You may have read the title of this post and assumed it was a satire. No, this actually happened.
My younger sister Jenny “adopted” our family’s first Cabbage Patch Kid: Mickie Ross Gabler. The adoption date recorded in his baby book was Jenny’s sixth birthday. I was eight. (It’s so classic 80s that this sticker book was sold as “an educational play set.”)
You’ll note, however, that in this baby book, Jenny is not listed as Mickie’s guardian: I am, my name having been written on top of Jenny’s. It was presumably also my decision to give Mickie the career aspiration of “He-Man,” erasing whatever Jenny had written there.
Though I was a boy, I wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid so bad. Why?
(a) My two closest siblings and natural (though infrequent) playmates were girls: Jenny and Julia.
(b) I generally played with girls anyway.
(c) In 1984, Cabbage Patch Kids were a roaring fad. They were just the thing to have—for girls, anyway. There were scarcities: I presume that Mickie’s adoption was due to the efforts of our family friend Norma, who would keep her ear to the ground and stake out the Targets rumored to be getting shipments. So obviously if you could possibly have a Cabbage Patch Kid, you wanted to have one.
The problem on my end was not the supply, though—it was the demand, which my father had commanded must be none for his sons. I could not have a Cabbage Patch Kid, because I was a boy and boys didn’t play with dolls. (Excluding Star Wars figures and Masters of the Universe.) Another family friend bought a knockoff Cabbage Patch head at a craft sale and was kind enough to sew a body for it, presenting the homemade doll to me and arguing to my father that janky little “Scooter” (I gave him the nickname I myself had always dreamed of having) was safe under the embargo, since he was not a Cabbage Patch Kid. I played with Scooter, but he was always kind of like the wire mother Harlow gave his monkey: just not the same.
My mom, with her typical resourcefulness, devised a better solution. Jenny had begun to covet a doll from the new Cabbage Patch “preemie” line (so cute! plucked from the cabbage patch six weeks before term, on the edge of death, signed on the ass by Xavier Roberts, and yours for just $50!), so Mom made a deal that Jenny didn’t realize how much she’d regret making. Mom would subsidize Jenny’s purchase of a preemie under the condition that I was allowed to play with Mickie. Since Mickie would remain technically Jenny’s property, Dad couldn’t object. (This was not atypical in my family: all of us working together to find loopholes in Dad’s edicts. It’s surprising none of us grew up to become Masters of the Universe in the Tom Wolfe sense of the term.)
Jenny’s Faustian bargain sealed, I took Mickie—forever. He stayed in my room and in all but the most technical sense became mine. Jenny couldn’t play with him without supervision by me. I apparently even took control of his baby book and made revisionist changes to it. My only acknowledgement of the fact that Mickie had not originally been my adopted son was the fact that I had him refer to me as “Uncle Jason.”
Eventually Jenny missed her adopted son and tried to get him back, but having won my strange victory, I was not about to relinquish that kid. When we took our Cabbage Patch Kids on adventures that we chronicled on our cassette recorder, it was I who got to play Mickie and do his voice. It was I who potty-trained Mickie (my godparents gave him a pair of underpants to replace his factory-issue diaper), trimmed his hair (the fuzzy bits) and, when we finally outgrew our dolls, packed him away with my stuff in the attic.
He’s not there any more: several years ago, I gave him away to a neighbor girl who wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid when the brand was revived. Jenny was pissed when she heard what I’d done, and I guess I was out of line, but I felt I was still making my point: boys have every right to play with dolls, however much scheming it takes. Anyway, it was probably in Mickie’s best interests. After 20 years of custody struggles, that kid deserved a fresh start.
- Jay Gabler