jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Barbie’s Dreamhouse


The time has come.

Two girls, ages three and five. The oldest one asked for “a house for da Barbies big enough for ‘dem to stand in.” The wooden Melissa & Doug castle no longer cuts it for 8” Barbie.  You and I both know what time it is. It’s Barbie Dreamhouse time.

So I went to the list. It’s the wishlist I’ve created on Amazon of the things my kids want for Christmas, and yes, I’m aware that I’m feeding the animal, the animal that wants to eat every local toy store and neighborhood gift shop. My oldest girl also wanted “that Strawberry doll that smells good” and “the pony with long hair” and her three year old sidekick asked for “Imaginext, but with people and for girls.” Princesses, people. Plastic Imaginext Princesses (and yes, it turns out they make them.)

And as I looked these things up and added them to the list I started adding comments. At first they went, “For Reid.” then “For Reid. If you love me, please get a bag or box to put these million random small pieces in.” and then “For Reid. Something like this but not so much crappy plastic. Does that exist?!” and finally “Damn. For Reid. This one is so slutty and crappy, it’ll end up in a landfill in India by 2015. But she wants it. Ugh. You decide.”

I looked up “wooden dollhouse Barbie” on Amazon and the best I could do was a $129 model by Imaginarium with an elevator, and it’s not even made of real wood. Talking on the phone with my mother I was trying to subtlely coerce her into ponying up for this house for Reid. She said, “Oh, I know what you mean. You had one of those in the basement growing up. You never played with it.” And for the record, our basement was unfinished and we kept our cats, magazines and piles of garbage down there (as seen in A & E’s Hoarders, Season 1.) I probably played with that thing for a couple days months.

I headed to Google and searched “Eco Barbie dollhouse”, and besides some very weird feminist artwork, I got nothing much to work with. I went to Craigslist and found Victorian doll houses with individual shingles, covered with cat hair and priced at $325. Unpainted! Did I mention the cat hair? Did these people store it in my childhood basement?!


My first Christmas, 1971. That plastic Fisher Price ball is not part of a floating island of plastic in the Pacific. It’s in my basement. Right now. Seriously.

How in the world do I do this? How do I resolve the people we are with the people we want to be? How do I honor their desires while teaching them about our role in the environment and what feminism is? How do I teach my kids that Christmas is magic but that they already have everything they need? This is ex-haust-ing.


Christmas, 1976. I was Reid’s age. I got Weeble Wobbles. I think I got the three foot Barbie camper the following year.

A few years ago I was looking through a Patagonia catalogue, right around Christmas, as luck would have it, and they had this whole eco-spread about an island of floating garbage in the ocean. Like a Manhattan-sized island of floating plastic! I’m from New Jersey. How did I not know that before?! It’s pretty much the state of New Jersey’s international campus.

I know with four kids and a minivan, I’ve already blown it. No amount of composting can ever bring me close to being ecologically responsible. And I accept it. But the Barbie Dreamhouse?

So I added a stand up paddleboard for kids to the Amazon wishlist from a Boston company (you can tag outside venders on Amazon’s wishlist, take that you local-store-eating monster!) which is sort of plastic but they can use it until they reach 130 lbs. which means they can pass it down to me when they hit puberty if menopause is kind to me. And, perhaps if it ends up floating in that island of garbage in the Pacific, some critter can use it to paddle back to land. Plus, I added more educational family games made of wood and paper. Also, I added a case of sketchbooks, because my kids eat them for supper, and they’re recyclable.

And as I pecked away at this wishlist over the course of a day, I began to interview the kids further on their Christmas desires. Just as I was losing hope, mired in needless plastic, it happened… Jasper tentatively suggested he would maybe like a little bit of money for Christmas instead of “so many gifts” so that he could donate it to a food pantry or shelter. Granted, he was following the lead of two lovely cousins, one on Tim’s side and one on mine, who’d opted to give instead of being gifted, but I was beginning to glow with a tiny bit of pride. I added a local food pantry to our wishlist, by the way. Take that, you dirty slut, Amazon.

Now, I have visions for that Barbie Dreamhouse. Maybe I can turn a wooden bookshelf into a dream house. I have an MFA in painting. How hard could it be? I’ve got, oh, 14 days left. And then someday, my girls can repaint that wooden bookshelf and bring it to college. Then we’ll paint it again for the first apartment, and finally for their first baby’s room. Can you see it now? Can you imagine a Barbie Dreamhouse that could follow our girls as they play with Barbies, try to be Barbies, grow to hate Barbies, make bad art about Barbies, resolve their relationship with Barbies and their own womanhood, and finally, give Barbies to their own daughters? A dream house that would outlive Barbie, but in a good way.

Now that’s a house worth dreaming about. And it wouldn’t even be made of plastic.


9 comments on “Barbie’s Dreamhouse

  1. Kim
    December 11, 2013

    You are hilarious! And as always, wonderful writing!
    And you’re right Amazon is a slut.

    We are all about princesses over here. I fought it for as long as I possibly could. Now I go with it. Hoping that the phase will pass quicker. Although we do have some serious discussions about Ariel and her poor choices (although when we discuss it, I am the only one who thinks she makes poor choices….Calla just talks about how pretty she is….eeewww). I try to buy used….but I do feel bad about the landfills though….

    • jgroeber
      December 22, 2013

      Amazon is such a naughty slut! But it’s the Squinkies that somehow break my soul. And truth: I found a Midge doll that is so adorably like Reid, lovely in this less obvious way, with a quirky outfit, a direct gaze and a sprinkling of freckles, well, Santa may be bringing Reid her first new Barbie if I have anything to do with it.

      And the princesses. What’s wrong with a girl depending on a prince to save her from herself, her evil mother, her “eternal sleep” (translation: depression)? Oh, wait… ALthough I have to admit, some of these new-fangled princesses are pretty enticing!

  2. jmlindy422
    December 11, 2013

    You have an MFA! Get a grant to create the Barbie house as an installation and you’re golden!

    • jgroeber
      December 22, 2013

      Ha! If the past week of Christmas shopping hadn’t kicked my rump I my have actually painted that dream house myself and tried to market it on a reality TV show. Maybe for the next daughter… or in the next life.

  3. The Bumble Files
    December 12, 2013

    I will admit that I loved barbies as a kid, and I did have a Dream house and a pool which I spilled all over the carpet several times! Christmas is exhausting. I’m in denial at the moment. All I’ve got my kids so far are books and they will NOT be happy about that. You want them to have good memories. It’s a tough one!

    • jgroeber
      December 22, 2013

      Hope you got your Christmas shopping done. That dirty slut Amazon is no longer guaranteeing Christmas delivery. Which leaves one with the mall. And that is not pretty. You never know, maybe you could have a very Grinch-Stole-Christmas moment where all the Whos join hands and sing despite the fact that they only got books on Christmas morning. One can always hope! Good luck! (And thanks for reading.)

  4. dvb415
    December 16, 2013

    You are awesome, as usual. I’ve read every one.

    • jgroeber
      December 22, 2013

      As always, you are awesome for reading!

  5. Pingback: A Blanket of Children | jen groeber: mama art

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