May 12, 2013

Breaking up mother's collection of 700 dolls.

After she said, before dying, "I hope they all stay together."

After a dealer offered $35,000. Then...
Thanks to the recession, dealers and auction houses were no longer scooping up collections the way they had before. Not only that, but people tend to buy the toys of their youth in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and Mama Jo’s dolls, I was told, were “aging out.” Our local doll museum, like others across the country, was on the verge of collapse.

One doll lover came for a look. “Honey, you should have taken that money,” he said. “You were standing on the edge of the ledge of the canyon.” He made a karate-chopping motion in the air with his hand.

I prayed. I saw a therapist. I consulted an astrologer. Finally, after a shamanic healing, I became unstuck. Maybe I was just ready to let go of my grief.
When I read "astrologer" and "unstuck," any sympathy over this plight melted away. (Somehow "unstuck" is a word that annoys me more than "shamanic.") Also, I watched the video:

Somehow, I just don't believe that this was a serious emotional struggle and I don't get the enchantment of the dolls. The mother's engagement with the dolls — seen a bit in the video — is lighter and sweeter than you might expect, given the author's presentation of the collection — and keeping it together (metaphor alert!) — as a profound burden. The author is Jo Maeder and she got a book out of the (faux?) ordeal.


Happy Mother's Day! Call your mom, if you're lucky enough to have a mom that's callable. If not, I hope the memories that flow into the foreground are not burdensome and require no therapy or astrology or shamanic healing to allow you to go forward and flourish.


traditionalguy said...

Up to 5-10 dolls is a child's toys collection. But when the number rises to dozens on display by an adult you are no longer in the presence of a toy collector, but in the presence of a god worshiper.

So a shaman's powers and an astrologer's timing may have been necessary to deliver that family from the hold of that menagerie.

Pogo said...

Much is mockable here, from the shaman, to the shameless book-plugging, to the choice of this as a story at all.

I am however most humbled by what Chesterton called tradition: "the democracy of the dead", which means "giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors".

Being troubled by a promise made to one now dead is part of that tradition. It is why we abide by wills, signed when alive, enforced after death.

Why feel bad about breaking such a promise? What could it, at this point, matter?
The answer means something.
The shaman is her grasping in the dark for it.

Pogo said...

When I was little, on Mother's Day we would watch our 8mm family movies.

One always puzzled me, made my Dad laugh, and made my Mom tell him to stop.

In the short clip, my Mom is putting me in the street. He ran it backwards to get the effect, from a part where she was picking me (a baby) up from gutter where I'd crawled. He told us it was in backwards and was actually her putting me there.

I wish you could see my Mom's face then; it made her laugh so, but she was also worried I might feel bad. not to worry; I got the joke.

Love you, Mom.

pm317 said...
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CEO-MMP said...

That particular shaman may or may not have been worthy of being mocked--but why lump them all together?

I have a very good friend who is Native American. Her grandmother was a shaman, and she taught my friend.

It's not all bullshit, why lump it together as such?

Pogo said...

This was mockable: "I prayed. I saw a therapist. I consulted an astrologer. Finally, after a shamanic healing, I became unstuck."

The Cafeteria of Belief. A little crucifix, a little eye of newt, a little Indian feather. Mix and serve to taste.

The author is disrespecting shamans and every other religion by trivializing it all to consumer kitsch.

edutcher said...

Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Massa has died and the slaves must be auctioned off to settle the estate.

edutcher said...

PS The idea of dolls "aging out" is interesting. You'd think they'd have some value as cultural artifacts.

PPS A very Happy Mother's Day to all the Althousian mamas.

Especially the one whose alma mater to us all.

Jason (the commenter) said...

My advice: Pile them up outside and light them on fire.

Jason (the commenter) said...

edutcher: You'd think they'd have some value as cultural artifacts.

They do, it's just embarrassingly small.

pm317 said...

Ann, I want a real Mother's day post. I don't want to lump my mom's memories with this woman and her problems.

edutcher said...
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edutcher said...

Jason (the commenter) said...

You'd think they'd have some value as cultural artifacts.

They do, it's just embarrassingly small.

Have to disagree.

This is the kind of stuff that goes into the Smithsonian, as well as other museums.

Again, a little time needs to pass, I suppose.

ricpic said...

Buy Mom the Clapper!

Ann Althouse said...

"PS The idea of dolls "aging out" is interesting. You'd think they'd have some value as cultural artifacts."

Another angle on this point is that the dolls were not high-quality dolls, but relatively cheap toys of a particular era. Thus, their collectibility hinges on the childhood memories of the buyers.

sydney said...

My grandmother had a collection of dolls. They were those Madame Alexander dolls. I don't know what happened to them after they died, though. I remember someone asking if my daughter wanted one, and my own mother saying it wouldn't be good to give her one because she would neglect it. My daughter agreed. She never liked dolls. I wonder why elderly ladies like dolls?

Joe Hoarder'sSon said...

The mother's engagement with the dolls — seen a bit in the video — is lighter and sweeter than you might expect, given the author's presentation of the collection — and keeping it together (metaphor alert!) — as a profound burden.

Before I watched the video, I thought, "I bet her mom was a hoarder."

In the video, Jo Maeder confirms that her mother was a "big time" hoarder, and the fire department "ultimately deemed the house uninhabitable."

The mother's "lighter and sweeter" engagement with her dolls (and other objects) left a home uninhabitable.

My mother was a severe hoarder. To people who didn't know her well, she could seem to be "that sweet old lady who has all those flowerpots in her yard - she must have been a gardener." They had no clue that if someone moved one of those flowerpots, the sweet old lady would threaten homicide, suicide, or both, in a way that suggested that she was not making idle threats. That is fairly common behavior among severe hoarders.

Imagine being a small child in that environment. Imagine breaking a flower pot (or damaging a doll). Imagine being trained from the earliest age to believe that flower pots (or dolls) are so important that they must be preserved and protected, no matter the cost. Imagine the impact of that kind of thinking - about almost every object - extended across decades.

There is nothing "light and sweet" about a hoarder's relationship to the items in their hoard, and it can have a profoundly negative impact on children who grow up in an environment where things like dolls seem to have at least as much value as people. You might think that's an overstatement. It's not. Many children of hoarders suffer from severe neglect and profound psychological abuse from the earliest days of their childhood, with profound impacts that last well into adulthood. Ms. Maeder's emotional attachment may seem a little odd, but don't view it through the eyes of a "normal" person. View it through the eyes of someone who was raised by an individual with a profound mental illness, through the eyes of someone who was told from their earliest age that these objects held extraordinary importance, and through the eyes of a child who would suffer abuse and neglect if they did not at least pretend to respect the importance of those objects. Ms. Maeder is a survivor of abuse, and her co-dependent adaptations have outlived her mom.

(For the record, I used to think that terms like "co-dependence" were nothing more than psychobabble. Eventually, I realized that I was the poster boy for co-dependence in my relationship with my hoarder.)

The impact of hoarding on families and children is a very new area of research, but there seem to be a few clear patterns that are emerging. Hoarding hurts. If you're interested in a serious investigation of these issues, I suggest visiting, a support website maintained by a handful of grassroots volunteers, or reading a research opinion piece by Suzanne Chabaud, a psychologist with particular expertise around the dynamics of families and children of hoarders, at Psychiatric Times (free registration required for the latter).

The author is Jo Maeder and she got a book out of the (faux?) ordeal.

Once again, I can assure you that her ordeal is anything but "faux."

On a lighter note, I have very fond memories of listening to Ms. Maeder during her radio days in NYC. Coming on the scene a few years after other female rock radio pioneers started changing the face of NYC radio (e.g. Alison "The Nightbird" Steele and Carol Miller), Maeder was an important part of rock radio history.

Roger J. said...

not sure what I think about doll collections--I sometimes stop into estate sales, and one of the most poignant things to me are the neatly written recipe notebooks--some wonderful lady dutifully copied the recipes she loved--she fed her family with those recipes and no one is interested in them now--that has always struck me as sad--

Anyway--mothers day is a time to rejoice in your Mom and not a time to be sad

MadisonMan said...

My (unrelated) ward at the CWC was moved when they shut down a wing, and her new room was smaller, so they gave me (Not sure why) some dolls that had decorated her room (It's unlikely she knew of them). I sold them at a garage sale, for maybe a buck, and to this day wonder why anyone would want something like that.

Broomhandle said...

What Jason first said. The older I get the more I recognize the folly of living in the past. Especially other people's pasts.
A fire or a car load to the Goodwill can be very healthy.

CWJ said...

"Aging out"

The same thing happens with cars. With the boomers driving the market, the same cars that we remember rusting out if you looked at them sideways are now fetching the high prices. OTOH, the cars of the 30s 40s, have plateaued or are actually falling in value.

fivewheels said...

Mother's Day doesn't bother me. I get along fine. But it makes me wonder what percentage of people had truly crappy mothers? Given the way people are these days, it can't be that low. There are plenty of women who are cruel, selfish, abusive, ignorant or otherwise just not equipped to be a good, loving parent.

The popular myth of motherhood seems to be that the very act of giving birth instantly makes you selfless and caring and nurturing even if those weren't qualities you had before. Unlikely on its face, and in my experience, proven not to be true.

I mean, I think we've all seen that parenting appears to be getting worse over the last few decades. More and more, I think you'll see adults who can't relate to the presumptions that mothers and fathers are the greatest people ever and of course they love you very much. No, maybe not. But challenging that is a very taboo subject. I've never brought it up in real life.

Not whining about it. But I seriously wonder what the numbers are like.

(This is here since this isn't the "real" Mother's Day post so it seems OK to be kind of a downer.)

kentuckyliz said...

A Facebook friend posted about how it Is hard on Mother's Day to keep hearing people say happy Mother's Day, when she can't have children and has tried and tried. I commented that women have a maternal spirit that they bring to the world, in their work and care for others--it is part of the feminine genius. (Quoting JPII). We are all mothers in some way in this world. Her local friEnds who know her well say commented that she is the best teacher at her elementary school and her love for children is not wasted but lavished on more children than most women get to love.

I am not a bio mom but I exercise a maternal spirit in this world. My beasties gave me my fake biker gang handle as a teen--"Mother Heart."

kentuckyliz said...


kentuckyliz said...