My parents were endlessly generous, and those parties were spectacular … on paper. The reality was a little more complicated. For every birthday and Christmas my big present was always a Madame Alexander doll. Madame Alexander dolls are classic, collectible dolls. Sort of like a rich man's Barbie, but — at least in my house — they were meant for display, not play. My mother loved the best of the best, for herself and for me. She was known for her Dynasty-style jewelry — quarter-size emeralds dangling off nickel-size diamonds. Most attention-grabbing was the forty-four-carat diamond ring she always wore. That's right — no typo. Forty-four carats. Walking around with that thing must have been as good as weight lifting. I always begged her not to wear the ring to school functions. But that was her everyday style — put together in blouses with Chanel belts, slim jeans, Chanel flats, perfectly manicured red nails, and a heavy load of jewelry worth millions of dollars.
As for the Madame Alexander dolls, every birthday, as soon as I unwrapped them, they were whisked away, tags still attached, to a special display case in my room that had a spotlight for each doll. No way in hell was I allowed to dress and undress them or (God forbid!) cut their hair. Every time I unwrapped a present, my heart sank a little bit when I saw that same powder blue box. I knew that all I had was a new, untouchable doll to add to my expensive collection. But my mother would be smiling with pleasure. She loved the dolls, had always coveted them as a girl, and wanted me to have something special. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I always thanked her and acted excited — she had no idea that all I wanted (at some point) was a Barbie Dream House.
So now imagine another birthday party. I was four or five. The great lawn was festooned with balloons and streamers. Colorful booths lined the perimeter of its downward slope. And in the center of it all was a mysterious white sheet with a big red X painted across it.
In the middle of the festivities a plane flew overhead. I was just starting to read, but our family friend Aunt Kay had spent all morning teaching me how to read Happy Birthday, Tori. Not coincidentally, the plane was pulling a banner saying just that. I read it and was thrilled and proud, jumping up and down and clapping my hands in excitement. Aunt Kay waved to the pilot, and he dropped a little parachute with a mystery gift attached to its strings. So dramatic! It was supposed to hit the X on the sheet, but instead, it landed in a tree. One of the carnival workers had to climb the tree to get it down. I later found out that Aunt Kay had to get special permits for the plane to fly that low over the house.
As soon as my present was liberated, I ran to the box and pulled away the padding until I got to the present. I tore open the wrapping paper, and there it was. The powder blue box. Another Madame Alexander doll. This one was a surprise, along with the plane, from Aunt Kay. (Some of my most valuable dolls were gifts from her collection.) My friends oohed and aahed, and I fake-squealed with joy. Then I handed the doll over to my mother so her dress wouldn't get dirty.