When I was a wee little child, everyone called me Babydoll. I looked sort of like a cabbage patch doll with rounded, dimply cheeks, big eyes, and an easy grin with those two teeth in the front. I had curly strawberry blonde hair and a billion freckles on my cheeks. I liked to dress like a princess in frilly, pink dresses that twirled magnificently when I spun.
I had what people referred to as “the babydoll’s babydoll.” It ws a hand-sewn cabbage patch doll with two front teeth, dimples, freckles, and red yarn hair. I remember marveling at tiny stitches my grandma used to carefully separate toes and fingers. her hair was pulled into permanent pigtails and I remember lovingly kissing her forehead before dropping her in the mud when I decided something else was more fun.
I’m still Babydoll to many people. When I call home or visit with my grandma, they call me that old relic. In some ways, the old nickname feels like a treasured antique or a family relic. I love to hear them say it when I am sick or sad. At other times, I feel like the antique as if I were some kind of relic that has outgrown its usefulness. I’m a telephone table or a phonograph.
I briefly dated a guy who called me Babydoll a few years ago, and I was never comfortable with that relationship. He always seemed to call me that when he was saying something unkind like, “Babydoll, I don’t care if it’s your birthday. I don’t have time to call you.”
I’ve been reading through a lot of my older poetry lately, mostly because I’m having a hard time writing new poetry. I’m seeing a perpetual battle between Babydoll, all grown up, and me, whoever me is. We argue over what we want out of life and who we are, but neither of us ever wins.
And before you call the men in white jackets, I’m not suffering through multiple personalities. I’m struggling with identity.
Some feminists have suggested that women should avoid falling in love and having relationships with men because these will inevitably lead to subjection. In some ways, I’ve been that woman. I’m wary of men because I’ve been exposed to so many manipulative relationships. I’ve heard the stories: the man who drove 100 mph down a curvy mountain pass because his wife had the audacity to tell him to slow down, the man who threw a beer can at his pregnant wife because she was talking, and the man who watches tv while his wife scrambles to make dinner after working on her feet all day.
But I know that my mistrust isn’t fair. And I know that the person I don’t trust the most is Babydoll. Although we like to talk excitedly about who we might become, I think at some point we have to wonder what things we shouldn’t become. I don’t ever want to be a housewife. I’ve been watching Mad Men, and while I understand that it’s not the 60’s anymore, Betty Draper is still a reality for many women. This too, is unfair.
People have advised me, as if being single is the worst possible fate, to play the distressed damsel, to flatter, to cook and clean and dote upon a man I want to SNAG.
for one, it’s an unfair impression of who I am because I am not Suzy Homemaker and I HATE housework. For another, it’s not fair to me. There are things I legitimately cannot do (like open jars), and I would be willing to ask for help, but I cannot make something up. I’ve tried that role on and it makes me bitter and mistrustful. Besides, who says snagging a man is a good thing. It seems a counter to the fairy tales that told me I wanted to get married in the first place.
My favorite line in Pat Green’s ” Baby Doll” is “I hope that when you find yourself, you’re more than just baby doll resonates with me because I feel like I’m stuck in this weird, archaic battle for self that is only going to end when I find a lot more than Babydoll in myself.
I’m posting this not because I want to rant about gender or whine about how I hate the emphasis on housewivery in my little microcosm. Nor am I trying to passive-agressively pass judgement on those people who try to help me get married. I mean, my gosh, I’m practically an old maid. I realize they really only have my best interest at heart. I’m posting because I imagine that everyone is struggling with finding consistency in their identity, and I’m hopeful that my questions about who I am and what I am supposed to be will resonate with someone. And I’m also posting this because my attempts to understand my poetry through writing have helped me better understand who I am and why Babydoll has such a voice in my writing.