Just A Doll

The story of how Madame Alexander almost ruined my life

  • Category
    People
  • WRITTEN BY
    KATHLEEN LACCINOLE
  • ILLUSTRATED BY
    CHRISTINE GEORGIADES


She set me up. And I’m exhausted.

The doll maker, originally named Bertha, was born to immigrants in New York’s lower east side. She attached the title of “Madame” to her name as a marketing ploy—and it stuck. In truth, she was a wife, mother, businesswoman and a ballbuster. She did it all. And I imagine she was exhausted as well.

Santa brought me my first doll when I was 4. Cinderella was perfect, every detail just so, down to her immaculate broom and spit- spot apron. And so, it began …

I collected the dolls in an unspoken competition with my sister. I had more dolls, but she had Scarlett O’Hara. When my sister moved on to pencil sketching members of The Eagles, my Madame Alexander obsession only picked up steam.

The dolls were my dreams, what I would be one day, each an accomplished woman—from Betsy Ross to Lucille Ball. If my collection was solid, so too would be my future.

I had an agenda. It didn’t work out.

As girls, we set levels of perfection impossible to reach. As women, we still try. We must be the attentive mom, loving wife, accomplished chef and organized homemaker—with a successful career, a fit body and a garden without powdery mildew. We volunteer, entertain, protest and attempt to never fall down.

But I fell a lot. And when I did, I poured vinegar on my skinned knees. Why couldn’t I do it all like Queen Victoria or Pocahontas? More than once, I felt like a failure as a woman.

And there they were, always, in the corner of my room; with their perfect skin and Bette Davis eyes—empty stares taunting me, reminding me I didn’t measure up.

But then I grew up. And after far too many falls, I stood up and realized I will never wear perfectly ironed, spit-spot aprons, have perfect skin or be Maria von Trapp. I imagine Maria von Trapp was exhausted too. We all are. We are women.

It took me 40 years to realize that if I try to do everything, I will always fail at something. But at the end of the day, failures are far more entertaining. I am a middle-aged single mom, with a new career, an old dog, a house that needs paint and crepey skin on my elbows. But boy, do I have laughs.

I explain to my daughter that this is what makes a successful woman: trying, falling, getting up, trying again, falling again; loving, learning, failing and finding joy in the process.

The other day I looked in my old doll case at my 24 dolls. Their perfect skin had faded. They stared back at me with shallow, freakish, Baby Jane eyes. Amish Girl‘s elastic waistband had given way, leaving her bloomers around her ankles. Miss Holland’s right eye had gone wonky. And Shirley Temple’s head was in her lap.

I knew how that felt. And for once, I could relate.

They were exhausted. Just like me.

I rolled Miss Holland’s eye back into place, safety pinned Amish Girl’s bloomers back on and used a paper clip to secure Shirley Temple’s head.

Then I made myself a martini in my plastic shaker, poured it into a stained crystal glass and played with my dolls.


Kathleen Laccinole is a freelance writer who lives in Sherman Oaks with her son; a daughter is away at college. She also writes for pcharlottelindsay.com.

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