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The Folly of Dumbo
"Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy
by Amber Maccione
Allison was your typical second grade little girl. She had her girly side where she would play dress-up in her mother’s high heels and party dresses parading around the house as if she were putting on this year’s New York must see fashion show. She also had her boyish side where she was the only girl amongst the boys as they headed up a very “serious” game of two-hand touch football even though she had begged them to play tackle (she hated that they would not since she was a girl). But Allison had a flaw unbeknownst to her. She had made it through Kindergarten and first grade with no one even thinking to mention it; but that summer, Allison switched schools. She went from the public school her mother taught at, which was very inclusive with the kinds of students in the class. In fact, her best friend at that school was in a wheel chair and used a computer to talk. But this new school was very different – it was private and no one seemed to have any flaws, well what the other kids called flaws.
Allison’s flaw was her ears. So far in her school career, she loved to wear head bands to keep her long straight hair out of her face as she played or completed school work. It was easy for her – wake up, get dressed, brush hair, and slid in hair band after head band until she found the perfect one to go with her outfit that day. “Alli, hurry-up! Pick a head band and let’s go before you are late for school!” could be heard from her mother’s lips every day as her mother tried to rush them both out the door to begin their days in the world of education. Up until today, Allison had thought head bands were the greatest fashion forward thing to do (Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl wore them for heaven’s sake!). Alli was proud of her head bands and had quite a collection so that each outfit was sure to have a match and so that she could be sure not to wear the same one twice in a two week period of time. But of course, Bobby Ray Alexander Radcliff, III, (the cutest and most popular boy in the second grade at Alli’s new school) had to point out that her ears stuck out way too far in proportion to the rest of her head. Therefore, as they walked in that ridiculous parallel line of boys on one side back to back with hands at your side and girls in the other line back to back with hands at your side, Bobby Ray gave her another reason to have to look in the mirror every day – but with horror instead of vanity this time: “I didn’t know Dumbo was allowed to go to school,” he teased. “Hey everyone, Dumbo is real! Allison Procter is Dumbo! Look at her huge ears! They just stick out! Can you fly with ears that big, Alli?” Of course, Ms. Grayson gave Bobby a stern look that reminded everyone that they must remain silent when walking in the hallway, but the damage was already done; as everyone laughed (even Allison to avoid letting on at her pain), the conception of a nickname came about – one that was very much not wanted.
That afternoon when Allison got into the SUV, her mother could tell there was something just not right about her daughter. The usually happy go lucky seven year old girl seemed a little too quiet and reserved on the ride home from school. Allison usually jumped into the vehicle with her mouth moving a mile a minute talking about her whole day as if every detail down to every second was the most important thing in the whole wide world. “Alli, how was school today?” her mother asked awkwardly because Allison was mute and did not even give her mother a glance as she had glided into the passenger’s side seat. Silence and a tear were the answer to her mother’s awkward question. And then her mother noticed it; Allison’s precious head band (the one her father had bought for her to wear on her first day at the new school) was not on her head. Her hair was not being held behind her ears as she normally had it. Instead, her hair was hanging limply down covering both ears. “What happened to your head band?” Her mother began the inquisition. “Did something happen to it? Did someone break it? Did you lose it? It will be alright, Alli. Daddy can get you another one.”
“I don’t want another one,” Allison finally broke her silence. “I don’t want any of them. Mom, I want to get rid of them all unless God can give me new ears!”
“New ears? Heavens child! Why would you want God to give you new ears?”
“Because God gave me ears that are too big for my head, Mom! He made me look like Dumbo! I never want to look at my ears again!”
“Oh, Alli! Did someone tease you about your ears? God gave you such beautiful ears, my dear. They are nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Well, Bobby Ray says I look like Dumbo, and everyone is calling me Dumbo girl and asking me if I can fly!” And the tears started to stream now down Allison’s rosy cheeks. She could no longer hide her shame about having large ears, nor the pain inside as she relived in her mind the agonizing 30 seconds of Bobby Ray’s observation and the laughter of her classmates. Her mother pulled the SUV over into a parking lot, put the SUV in park, took off her seat belt, and just hugged her daughter as Allison wept into her mother’s blouse.
After a few minutes, Allison’s river of tears became more of a trickle until all you could hear was some sniffling as she regained her composure. Her mother gently released Allison from her arms and lifted her daughter’s chin up so that they were looking into each other’s eyes. “Alli, my dear, you know God made you perfect in my and your daddy’s eyes right?” Allison nodded quietly. “But if the ears are something that truly bother you, not just something that Bobby Ray thinks should bother you, there is a surgery we can look into that pulls your ears back. One of the students I taught had large ears that stuck out. His parents found a doctor that could cut behind the ear and pull the skin back so that the ears didn’t stick out so much. Would you like your father and me to see about having that done for you?”
“Yes.” Allison replied as her mother restarted the SUV, and they drove the rest of the way home quietly.
Two weeks after that dreadful day, Allison was back to her happy go lucky self. She was back to dressing up in her mother’s high heels and party dresses prancing in front of mirrors and putting on fashion shows. She was back to playing two-hand touch football with the boys after of course begging them to play tackle. And she was back to looking in the mirror with vain as she tried on head band after head band trying to find the perfect one to go with her outfit that day. And the dreadful nickname of “Dumbo” faded away into a dreadful nightmare of the past. Allison was back to being “Alli” to her classmates. She was back to jumping into her mother’s SUV and rattling off every detail of every second to what she thought was another fabulous day in her life. Allison had shown Bobby Ray Alexander Radcliff, III, that there was nothing he could do to get her down as long as God had made the surgeon who invented the procedure to make her the prettiest girl in town.
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This happened to me when I was in elementary school. I was teased and nicknamed "Dumbo" because I had ears that stuck out. When I told my step-mom about it, she told me about a preschool boy that she had taught who's mom had him go through surgery to pull his ears back so they didn't stick out. She asked me if I wanted that surgery too. I chose not to. Instead I embraced the nickname because I wanted to be proud of how God made me.
As for the way I ended the story here, it is in response to the poem "Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy to reflect on our culture's desire to never age and be perfect. I think through the bulling and the mass media voice that demands perfection should be answered by us parents encouraging our children to embrace how they look and be proud. God made us all different for a reason. Our differences make our word colorful rather than just black and white, plain.