The devil wears tiny high heels



When our first daughter was born, we decided never to dress her in pink. Let other parents burden their daughters with subliminal symbols of female frailty. Not us. But somehow, by the time she was three, she refused to leave the house unless she was wearing a pink tutu.

Toys were our other bulwark against oppression. One year, we found her the perfect gender-neutral birthday gift: a wooden train set – handcrafted from sustainably farmed organic spruce. After three hours of assembly (using the step-by-step Norwegian instructions), I watched with pride as she pushed it around the track on its maiden run.

"Does it do anything else?" she asked.

Later that day I peeked into her room and found that she had disassembled the train and arranged the cars in front of her, on her bed.

"I'm reading them a story," she said. "This one's the Mommy, this one's the Daddy, and these are the kids."

It turns out she already had what we so desperately wanted to give her: a mind of her own. At her insistence, pastels replaced earth tones in her closet, and My Little Pony moved into a pink plastic stable by her bed. But we had to draw the line somewhere. We swore that there was one demon whose shadow would never darken our home: Barbie.

It turns out that was harder than we thought. There were Barbies at the pre-school, and our daughter quickly succumbed to their seductive powers. She wanted one for Christmas. She wanted one for her birthday. She wanted one for Groundhog Day. And little by little, our resolve weakened.

One day, a well-meaning neighbor dropped by with a bunch of Barbies that her daughter had outgrown. She offered them up like a party platter of forbidden fruit, and our daughter seized them before we could stop her. It was too late. We had lost her to the dark side.

When your little girl enters the "Barbie Zone," there's no telling when she'll re-emerge. It's like an opium den with tiny mini-skirts and hair accessories. The only way to reach her is to join her in the belly of the beast. And while playing Barbies is tedious for any adult, for dads it's one step short of waterboarding.

At first, it's not so bad. Sure, it's uncomfortable dressing and undressing a leggy blond who keeps her feet in permanent high-heel position. Luckily her anatomy is vague, and her moveable joints are creepy, so it's a relief to put her clothes back on. But soon, a suffocating fog creeps over you, dulling your senses and your mind. In a word, it's boring. Painfully boring. Please-take-me-out-and-shoot-me-before-there's-another-tea-party boring.

So how do you spend time with your Barbie-obsessed daughter without descending into madness? Well, you could stab yourself repeatedly with a tiny stiletto heel – but that only delays the numbness, and the inevitable coma. You need to devise a Barbie game that actually holds your interest.

The key is balance. You can't play NFL Barbies, or Cage Fighter Ken, or Malibu Chainsaw Massacre (though the detachable heads do have potential). Remember, you need common ground – a little action and excitement, but with multiple wardrobe changes.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Barbie Survivor: Set up an obstacle course on the kitchen floor. Can Barbie escape from the cornstarch quicksand? Will My Little Pony be voted off the island? Will Ken really eat a rat? Good clean fun.

Barbie Soul Train: Get out your old eight-track tapes and your disco shoes. Put on a dance party for you, your daughter, and every doll and stuffed animal in the house. Introduce her to Elvis, Cool and the Gang, or Devo. Do the Bump, the Monkey, the Electric Slide. Teach Barbie how to break dance.

Barbie the Vampire Slayer: High school romance. Cheerleading outfits. Stalking the Un-Dead. What's not to like?

Barbie American Idol: Start with the auditions, and turn tone-deafness and personality disorders into an art form. Put a black T-shirt on Ken and give him a snide British accent. Make Barbie sing like Aretha. Make Skipper sing like Barry White.

In the end, my daughter's Barbie phase only lasted a couple of years. Her Barbies retired to a box under her bed, and eventually to Goodwill. That seems like only yesterday. Now she's applying to colleges. In a few months, she'll be gone.

These days I'd give almost anything to spend the whole afternoon – just her, me and Barbie – chatting away and sipping on cups of imaginary tea.

So, good luck with the Barbie phase. Don't worry; it'll end sooner than you think. Enjoy it while you can.