As a child, I was never really one for playing with dollies. I had a couple of dolls, usually called Jo for a girl or Timmy for a boy, but they were mostly neglected. I do remember asking for a Tiny Tears one Christmas. One that not only cried, but did a little wee as well. I fed the doll water a couple of times, then left her in a pool of her own tears.
For a while, I worked in a toy shop. I loved the board games, the action figures and the soft toys. Building the ride-on tractors or cars was my favourite task. However I avoided the dolls when ever I could. Their weird, glassy, vacant eyes were a little too creepy. The problem is that most toy companies seem to want to make all these dolls more lifelike. And, in trying to achieve this, they had only succeeded in making them eerier.
Although I do have a chequered history with dolls.
To prepare me for the birth of my very first cousin, my mum thought it would be cute to buy me a rather realistic baby boy doll & put it in my bed as I slept. As a little surprise. Well I wasn’t the only one who was surprised. On finding a dead-eyed fake baby on the pillow beside me, I screamed the house down.
I later named him Timmy.
At the tend age of 6, I watched Child’s Play. The film about a child’s doll possessed by the soul of a murderer. A doll that looks a lot like a cabbage patch kid. I was already not very keen on cabbage patch kids, this sealed the deal on them. I still can’t look at Chucky or Cabbage Patch Kids without a little drop of fear.
(Well you can imagine how I felt about searching for images for this story)
Anyway, I managed to grow into an adult without dolls troubling my life very much. On a particularly slow day in the toy shop, I noticed an older lady wandering around in the doll section. Being on my own in the shop & having little to do, I decided to go help her.
‘Can I help you at all? Are you looking for anything in particular?’ I asked.
‘Erm… No… Yes. Is this all the dolls’ clothes you have?’
‘It is, but if there’s something in particular you are looking for, I can order it from another store. Is it for a specific doll?’
The woman shifted from one foot to the next.
‘Erm… no. Not one of these,’ She pointed at the rows & rows of pink pyjama’d babies, then opened her bag & fished about in it. She retrieved a photo of a baby. At least it looked like a baby.
‘It’s a reborn.’ She said proudly.
Now if you don’t know what a reborn is, it’s a doll. But it’s the most lifelike doll you can imagine.
Someone painstakingly moulds & bakes these dolls then paints furrows, rosy cheeks and tiny veins on these things. You can even get reborn dolls with human hair on their heads, if that’s your thing.
They come in all shapes, shades & sizes. You can give them freckles, birthmarks or rashes. The world’s your oyster, you can make them as real or as fake as you like. You can even get baby werewolf reborns if you really want.
Reborns are not for kids.
For a start, they are very expensive. A hundred pound gets you a bog standard one. And no-one dreams of a bog standard kid, even if that kid isn’t real.
Most reborn owners (or parents, I suppose) treat their fake baby like a real baby. They buy them clothes, buggies, cots & all the paraphenalia that goes along with a newborn. It really is play pretend, only for big kids with big credit cards.
Now there are lots of reasons someone might what one. I get it.
I’ve been childless & longed for a child. Now I’m a mum who wants her babies to stay babies. I can see why having one might appeal to people. I wouldn’t get one because I’d probably be petrified of it killing me in my sleep with a chainsaw.
So the lady in question showed me her picture of the reborn. I smiled & nodded. Thanks to a rather unsympathetic documentary, I knew all about these kinds of dolls.
‘She’s coming home next week & I wanted to get her some clothes,’ she said.
‘Ok, is she… baby sized? Because she probably wouldn’t fit in these clothes then,’ I stammered. She seemed happy with this. I introduced her to someone who worked in the baby clothes section of the store & I never saw her again.
I hope she & her very real, pretend baby are still together.
A fairly unremarkable conversation, by my standards anyway. A one-off you’d presume. I’d hardly be approached twice by someone looking for clothes for a reborn doll.
Fast forward four years & three jobs later, I was stopped on the street by a lady while I was on my lunch-break.
‘Excuse me, could you help me?’ She was, again, an older lady although she was very lively. She was wiry & had a sparkle in her eye. She reminded me of a great aunt I have who is full of mischief.
‘I’m looking for some baby clothes & I can’t think of where to go,’ she glanced around the shops.
I pointed out a few places.
‘Now, would they have premature baby clothes?’ She muttered, half to herself, half to me.
‘I’m not 100% sure, I know that Asda does a few bits for premature babies.’
‘Oh, I tried there, they only have the neutral stuff. I want real little girl outfits,’ she beamed. ‘Lots of pink!’
‘I think most premature outfits are neutral. Maybe you could get a wee girly outfit in a bigger size? The baby will probably be in newborn clothes in no time,’ I started to step away as I felt if I didn’t get away, she might try to take me on her shopping spree with her. Being polite, I would have just gone along with her.
‘Oh, it’s not for a baby. It’s for a reborn,’ She said it with such confidence, she didn’t care whether or not I knew what she was talking about. ‘I wanted an extra small one, so I ordered a preemie. Babies are always cute when they are small.’
‘Ok, well I hope you find something for her,’ I attempted a smile as she wandered off, thanking me as she left.
I whisked myself straight into work to tell a colleague about yet another weird thing that happened to me on my lunch break. I explained the whole world of reborns to her & the lady’s choice to have a premature fake baby.
As a person who was born prematurely, she felt insulted. All the anguish, the pain & the fear parents go through when a preemie is born had been glossed over. Instead it was turned into a benefit – extra small, extra cute – like she was akin to a teacup pup.
But then, isn’t all play pretend supposed to gloss over the anguish of real life?