“The literary equivalent of a summer night, a good friend and a gin-and-tonic: Shannon is a deft writer; a natural storyteller with a wicked turn of phrase and frighteningly specific memory...”

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The American Girl Doll Birthday Party Rip-Off

This doll bed cost more than my cesarean

What is more wholesome than an American Girl Doll? There’s Josefina Montoya who tries to preserve what is precious after her mother passes away on a New Mexican rancho in 1824.

Molly McIntire who wants World War II to end so her soldier daddy can come home.

And let us not forget the plucky Kit Kittredge who takes a job as a cub reporter when her father loses his job during the Great Depression.

It’s the historical gravitas of these dolls (along with teeny, tiny, historically accurate clothing and furniture) that makes them more expensive than a pair of fake tits or brass balls.

So when our daughter Bridget said that for her 7th birthday she wanted an American Girl Doll Tea Party with her mommy and closest friends, who were her father and I to say no? Didn’t we want her to treasure traditions passed down through her Russian-Jewish family? Oops, sorry, that’s the Rebecca Rubin doll from 1914.

So we went online and ordered the Deluxe Birthday Package at the American Girl Doll cafe at the Grove. The Deluxe includes a “delicious meal,” “a fun table activity,” “a creative craft,” “the signature pink-and-white cake,” “goody bags”and all of this in your own “private dining room.” Fun!

This is how, two days later, I find myself following six little girls wearing tea dresses (carrying six little dolls of varying shapes and sizes) and a chirpy American Girl Doll hostess through the lively main dining room.

The moms and their daughters in the dining room look so pretty and festive in their fancy clothes as they snarf tea and lob signature pink-and-white cake into their mouths. Then our party arrives at our ‘own private dining room.’ It’s quiet. Too quiet for six little girls seeming to await the Rapture. The stark room has a party table and just one window at a precipitous height from which a mother might leap should she feel so inclined.

Bridget asks, pointing back at the main dining room, “Why aren’t we out there with all the fun?” Why indeed.

Our tea-dress-clad bottoms have barely hit our chairs when a frazzled American Girl Doll waitress, who we’ll call Tipper, appears and asks if we’re ready to place our lunch orders.

“Not quite yet,” I say, “Oh, and two girls couldn’t come so can we remove the two extra chairs?” Waitress Tipper’s eyes roll back in her head and she twitches spasmodically as though suffering a myoclonic seizure (brief shock-like jerks of a muscle or a group of muscles) then she wordlessly disappears.

I waylay her hare-like, diminutive busboy as he attempts to flee and ask him when the “fun table activities” will begin? He darts his hand into his pink-and-white icing smeared apron and produces a greasy little box full of cards which he chucks at me. He’s gone faster than a parochial schoolgirl’s virginity.

The label on the box says, Fun Party Questions. I yank one of the cards out and look at it. Affecting the tone of a Camp Weehawken counselor on crack I hold the card aloft and ask the girls, “What makes you a good loser?” Six sets of deadpan fish eyes look back at me.

“I never lose,” someone says.
“Yes, you do. You lose at tetherball all the time,” someone else says.
“Only to Roberto and he cheats.”
I beat you six times.”
“But you didn’t beat Celia and I beat Celia which means I beat you, which means I’m the Master Tetherballer.”
“You’re not the master, I’m the master, because I beat you six times.”
“But you didn’t beat Celia and I did which means I beat you…”
“You’re acting like a jerk!”

“Ma’am?” I look up to see Waitress Tipper returned, staring down at me, a crinkled, food-slathered bunch of papers clutched in her sweating fist. “You’re going to have to pay for the extra two.”
“Huh?”
“Right here,” Tipper says, pointing down to the papers where I can see my signature floating in between a bunch of small type, “You signed a contract for eight girls and one adult so you have to pay for nine total.”

From the din of the Master Tetherballer ruckus I see one girl holding up the Fun Party Questions. “Is this all there is? What else do we get to do?”

Shit. “Honey, we’re going to order some food and then we’ll do a really fun craft,” I answer cheerily.
“I’m not hungry, I already ate lunch.”
“But this is a lunch party.”
“But I already ate lunch.”
“I ate lunch too.”
“Me too.”
“You’ve got to pay for nine, Ma’am. Nine lunches. It’s in your contract. Which you signed.”

We order nine “delicious meals”: 2 salmon crusted in something that looks like grout, 2 dishes of limp pasta noodles smothered in cheese-substance, 2 pizzas drenched in something that looks like menstrual effluvia and 3 dishes of chicken nuggets I think I recognize from the bowels of my horse “Champion” on the Lake Cachuma Trail circa 1972.

The kids eat the pasta noodles, I eat the rest. As Tipper and the busboy clear the plates several children sigh. Someone says, “I’m bored.”

“Tipper, when do we get to do the ‘creative craft’?” I ask, my voice an octave higher than usual.
“Oh, yeah,” Tipper says, as if in the postictal afterglow of her seizure, “it’s on the table.” She points at one rectangular piece of pink felt lying on top of an identical blue one. Each with little flaps around their circumference. I’ve used my pink one as a napkin.

“Those are the creative craft?” I ask.
“Yes, when you tie the flaps together…”
“You mean those hundreds of little, tiny flaps?”
“Yuh, huh. When you tie them together they become sleeping bags for the dolls.”

I stare at her mutely. She doesn’t blink. Then she turns and leaves. The girls look at me.

“I already tied one of these at Ariella’s Dolly World party.”
“I don’t wanna tie!”
“My doll hates camping.”
“My brother barfed in my sleeping bag.”

As I frantically begin tying all the sleeping bags together a second American Girl Doll waitress named Cobie appears, her expression as glazed as a Crispy Creme donut. She holds a tropical-looking American Girl Doll before her. “This is Kanani,” she trills, “the 2011 limited edition American Girl Doll from the beautiful isle of Hawai’i that if you don’t buy this year you can never ever in the history of American Girl Doll buy again. Ever.”

I see a covetous glint in six pairs of greedy little-girl monkey eyes.

Cobie continues, “Kanani Akina loves welcoming visitors to her Hawai’ian home. So when her cousin Rachel…”

(At which point a Rachel Doll emerges from behind Cobie’s back)

“…comes to stay, Kanani is excited.  But Rachel never seems to feel at home.  Can Kanani find a way to connect with her and share the Aloha Spirit?”

“No, she can’t,” I bray, my fingers tying pink-and-blue felt faster than the cursed feet dancing forever in Hans Christian Anderson’s Red Shoes. “Now bring us the f@@king ‘signature cake’!”

*************************************************

Carrying six dolls and ‘goody bags’ (with cheap plastic doll tiaras and hard blue plastic balloons – we weren’t allowed to take the plastic doll tea cup and saucer because they weren’t included in the Deluxe package) I exit the private room. I’m followed by six little girls, all in a sugar coma and depressed because they can’t buy Kanani and Rachel. We pass by all the Main Dining Room mothers and daughters who laugh and hug each other.

I drive the girls back to my house where they have more fun playing handball against our garage door than they’ve had all day.

Later, after all the little girls have gone home, I look at the American Girl Doll Deluxe Birthday Party bill. For this kind of money we could’ve sent Bridget and two close friends to Europe for the summer. After her graduation from Princeton.

While Bridget and Clare watch Phineas and Ferb in the living room, I sneak into Bridget’s bedroom and quietly throttle the Kaya doll, a Nez Pearce Indian girl who cares for horses and befriends a wolf in 1764.
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22 comments

Write a comment
  1. Alison
    Alison 14 April, 2011, 20:03

    That was too funny! Oh Poor Momma! At least you tried. I totally suck at birthdays and birthday parties.

    Reply this comment
  2. The Sweetest
    The Sweetest 14 April, 2011, 20:09

    Holy crap, this is funny, but so sorry you and your daughter had to endure such a lameass experience. I have passed by that store many times, and since I have absolutely no reason to EVER go in there (and hopefully never will), I was unaware that it holds a fully operating Junior League for Five year Olds in there. They ought to be ashamed. This just confirms that whoever came up with those creepy dolls is an ass.

    Reply this comment
  3. Shannon Bradley-Colleary
    Shannon Bradley-Colleary 15 April, 2011, 09:06

    Thanks for the sympathy Alison and I love the 5 year old Junior League metaphor The Sweetest. We've gotta expose the AGD corruption. It goes all the way to the top people.

    Reply this comment
  4. posiegirl
    posiegirl 15 April, 2011, 09:21

    Okay, that had to be the funniest thing I've ever read. EVER!!! In fact, I think I wet my pants, I laughed so hard. I just love hearing about all your "adventures". You brighten my day, every single time. Thank you!!! 😀

    Reply this comment
  5. Shannon Bradley-Colleary
    Shannon Bradley-Colleary 15 April, 2011, 11:17

    Thanks, Posiegirl. If we didn't laugh we'd just keep eating that signature cake!

    Reply this comment
  6. SherilinR
    SherilinR 16 April, 2011, 15:07

    this makes me extra happy that my 8 year old never liked the american girl stuff. she enjoyed the books, but that's it.
    i've found over the years that when you get a private room for birthdays, you pay more & are away from the fun. always go cheap & stay in the big room with all the chaos & excitement!

    Reply this comment
  7. Shannon Bradley-Colleary
    Shannon Bradley-Colleary 16 April, 2011, 22:43

    Yes, I need to be with the people SherilinR!

    Reply this comment
  8. kirsten coleman
    kirsten coleman 4 June, 2013, 09:04

    Interesting. We had an AG birthday party & our experience was far different than yours. Perhaps it was the individual store.

    For the record, there never was a “Rachel” doll created.

    Funny story, though.

    Reply this comment
  9. Melissa Henn
    Melissa Henn 6 December, 2013, 00:51

    Effluvia, horse poop. Oh motherhood, isn’t it a treat? Yah, it’s worth it for our kids.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 6 December, 2013, 08:13

      I know Melissa. If we knew what we were getting into in the beginning we might have balked, but one day and one special event at a time are manageable!

      Reply this comment
  10. Ally Agatey
    Ally Agatey 3 January, 2014, 17:05

    Wow, i was just there and none of that happened so if there are any little girls or moms who want this well go on ahead and get it because it was very fun

    Reply this comment
  11. Alicia Schultz
    Alicia Schultz 2 February, 2014, 10:18

    Wow I never had an experience like that at the AG Bistro! We’ve been there with our daughter several times and had her last birthday party there and all the girls loved it. Our food was good, the girls loved their craft and gift bags and then enjoyed looking through the store. They never felt down about not being able to buy anything there and our staff hostess was very friendly. Either you greatly exaggerated the details of this story or you went to the worst possible AG store ever! Either way, it sounds like you have snobby kids with high expectations that probably should’ve just stayed home! Not to mention that some of your analogies are completely disgusting!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 2 February, 2014, 10:26

      Oh Alicia — why don’t you tell me how you really feel? Don’t hold back! And do you work for AG?

      Reply this comment
  12. Melissa
    Melissa 16 March, 2014, 20:56

    HAHA!! This was great! Our daughters are both AG addicts! I have contemplated that party a few times but can’t seem to justify it in my head! After reading this, I will avoid it like the plague! I live in Seattle and haven’t heard the best reviews of our bistro! I think I can pull of an “AG Tea Party” at home and even with a few epic fails, pull it off better then the store!! It’s sad that you didn’t get the “picture perfect” party, but at least you have an upbeat personality so you can see the comical side of things!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 17 March, 2014, 13:06

      Hi Melissa — what’s been frustrating for me is that we’ve purchased American Girl Dolls and their paraphernalia for our youngest daughter and she just doesn’t play with them often enough to justify the cost. I guess I couldn’t have predicted that, but it’s added to the “ripped-off” feeling.

      Reply this comment
  13. Anastasia
    Anastasia 28 April, 2014, 10:32

    This is why I went to one of their Tea Parties, took a glance how thing are. Bought everything I needed, and made everything we ate. My daughter had an Amazing American Birthday Party at home. And it lasted for ever. Not just 30 min nor 90 🙂 And some of the girls had matching pajamas with thier dolls and we made it a slumber party…

    Reply this comment
  14. Luisa
    Luisa 16 January, 2015, 16:21

    What an awesome read! My daughter is 7, and is going to her first (hopefully only) AG party tomorrow. As teachers, we don’t have many of the upper class frills, like AG dolls, so when I read on the invitation that they should bring theirs, I panicked and ran out and found a $15 knock off. God, help my child to just appear…normal…with these girls from a world that is so entirely foreign to me. To the writer – thanks for making me feel like having a free party at Claire’s (which we did!) is good enough.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 17 January, 2015, 08:31

      Louisa so glad I could be of service!The whole American Girl Schlamazel would me fine if it weren’t so outrageously expensive. I just don’t think that’s necessary!

      Reply this comment
  15. Inked Mama
    Inked Mama 1 April, 2015, 09:38

    This was so well written, thanks for the much needed laugh. My {almost} 7 year old loves American Girl, we took her for Christmas for her 1st visit ever and to purchase her 1st doll Isabelle. It was a good experience overall. The store is SOOO overpriced. There is nothing “special” about the doll clothing other than the labels saying AG on them. The brand has a great concept and I like that it’s encouraging for growing girls to be the best they can be and to inspire talents and hard work but for the love of God, why do the dolls and accessories have to be so expensive. My daughter wants to have an AG birthday party and we are planning on having it here at our house so that I can make it a fun experience and keep the costs low while allowing her to invite more than just 2 friends (which is liekly all i could afford to take to the actual AG store for lunch).

    Oh and to all those ladies who commented with negativity about the post, lighten up… it’s a little humor to brighter your dull ass day… pull the stick out of yer behind and laugh a little.

    Reply this comment

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