The Barbie Project: Be Mine, Valentine

With Valentine’s Day around the corner my kids and I have started to discuss what type of cards and treats they want to bring to their classmates at school for the Valentine exchange. In recent years we have begun to make our own cards that focus on friendship and kindness, since romance and the idea of significant others is none too appealing to a first and third grader.

Amelia, the third grader, shared with me that she would like to have her cards focus on being nice because some of the girls in her class were having a hard time remembering how to be good friends . Our conversation happened one afternoon while we played Barbies, and as she relayed some of her experiences to me we began to incorporate them into our play and have our dolls act out the scenarios and try out different resolutions.

First, we focused on setting up Amelia’s new Barbie camper. We both fell in love with this camper and as we put the stickers in place Amelia started listing destinations to travel to and the adventures her Barbies would go on. I love any toy that teaches girls they can take up space in the world and go off on their own adventures. I would have loved this camper when I was a kid!

ZOMG the camper is amazing! VERY pink, but amazing!

ZOMG the camper is amazing! VERY pink, but amazing!

I shared stories with Amelia about my travels with my friends across Europe and South Africa and that while the trips were amazing and we had tons of fun, we also had to use a lot of conflict resolution, patience, and respect with each other because they were long trips in new places and that can get emotionally and physically exhausting. As Amelia listened she placed a sticker on the camper’s fold-out flat screen tv – an image of Barbie and her friends surfing. I pointed out that sometimes, friends don’t always want to do the same things but that we need to respect individual preferences and interests. We talked about speaking our truth, compromise, and taking a break from friends who aren’t respectful or who don’t allow us the space to be ourselves.

Amelia and I decided our Barbies were headed to the Badlands of South Dakota (I was thinking more like Miami) and as we made our way west in our exceptionally bright pink camper (so, so pink) we began to incorporate Amelia’s friendship struggles into our play, like the friend who turns everything into a competition, the friend who puts down other people to build herself up, and the friend who uses emotionally manipulating tactics to gain a sense of control in her relationships. As our dolls talked to each other Amelia was free to express her knee-jerk reactions to all the mean-spirited friend drama, literally backhanding one of my dolls after a particularly nasty fight at the camper’s breakfast bar that ended in a Barbie Brawl.

Nothing pretty about a Barbie brawl.

Nothing pretty about a Barbie brawl.

Obviously it was over the top, but it allowed Amelia to let her anger out in a way that didn’t hurt anyone (sorry, Astronaut Barbie) and gave us the opportunity to talk about what would really happen if she choose for a slap to the face to be her reaction. It gave me the chance to allow her the space to be angry and even poorly behaved vis-a-vis Barbie, and then redirect her to think about some more positive, less misdemeanor-like responses to friends who just can’t seem to get it together. Our Barbies would then practice using the other ideas and verbal responses we came up with.

As we were cleaning up, we started thinking about phrases and designs for her class Valentines cards we need to make this weekend. Amelia suggested, “If we robbed a bank and stole a car, the only way the police would catch us is with a lucky star.”

Huh. Not what I had been thinking. I suggested, “If our friendship had a map it would lead straight to my heart.” That was quickly shot down with Amelia exclaiming she did NOT want the boys thinking she loved them, followed by multiple gagging sounds. Amelia suggested “Your friendship feels like a hug around my heart.” I think we have a winner.


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

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{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

Barbie Project

Grandma Pigtail Pals Has Something To Say To Girls Who Are Different

March 19, 2013

Dear Amelia,

I learned from your Mama today that some of your classmates have said some mean things recently. You were not looking forward to recess because of that. You wanted to play “wolves” and they did not think that is something girls should do. They wanted to be fairies, delicate, tiny, and almost invisible. They teased that maybe you wanted to be a boy. I felt very sad that your feelings were hurt. I also feel sad that those girls do not know how they are keeping their own awesomeness from growing bigger and stronger.

When I was little, my best friend Kathy and I used to pretend we were wild horses on the way to school. School was a mile away and much of that trip we would gallop and paw at the cement like real horses paw at the ground. Each street was a pretend river we had to cross and not drown. When we got to school, I am sure we were wind-blown and sweaty most days. She and I never, ever played beauty shop or princesses. We created pretend mysteries, a dog kennel, and school. We played explorers. Sometimes, but not very often we played dolls. We swam a lot and rode our bikes everywhere. We spent long days in the public library and art museum. She and I did not fit in with many of the other girls. She now teaches college classes and earned many college degrees. I work at a college and have many college degrees.  And I never turned into a boy!

Your imagination and strong spirit is different from many girls your age. You like to do art projects and play outside. You like to play pretend. There are many children who cannot play like that. You may act differently than some of the girls at school, but that does not mean you are bad or wrong. There are many ways to be a girl and many ways to be awesome. You may make some of the other girls uneasy because they might not have imaginations as strong as yours. They may have only been given certain kinds of toys because that is “what girls play with”. They may think girls can only be pretty, look nice for other people’s approval and get boys to like them. You know better. You know girls can get dirty, be noisy, be scared, be brave, take risks, be creative, and not care too much how they look every minute. Sometimes people can act mean when they feel uncertain or scared. They fight against any idea that suggests they might be in the wrong or need a new attitude.

Sometimes you will have to deal with mean people. Girls can be especially mean. Your mama had to face some mean girls. They did not like her because her hair was black, because she was very smart, because she moved to Kohler from somewhere else. She was different.  Sometimes your mama cried very hard and I held her tight. Sometimes I got very angry at those girls for hurting your mama. I had to remind myself that those girls were very unsure of themselves.

Look at your mama now. She is beautiful and strong. She graduated from college. She has traveled throughout the world. She has started her own company that is helping so many people. She is going to Boston this weekend because other people want to hear her ideas. I wonder what those mean girls would think now!

I hope you will be strong and be the Amelia you are meant to be. You are smart, creative, and very funny. You sometimes will not fit in because other people do not see the world like you do. That does not mean you are wrong. No other woman had flown an airplane across the Atlantic before Amelia Earhart.  I bet she lost many friends because she would not give up her plan. Rosa Parks took a stand for freedom of Black people to sit where they wanted to on buses and she did not care what the other women thought. She had to be herself. Sometimes the people, girls or boys, who do the most and explore and create the most, have to do things differently than the group who thinks it makes the rules. I hope you will remember that awesomeness is inside and no one can take it away. You know how to show it and you know how to make it quiet when you need to. I hope you remember that there is not just one way to be a girl or a first grader or a big sister. There are many ways. Amelia Joyce, remember you are amazing. We can only hope those other girls realize they can be amazing too, even while they let other girls be awesome in their own way. If I ever learn you have been a “mean girl”, you and I will have to have a very serious private talk. You need to show other children how to let their seed of awesomeness grow. Never, ever forget how much you are loved. You are my very first grandchild, my very first granddaughter, and I learn from you every week. I expect you will teach me many more ways to be awesome as I grow old!

I love you very much.