Now available to induce hysteria in United States parents: it’s the Breast Milk Baby Doll. It’s made by Berjuan, a Spanish company which appears to specialize in creepy playthings, and is called “BEBÉ GLOTÓN” in its native country (I only took one year of Spanish, but that’s weird, right?). It’s designed to teach girls about breastfeeding.
It comes with a special halter top that has two flowers where nipples would be. When a little girl puts on the top and holds the baby doll up the flowers, it makes suckling sounds.
Oh, me oh my. As a mother of eight who breastfed them all, here are my thoughts:
—If we had this doll, we’d lose the shirt part within 24 hours, and Baby Glutton would have to take his chances along with all the other dozens of hungry dolls we own.
—I don’t like baby dolls that are too realistic, because they also teach you that you can take the batteries out and the thing will stop crying—or that you can chuck it under your bed with a clean conscience. I prefer dolls that are very clearly toys.
—Kids who actually live in houses where breastfeeding occurs will often yank up their own T-shirts to “nurse” their dolls, or even their baby siblings. This behavior is unprompted and devastatingly adorable, end of discussion.
—Never underestimate a child’s capacity for getting confused. Just as some children who witness actual breastfeeding conclude that Mama’s belly button or shoulder produces milk, or that infants enjoy the taste of human flesh, some children who play with this doll will learn that babies eat halter tops. So its educational value is dubious.
—I guess I can imagine this toy making a previously innocent child unhealthily aware of her own or someone else’s body, but I think it’s more likely to skeeve out adults, or arouse teenage boys and perverts.
No matter how you feel about breastfeeding, I don’t think you should be offended or scandalized by this doll. I do, however, think it’s dumb.
If there’s anything that modern parents are weirder about than breastfeeding, it’s toys. We expect, and fear, so much from our children’s toys!
And with good reason. Been toy shopping lately? Most of the stuff for sale is grotesquely inappropriate, or designed as pure tactile advertisements for movies or TV shows that we’d never let our kids watch anyway, or are a naked appeal to the nostalgia of hipster parents unwilling to admit that their own childhoods are (a) over and (b) kind of lame (Strawberry Shortcake, I’m looking at you).
So we Fishers are pretty vigilant about what our kids play with. We used to be obnoxious purists: no anatomically implausible dolls, no batteries, nothing but the most noble and timeless playthings for our little blank slates to enjoy.
Now we have eight kids and three criteria: Is it affordable? Can we, as parents, tolerate it? Does it look like fun? If the answers are yes, yes, and yes, then we get it. If it causes problems of any kind, we get rid of it. Pretty simple.
American parents tend to worry that their children will be irreparably contaminated and perverted the moment something too trashy or violent or commercial enters into the house. At the same time, we can be haunted by the notion that, if we only give them the proper (often very expensive) playthings, our children will be good and gentle and nurturing and creative and holy and imaginative and productive and carefree and well-rounded.
While it’s true that children learn from play, it’s also important to watch how our actual children actually play. In my experience, children play with toys according to who they, the children, are, and what their lives and families are like—not according to what kind of toy it is.
Some kids use toy guns to rob and torture their imaginary victims; some use them to vanquish bad guys and defend the innocent. Some kids are already prone to obsessing about clothing and bust size and boyfriends, and probably should be steered away from Barbie; but some kids immediately turn the little strumpet into a wholesome Hausfrau who just wants to marry Luke Skywalker and settle into a comfortable pattern of cooking and reading to the kids (who happen to be dinosaurs).
In other words, it’s not the toy, it’s the kid.
Kids are influenced by a thousand, thousand things. Toys are one, but they are far from all. So, yes, please be vigilant about what toys come into your house. Children do learn from play, so it makes sense to think twice about how your children spend their time. But remember that your children learn most of all from how they see their parents act, how they hear their parents speak, and what is presented as a normal life. No one toy is going to teach your child anything bad or good. That’s your job.