I still remember being so confused when The Lego Movie was announced. How could they possibly make a movie about interlocking blocks? But by the time the movie was released, my Lego-obsessed husband and I had a 4-year-old son who loved putting together sets with his dad…and he had a toddler sister who, Duplo blocks in hand, threatened to destroy everything in her path. Which is why, when we realized the entire movie was taking place in Will Ferrell and Maya Rudolph’s basement, my husband and I joked in that darkened theater that we were not paid for our life rights.


You know how sometimes we delight in watching someone else watch something? Usually, it’s because we love the thing so much, and we hope the person with us will love it just the same. Legos (argh! Lego bricks) were not something I ever played with as a kid. I don’t know that I even knew they existed. But by the time I saw the movie, I had lived with someone who loved those damn blocks long enough to understand most of the little in-jokes on screen, and I could look to my right and see the man next to me be a kid, in the best way possible. 

I have a feeling that will be me this weekend because my favorite toy, well beyond my childhood, is Barbie. 

When I heard a Barbie movie was being made, I was excited. Even in its Amy Schumer iteration, I knew a Barbie movie would be fun for 41-year-old me to watch. But it’s been in the last few months, starting with the first Barbie teaser and then solidified by that genius marketing campaign where we could make our own Barbie posters, that I knew this movie was made for me, and that it was made for so many others like me, whose play with Barbie was a big part of their lives.


I can’t tell you when I got my first Barbie, but I can tell you that I was very young when I bought one with my own money. My mom left Mexico to find work and moved to Houston, Texas when I was 6 years old, and she would send my grandmother money to help pay for my care. In those remittances, there was a little spending money for me, and I started to save it up. While I was happy to spend some of it for a snack from the neighborhood tiendita, or a neighborhood game of lotería, I soon started my own little enterprise to make this money last me a little longer. 

I would go to dulcerías (Mexican candy stores where you buy candy and other party items in bulk), buy bags of some of my favorite goodies, and sell them to my classmates by the piece. I don’t know how long that scheme (someone snitched!), or other schemes of mine lasted, but they lasted long enough that I had a little bit of money saved up that my grandmother hid in a nice little piggy bank for the both of us.

I bought a few Barbies with that money, but I don't know why I never bought a Ken (I guess because “he’s just Ken”). My Barbies always dated stuffed animals, like this really cute bear that my grandpa got at his work’s Christmas party and that I loved so much. I always preferred to buy another Barbie, a new outfit, or SHOES. Why I loved Barbie shoes so much, I’ll never know. I barely like shoes now. And while I once bought a Barbie wedding dress as a teenager, my Barbies never married, though they had full lives and were very successful working women. 


My Barbies also wore beautiful clothes. Some were the ones I could buy when my grandmother let me use my savings, but some were much cheaper and bought at a Friday morning mercadito that I passed on my way to school. Some were old socks; if you cut the sock above the ankle, it made an amazing strapless dress, especially if it was a sock that had a beautiful olán–that little frill on top with ribbon and or lace–which would add a nice detail on top or bottom. You got two dresses for the price of one! Add a rubber band, a scrunchie, or some other makeshift belt, and you have even more options! 

My godparents, like my mother, lived far away, but they would come see me for my birthdays. They’d spoil me with presents, joking that they needed to make up for all the holidays they’d missed. They had more money than us, so their gifts were always the nicest–gifts I would have never bought myself, candy schemes and all. For my 10th birthday, two of my presents were a Barbie round dining set that came with place settings and a Barbie camper. Along with my  Barbies, they were two of my most prized possessions. 


When it was time for me to reunite with my mom and move to the US, I had only one bag in which to put my belongings. It mostly held clothes, one Barbie, and a set of twin baby dolls and their milk bottles sent to me on my 10th birthday by my mom and the man she loved. The rest of my toys—including my Barbie camper and dining set with tiny cutlery–were put in a box and stored in the closet of the room I sometimes shared with my youngest aunt. I left my home of the last 6 years, the home of my grandparents who were really my parents, on my twelfth birthday, which was an event everyone initially forgot. Even in the happiest of circumstances, I still feel a little funny around my birthday. 

When I first moved to the US, I shared a bed with my mom. I had never had a bed, let alone a room, of my own and it was scary to have either one now. Eventually, I slept on a couch, and then a daybed my mom was so proud to buy, which I hated but could not bring myself to tell her so. When I was lonely and I still had no real friends, when a full day of English in my ears at school gave me headaches, when summer hit and my mom would not let me visit Monterrey so I wouldn’t “lose” the English I learned (and probably so she wouldn’t have to convince me to come back), as ridiculous as it sounds, I had my Barbie. I wasn’t young enough or “innocent” enough to get lost in Barbie play anymore but changing Barbie’s outfits or playing with Barbie’s grocery set (one of my first US purchases) made me feel less alone, and made me feel a little less homesick. 


While I started dating a boy before I was supposed to, I think my mom was a little relieved that I was leaving Barbie play behind. When I dated him long enough to meet his mom and hang out with her, I learned she still had her Barbies! As well as her Barbie closet and some of her Barbie clothes–bought and homemade. I realized we both made sock dresses decades and countries apart. 

When this boyfriend, now husband, went to Ohio to clean his mother’s house last year after she passed the previous fall, he asked me if there was anything I wanted. At first, I said I didn’t need anything. And then I changed my mind, and I asked for her measuring cups and spoons, since she is the one who helped me fall in love with baking. Eventually, I was brave enough to ask for a bit of her beloved Barbie stuff. He brought me her 1960s black vinyl Barbie closet, sock dresses and all. 

To recognize the Barbie clothes I had, or wish I had, on Margot Robbie during the recently halted Barbie press tour has evoked so many feelings in me, many of which I didn’t expect. Yes, the Barbie promo made me excited for the movie, but each picture I’ve seen and each clip I've watched has triggered a different Barbie memory for me. And it’s also taken me to that darkened theater, when I saw my husband turn into a kid during The Lego Movie. I remember seeing him dry his eyes at the end and being surprised, but I understand it better now. Barbie will be that movie for me.