, Newburyport, MA


September 13, 2006

Worse than skeletons in your closet:Barbies in your basement

My tip for autumn: Avoid cleaning your basement.

It may seem like a laudable way to spend a Saturday, but - trust me - this kind of activity is full of hidden dangers.

Why? Because you can learn a lot about yourself and your family from examining the contents of your basement. And sometimes, it's stuff you didn't want to know - or have tried really hard to forget.

A recent archaeological excursion into our basement uncovered the artifacts of an almost forgotten time: the Barbie Era. My husband and I vaguely recall this period, when wandering through the house barefoot always resulted in at least one puncture wound from a tiny, pink, high-heeled pump. Not coincidentally, the Barbie Era was marked by the use of extremely colorful language.

In the dark recesses of our basement, I uncovered two large bins filled with pink plastic remnants of Barbie's (Broken) Dream House, Barbie's (Broken) Dream Bed, Barbie's (Broken) Dream Camper, Barbie's (Broken) Dream Spa, etc. I seem to recall that each of these items was purchased at great cost, assembled with great frustration, and fell apart within the first hour of use. How lucky, though, that we saved all the parts!

More unsettling, however, was the multitude of smaller artifacts I found among the ruins. Specifically, in the two bins, I counted no less than 67 (that's right - 67) tiny combs and hairbrushes and exactly 24 hand mirrors, not to mention two tiny hair dryers that still made whirring noises when you pushed the button.

I was stunned. What subtle influence might all this paraphernalia have had on my young, impressionable children?

I flashed back to the time our family hiked up Mount Washington, when my older daughter was 12. Somewhere near the summit I discovered that, although my daughter had packed no food or drinking water, she somehow had found room in her small backpack for three hairbrushes. My jaw dropped as she explained, "Well, this brush is for tangles and this one is for bumps and - I don't know - I just like this one."

Now, years later, as I rummaged through the pink detritus of my children's youth, I wondered, how else had Barbie influenced them?

I didn't have to wonder for long. The bins held lots of swimwear - always a favorite of my girls - as well as beach towels, sunglasses, and tiny CD players. Of course, lots of kids like the beach, I told myself. It doesn't mean anything. Then I found a tiny aqua surfboard and shuddered. Beside me, propped against the wall, was my 19-year-old's full-sized aqua surfboard.

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