I have a little friend, her name is Maddie. Maddie is three years old. Maddie is the daughter of my friend, so when my friend visits, Maddie visits. And when Maddie visits she goes straight to my daughter’s rooms to play. When it’s time to go home and we have waved them goodbye from the front deck, my daughters and I go back inside the house and every time without fail, we find that Maddie has sneakily hidden one piece of the babushka nesting dolls. For days we keep a casual eye out and eventually, one of my girls will call out Found it!
We laugh. And we put the dolls back together…until the next time Maddie visits.
When I was little, maybe 3 or 4, I was given a babushka doll for Christmas. As with most things I like, this was long before they became in vogue a few years back as one of the hottest design trends. They became super cool in kid-world with babushka dolls, or Matryoshka dolls, appearing on everything from bag tags, to wall decals, to bibs and measuring cups. I loved babushkas and the more dolls that were inside, the more I loved them. I had first met and fell in love with the babushka on Sesame Street. There was a clip of the babushkas opening and hopping in and out of each other all the way down to the incy wincy little bubba-babushka. I loved that clip. (You can watch it here)
So it was Christmas morning, maybe 1980, and I opened my gift from my Mum and Dad of the authentic Russian babushka dolls. The smell of the timber of the dolls is distinctive and even 36 years later when I twist them open, it is the memory of my childhood and a Christmas morning that I breathe in. And I will never forget when I opened the gift, my mother saying You need to keep that until you are as old as Grandma. With “babushka” meaning grandmother, it was a poignant moment, not unlike those you see in movies and I have protected and looked after that set of babushka dolls like my life depended on it. My Grandma lived until she was 92, and my mother who said those infamous words is now a grandmother herself, which is a constant reminder that even if I make it to 92, time will fly.
I love my babushka doll and have always thought it the most beautiful thing I owned. The mumma babushka has faded significantly (as mumma’s do) and her bubbas inside get more colourful the smaller they are. One has a big split in the timber which, Mum, I promise you is from age and not poor treatment. Both my girls have now been given babushkas from by my mother. The fact that they were only 6 months old means they wouldn’t have understood when I said, “Now you have to keep that until you are as old as Grandma”, regardless of the tone I used.
But when they were a bit older, maybe 2 and 4, I sat them on the lounge room floor to play with our dolls. I reminded them again that the they were precious and that, yes, they had to keep the dolls until they were as old as Grandma. My daughter carried those babushkas around holding them with two hands and walking like any sudden moves or bumps would cause them to explode. They had hours of joy playing with the dolls. I found one of the girls later lying on the couch looking at her toes and squealing with delight. She looked at me and giggling said, My toes look like babushka dolls! she laughed as she wiggled her little set. And I smiled because they really did and because I had never thought of something that my 4 year old had realised.
And now Maddie plays with the dolls. And in her calling-card way, plays hide and seek with the ultimate hide & seek toy. So, just before Christmas when I saw a babushka doll for sale in Shop 5, I pounced on it. With six dolls inside – the smallest the tiniest amongst my babushka family – I bought it for Maddie.
And of course, when I gave it to her I told her she has to keep it until she as old as her Grandma.