Humor by Dave Barry

What I do, first thing every morning, is play with dolls. The dolls belong to my 15-month-old daughter, Sophie, who likes to start the day by giving her dolls a toy bottle. She has a strong nurturing instinct, although it is not matched by her hand-eye coordination, so often she sticks the bottle into a doll's eye. The dolls don't mind. They're always happy. They talk in perky, squeaky doll voices.

"Hi, Sophie!" say the dolls. "Cough cough cough!" The dolls cough a lot, because I provide their voices, and it is not easy to sound perky and squeaky when you're a 53-year-old man and it is 7 a.m. and you have not had your coffee. You have to struggle to get yourself into a doll-voice mood, and you wonder what all the other 53-year-old men are doing at that hour. You suspect they're doing manly, grown-up things, like baling hay, or preparing a sales presentation, or burping. They're probably not lying on the family-room floor, speaking for a Barbie doll.

Yes, my daughter has a Barbie. And not just any Barbie: a Republican Convention Delegate Barbie. Really. She's wearing a business suit and has a little delegate credential around her neck. In other respects she's a regular Barbie, by which I mean she has an anatomically impossible figure and enough hair to be a fire hazard.

Republican Convention Delegate Barbie was given to my daughter by a woman I know who is connected with the Mattel company, which made a limited number of Republican and Democratic Barbies that were given to the delegates the last two political conventions. The woman told me that Convention Delegate Barbie is a valuable collectible item, and that we should keep her in the box. But of course as soon as Sophie saw Barbie, she had to get her out of the box and give her a nice, nurturing bottle to the eyeball.

Sophie also likes to undress this Barbie, the result being that Barbie can often be found lying among the other toys on the family-room floor, largely naked, her big hairdo going in all directions, as though she has just been engaging in wild party activities with Elmo and Winnie the Pooh, who lie nearby, looking happy but tired. I suspect that, when I am not looking, they smoke little toy cigarettes.

In case you were wondering: Republican Convention Delegate Barbie does not wear a brassiere. I will not go into details here, except to say that if real Republican convention delegates looked like this Barbie, Bill Clinton would definitely have changed parties.

Anyway, I don't mind playing dolls with Sophie, but it has been an adjustment. When my son was that age, he played exclusively with trucks, so when I played with him in the morning, all I had to do was make a truck sound, BRRRMMM, which was virtually identical to snoring. And before you accuse me of giving my children gender-stereotyped toys, let me stress that I got Sophie a truck, a big studly one. She uses it as a baby carriage. Sometimes she gives it a bottle.

When we're done playing dolls, it's time for Sophie's other favorite activity: watching the same videotape 850 times. As you parents know, babies LOVE repetition. If babies went to comedy clubs, a successful comedian's routine would go like this:

COMEDIAN: I just flew in from the coast, and boy are my arms tired!

AUDIENCE: (Wild laughter.)

COMEDIAN: I just flew in from the coast, and boy are my arms tired!

AUDIENCE: (Wild laughter.)

COMEDIAN: I just flew in from the coast, and . . . .

And so on. Lately, the video we watch 850 times a day is "Baby Bach," in which video images of toys are accompanied by classical music. The theory behind this video, as I understand it, is that looking at these images, and listening to Bach, makes the baby more intelligent. That may be, but it also slowly drives the parents insane. One day, you're going to read a news story about a person who went berserk with a machine gun in a shopping mall when the public-address system started playing classical music. When police search that person's house, I guarantee you they will find: "Baby Bach."

But so WHAT if I'm going crazy? The important thing is, Sophie is learning! She's getting smarter by the minute!

She just stuck a bottle in my eye.

This column was originally published June 10, 2001.

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