One of the defining elements of 80s child-culture was The Cabbage Patch Kid doll. I wanted one so bad. I asked for one year after year, but my family was broke for the earliest part of the 80s when the dolls really exploded on the scene, and even after we emerged from the lean times, the frugality that had seen us through continued to run strong in my parents. Those damn dolls just seemed exorbitantly high.
Originally Mom bought a look-a-like head and arm set at Wal-Mart with the intention of putting it together for me, but it never happened. I think part of this had to do with the fact that–in addition to thinking they were over-priced–Mom never found the dolls cute at all. I’m not 100% certain, but I’m pretty sure if I quizzed her, she would say she thought they were “funny lookin'” And, well, they are.
But that never stopped me from wanting one. It wasn’t just the doll part (and I did love my dolls–still do), it was having a doll like the other girls had. By the time I was in first grade and (we were no longer flat-ass broke-just moderately busted), I was the only girl I knew who didn’t have one of these coveted dolls (even girls whose families were still flat-ass broke). Some of them had MORE THAN ONE.
What I had was Jennifer, a cloth doll my mother had sewed, face and all (made lovingly for me during our flat-ass broke period for my 4th birthday).
And I loved Jennifer but she was no Cabbage Patch kid. I mean, I’d had to pick her name all by myself and she didn’t come with a birth certificate or anything. And THAT was part of the real attraction. All the other girls had these dolls with these wild names and official birthdays.
I continued to ask for a Cabbage Patch Kid, though, because, well, my Christmas/birthday list had at least one doll request on it until I was about 25 and I finally conceded that Mom was right and I didn’t have space in the cabinet anymore. If I was going to ask for a doll, it may as well be a CPK, right?
By second grade, the family was doing just a shade better financially. A slightly more impressive doll was apparently within reach. That’s the year I got Elizabeth for Christmas.
As you can see, she wasn’t a CPK. She was a My Child doll, a short-lived Mattel attempt to compete with the CPK juggernaut. She didn’t have a birth certificate birthday or name, but I overlooked that. I was enamored. And looking back to the way Mom and Dad talked when I opened her up, I think they were really trying to smooth the road with me for it not being a Cabbage Patch kid. I recall comments on how Santa brought me a prettier doll than a Cabbage Patch Kid (this is what leads me to think Mom had a CPK prejudice going on), and how she looked like me*.
And Elizabeth was enough. She became my go-to doll from then on. As Cabbage Patches became old hat to everyone Elizabeth was unique. And then, of course, dolls faded into the background in favor of so many other things.
I still kinda wanted a CPK. It never really went away. Especially as I got older and other 80s kids were talking about their CPKs. How there had been a thing about getting a doll that had your birthday. The wacky names theirs came with. And I would kinda hang back. I expressed this unfulfilled dream to someone once and she told me I should just go buy one and be done with it. But I couldn’t just do that! It had to be, special, or something. So she suggested I not buy one until I found a doll that either had my name or had my birthday.
So, since about 2005, I’ve been haunting the doll aisle of various Targets and Wal-Marts, sorting through the boxes and always coming up empty.
Until July. I hadn’t checked the local Target in a while, and I had some time to kill before I could pick up my order at Chipotle…..
And there she sat. Born on my birthday! Yoink. I didn’t even pause. If I hesitated, I might talk myself out of it, and then I’d be searching for another one for ages.
Finally, at 32 years old, when someone asks about the name of my CPK, I can join in. Her name’s Riley Pearl. She has my birthday