.
Molly McIntire, with her glasses and penchant for arts and crafts, was the character who taught me how to connect with fiction. She taught me the importance of seeing ourselves in stories, and gave me empathy for those who never did. She looked like me, she inspired me, and I wanted to play with her. I wanted to be a part of her world in real life, not just in book pages and my imagination.
There’s something about childhood that never leaves you. I think there are certain things and experiences that build the scaffolding of who you’ll become later in life, and not having a Molly doll left more of a mark than I was comfortable admitting for a long time. Because her absence was a symbol of a lot more, a symbol that I didn’t believe I was worthy of, not just nice things, but anything I ever wanted. So in my early 30s, I started to address the childhood moments that left me feeling sad, angry, and simply less-than. I decided it was time for Molly to be mine.
At age 34, long after she had been inexplicably discontinued from the American Girls franchise, (honestly, how do you do away with the World War II era doll?!) my grown-ass paycheck and I went on eBay and took care of business. Five business days and $250 later, a mint-condition Molly, along with four outfits, countless accessories, and her white storage trunk, were mine. While my Molly cost twice as much as a current American Girl doll, others like her go for around $3,600 on eBay, so I know I’m not alone in my valuation.
There are few moments as gratifying as holding a Molly doll for the first time, after a childhood of being told you can’t have one, and a lifetime of believing you don’t deserve one. She was beautiful, she was expensive, and she was finally something I got to have. I don’t care what age she came into my life, to have something you’ve held in high regard from a place of innocence and imagination is a beautiful thing. It was a triumph. An acknowledgment that I deserve nice things, and a confidence that only comes from buying them for myself. Holding my Molly doll felt like I was closing a loop in time, and satisfying the kind of desire you only have as a kid. My inner child and I were together and happy for the first time in a long time that day. We got along just fine.
Molly lives in a white trunk in my bedroom, she never comes out. Guests come and go without ever knowing what’s in the white box under the window. But I know she’s there, and she gives me comfort. She reminds me just by being there that I am enough, that I deserve the things I want, and that nice things aren’t just for other girls, they’re for me, too.
There was a real stifling involved in her absence from my childhood, and more than a little of me is salty, not at my family, but at American Girl for placing her so far out of reach for so many. It took time, but I got there.
I got Molly on my own terms, and I think that because of her, the 7-year-old inside of me is finally coming out to play.