I came to a realization today: I never actually owned a Barbie Dream House. I thought I did but I figured out that I was more delusional than I thought when I stumbled across a one-owner-only Barbie Goes to College play set on eBay. I recognized it with loathing immediately. The spartan dorm room with narrow twin beds where Barbie supposedly studied all night long, the red and white soda shop where Barbie went for a Fresca before returning to study some more. Even the accessories were academic: a small desk and textbooks. Lamps to prove adequate pretend reading light. College banners on the wall. Yuck!
Barbie Goes to College was a propaganda gift from my mother because that was her dream; to raise a daughter who would choose college over domesticity and who would some day have a decent career.
It was a lesson I didn’t want to learn. All I wanted was Barbie’s Dream House. I can still recall the sheer envy I felt whenever I spotted the aqua and faux stone cardboard box that unfolded and became a large living area complete with a hi fi system, a double bed and enough cardboard chicness to make even the most unimaginative little girl dream of living in such a palace with her very own Ken. When not in use the Dream house folded up into something that looked like a briefcase and was conveniently equipped with a plastic carrying handle so that it could be easily carted from one popular girl’s house to the next for hours and hours of popular girls’ playtime fun. The furniture that accompanied the Dream House was brightly colored in electric blue, hot pink and an eye putting out shade or orange. It was easy to picture Barbie fixing a martini for Ken every evening and then waiting for him in front of the hi fi, her own glass of white wine held elegantly in one plastic hand. The one false note in the entire Dream House was an (also thoughtfully included) head shot of Ken–a creepy, grainy photograph of someone who looked more like an escapee from a movie set about preppy serial killers than a dreamboat boyfriend. I knew that MY Ken wasn’t going to look like that; my Ken was going to be handsome and gentle, like Bobby Sherman or Paul McCartney or possibly a smartened up, sexier version of Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island.
For years I lusted after that Dream House the way some people lust after spa vacations or a date with Liam Neeson. But it wasn’t meant to be. I had received my play set, the dull Barbie Goes to College, and all the whining in the world wasn’t going to produce a Dream House under our Christmas tree. I got my revenge by playing out scenarios where Barbie was expelled for dating her psychology professor and had to take a job at the soda shop or Barbie dropped out of college to join a commune and weave ponchos for a living.
It took a long time but now I can understand what my mother was thinking when she opted for the dorm set instead of the dream house. It must have been apparent from an early age that all I really wanted to do with my life was bake cakes in an EZ Bake Oven (another toy I never got) and pretend iron out pretend wrinkles with my pretend iron. In her subtle way she was attempting to gently brainwash her youngest child into realizing that it might be a good idea to have a career that would enable me to support myself and that it probably wasn’t the brightest plan to wait for Ken/Bobby Sherman every night after spending an entire day watching soap operas on a cardboard television screen. I only wish that I had understood her motives way back when but I didn’t. All I wanted to do way back when was arrange the hot pink cardboard pillows along the pink and grey plaid sofa, not pretend Barbie lived in a sad little dorm room, figuring out algebra equations instead of having fun. Double yuck.
I understand but in my heart of hearts I also know that given my druthers, it’s still the Dream House all the way. Let Midge or Skipper go to college. My Barbie belongs snugly, smugly and happily in her living room waiting for Ken and/ Bobby Sherman to pull into the driveway.