I was a little girl kind of obsessed with Barbie. I watched the commercials and thought how cool it was that one woman could be a rock star, astronaut, veterinarian, etc., and be beautiful while doing all of those things. Barbie was everything I couldn’t be due to my disability (I hadn’t yet learned that my disability never mattered and I could do whatever I wanted). Girls in the hospital wards with me acted out plays and skits with their Barbies. We were very poor people in my first several years of life, so Barbie was very low on the priority list. I had several generic dolls that were a lot cheaper but little girls in St. Louis needed the status symbols of real things. It wasn’t unlike being an adult and feeling the need for a Louis Vuitton bag to feel like you’re just like everybody else. So when Christmas came each year, I always wanted Barbies.
When you’re a small child, you tend to be innocent to many of the struggles your parents endure and I was not aware of our poverty much of the time. As a six-year-old, I lived with my grandmother while my mother tried to build a more stable life for us. Christmas morning that year was the biggest I had ever seen. My mother came to visit and the Christmas tree seemed completely engulfed by boxes wrapped in brightly colored paper. That was a day I would never forget. One of the last presents I opened was my very own Barbie. It was the real thing! She stared out from her pink box and wore a gorgeous, long, fluffy pink tutu. The late 1980s were notorious for overdoing things like that but it was the most fabulous thing I had ever seen. She was a ballerina with perfect blonde hair and big blue eyes, just like me (that Halloween, I had gone as a ballerina). And then, I opened another present – a flat box – and found real Barbie clothes to go with my new doll. I truthfully thought I was the luckiest little girl on the planet.
Other Barbies followed in the years to come but that one was important. As an adult looking back on it now, I can use my ballerina Barbie of girlhood to teach an important moral lesson. You see, my family had not given me those gifts for Christmas that year. I wasn’t told until I was much, much older but the only reason why I had gifts that year was because the Salvation Army and various local churches had donated toys and things to needy children throughout St. Louis. I was a “needy child” for much of my early life. A stranger bought that Barbie and donated it without knowing what child would receive it. At the time, it was so important to me. When you donate toys and things to needy children, you are giving them hope and inspiring their imagination toward greater things. The kindness of others gave me one of the most important Christmases of my childhood. I encourage all of you to buy an extra toy or an extra coat this year when you’re shopping for your own children and help other parents give their children hope.