William’s Doll

March 14, 2010 at 11:53 am (Life, Memoir) (, , , , , , , , , , )

My eldest nephew is about to have his first child any day now. The baby is overdue and both parents are on pins and needles waiting.  Even today, my eldest nephew is considered old for a first parent: he’s thirty. Thirty was when I finally decided I was going to be child free the rest of my life. This was after taking care of other people’s children since I was thirteen and being aunt to twenty-one nieces and nephews. No worries here about family genetics being carried on.

My nieces and nephews are all into their teens and beyond. However, the generations are carrying on. Right now, I have six great-nieces and nephews. I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like. It would be nice to have a baby close enough to spoil. But that will only happen if I move out of the city and that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

However, this is not my story. Today I want to tell you about my eldest nephew and my Thumbelina doll.

Here's what Thumbelina looked like in 1982; just after I purchased her

Or to be more precise – here is the story of M, his new baby sister and my Thumbelina doll.

I suppose, the first thing you need to know is that I am a product of the 1970s. I came to age as feminism was experiencing a comeback. I read Ms Magazine from the first issue on, I read the feminist Sassy and I believed that I could be anyone and do whatever I wanted when I grew up.

And then I grew up. I was in my early twenties. My older sisters were having babies and I was settling for a small life instead of the Auntie Mame existence I once dreamed of.

My eldest sister had just had her second child. A girl and suddenly M, just around three, was feeling out of sorts and not sure he wanted to be a big brother. I had recently bought myself the Thumbelina doll I had so desperately yearned for at seven and never got. M, my sister and the new baby would come to see me at my apartment and M would head straight to my bedroom to commander Thumbelina into his care.

When I was twelve, a radical new book, called William’s Doll was published. It is the story of William and his yearning for a doll to love. A doll he almost wasn’t allowed to have because he was a boy. I would like to think that we had come further then that stereotype by the time M fell in love with my Thumbelina but the reality was that we had not.

After much soul searching  – Thumbelina was mine – I had wanted her so bad. Could I give her away so callously? I never once thought that because M was a boy he shouldn’t have a doll. Eventually, I gave Thumbelina to M. His father was not happy. I’ll give him credit though; he never once said “take it back.”

M loved Thumbelina to death. I wish I had a picture of what she looked like after he was done with her. She was all ragged and bare with no hair left. She had, so obviously, been loved to death. I was good with that. I feel that every toy should be loved to death: be dragged around through the mud, the trials and tribulations of childhood.

My sister told me that every time she was busy feeding and changing the baby, M would be doing the same with Thumbelina. I look at M and his baby sister today and I see a proud big brother and I hope that my gift of Thumbelina helped M learn how to nurture and love and father.

I’m glad things I have changed. I’m hopeful that we, as a society, are more willing to not restrict our choices because of gender. This is one of the advances that give me hope.

M grew up to be a farmer and a hunter and a man’s man. I’m confident that he remembers the gift of a Thumbelina doll as I watch him love and nurture the children he encounters.

It’s a long journey M is about to embark on. Babies are a lot of responsibility.

Hurry up, little one; I can’t wait to meet you!



  1. Kathy said,

    What a wonderful gift you gave M! To think that you were so caring and thoughtful at such a young age. And how wonderful that we live in a time when our choices aren’t as restricted by gender as they once were. By the way, has baby come yet? Or are you still waiting?

    • solitaryspinster said,

      Baby boy arrived last Sunday about an hour after I posted. I’m hoping for an introduction and picture at Easter.

      • Kathy said,

        Congratulations! 🙂

  2. Extravagance: Book Quote Sunday #1 | Solitary Spinster said,

    […] are things I remember always wanting. That white lace dress. That Thumbelina doll. A 64 pack of Crayola crayons. Didn’t need. Wouldn’t ever get. We couldn’t […]

  3. Buying My Own Toys | Solitary Spinster said,

    […] once I had bought myself the Thumbelina doll I had so desperately yearned for at seven and what happened to […]

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