Sunday, September 06, 2009

This Happy Meal Took a Turn

At 11 o'clock Saturday night, we stopped at a McDonald's, because we only want the best for our kids. A Happy Meal, we figured, would fill the bill and knock them out cold until we would wake them up at 1 a.m. when we got home and tuck them in bed, still wearing grass-stained jeans and sporting dirty feet. Don't judge.

It wasn't until Sunday afternoon that I asked, "Hey, what sort of toy did you get in the Happy Meal?"

"Paper dolls! American Girl paper dolls!" And off she went, to bring them to me. So proud. This miniature book, with a built-in yellow ribbon, neatly tying the covers together to keep the paper dolls in place and the fold-out scenery neatly creased. It was so darn sweet, a person could cry just thinking about it. This, I thought, may be just about the cutest thing McDonald's has ever done. American Girl paper dolls.

Not. So. Fast.

"It's the newest American Girl! Julie!"

"What time period is she from?"

"The '70s."

"The NINETEEN70s? That's not a historical period. That's my childhood. Give me that." And I read the intro about Julie Albright, who I must tell you was born at least roughly around the same year that I was born, so I should know a little something about the early '70s, Miss Julie Albright, and one of those things is that MODERN history does not count when you are manufacturing and distributing dolls and books about historical characters.

Julie's story takes a detour from the typical American Girl tale. Kit, for example, is a resourceful girl from the Great Depression (1924). Felicity is a spirited colonial girl (1774). Kaya is a daring Nez Perce girl (1764). Molly is a patriotic girl who helps hold things together on the homefront during WWII (1944).

Julie is a pre-teen who plays basketball and enjoys fondue (1974).

Julie and I are sort of peers--in a time sense, anyway--but our worlds were so vastly different back in 1974 that I believe she must have been living in some foreign land. Like San Francisco.

In the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, "there were big changes happening in America. Her (newly divorced and recently relocated) mom started working full-time, running her own shop called 'Gladrags.' Protesters marched against the Vietnam War. Laws were passed to protect the environment and endangered species. Julie found her inner Democrat at the tender age of 12. She would one day grow up to be a lobbyist and work alongside a Tennesseean named Al Gore and talk way too much about carbon footprints and global warming."

OK, I made up that last part, but you get the picture.

It wasn't always easy getting other people to be open to new ideas, though. While change could be hard to accept, Julie realized that when it's important--when a friend is in trouble, an animal is endangered, or a rule needs to be rewritten--it's time to make the change happen yourself!

Because that's what 12-year-olds do. And then you turn the page and learn how to make your own Cootie Catcher, like Julie did. When she and her activist friends weren't effecting change in the Bay area, these trendsetters were busily crafting fortune-telling devices that they called "Cootie Catchers" out of 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper. (I always thought we egocentric pre-teens of suburban Atlanta invented these, along with paper footballs and personal notes disguised as origami. But as we all know, Georgia is on the other side of the continent from California, and all trends and fashion start there and eventually make their way across the land. Like a slow-moving wave.)

Marietta, Georgia eventually caught up with other trends, too, as I remember a girl who rode my school bus lived with only her mom after her parents divorced. They lived in one of the biggest colonials in our neighborhood. Her mom played a lot of tennis and made fish sticks for dinner. The girl had a trampoline and a canopy bed. Apparently divorce was more lucrative back in the '70s.

In my limited research, I couldn't find what Julie's mom sold at Gladrags. But whatever it was, it must have been expensive and in high demand because according to the American Girl catalog, Julie wears all the latest fashions, like a calico dress and matching bandana, and she has cool "sound accessories" (a hi-fi record player), as well as a banana seat bike and, as if you didn't see this coming, a stupid canopy bed.

As with any Happy Meal deal, you can't request which toy is tucked away in your Happy Meal box. It's the luck of the draw. Pure chance. A roll of the dice. But if you hurry, maybe you
can drive through a few times this week to increase your chances and read more about Julie, Creative '70s Girl, and her best friend, Ivy, and set up little paper scenes in their paper doll kitchen, equipped with avocado green appliances, Jiffy Pop popcorn and one of the country's first microwave ovens.

Offer ends Sept. 10.