It is the rare occasion when you know exactly what your children want with no question about it and when that happens you do whatever you can to make that dream come true, within reason. Unfortunately, what they want can sometimes be difficult to obtain because their desires are often larger than your pocketbook. Other times the thing wanted just can't be had, not for love nor money. I remember a year when my oldest daughter wanted only one thing in the "whole wide world". You might remember it too because that year every girl, and even some boys, all wanted the same thing.
The year is 1983. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album goes to #1 and stays at #1 for thirty-seven weeks. Ameritech Mobile Communications (now known as Cingular) launches the first U.S. cellular network in Chicago, Illinois. President Ronald Reagan refers to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire". Martin Luther King day becomes a federal holiday. Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov averts worldwide nuclear war by judging that a nuclear missile attack from the United States, detected by the Soviet Early Nuclear Warning System, is an error. Sally Ride becomes the first female U.S. astronaut to go into space. My three daughters are now nine years, three years, and one year old, and I am twenty-eight.
In 1983 money is getting a little tight for our family. With a mortgage to pay and three kids to feed and clothe, things would be difficult under any circumstances but they are particularly worrisome now because my husband has recently taken a pay-cut. I find this a hard pill to swallow because the cut in pay is voluntary.
Working in a chemical manufacturing plant where membership in the union is a mandatory condition of employment, my husband is subject to complicated rules and procedures associated with seniority rights. There is plant seniority, area seniority, department seniority, etc. each with its own set of rules and privileges. There is a power structure within the local union that is dominated by certain union members who work in particular departments. Consequently, over the years the union contract with the company has been negotiated in a way that grants special rights and privileges to the employees in those particular departments. Not all departments are equal in rights and opportunities. I find all of this incomprehensible when my husband explains it to me. How can people united for a common purpose work against each other for individual gain? When I express that opinion to my husband he simply laughs. The bottom line is my husband needs to move into another department in order to position himself for future benefits. When you move into a different department you have to start at the bottom. This means that we are not looking to have a good Christmas in 1983.
So faced with the prospect of living on a real tight budget, I'm racking my brains trying to figure out how to make some extra money, especially since Christmas is coming. While this is going on a cultural phenomenon is taking place in America. Cabbage Patch Kids burst onto the scene and are soon a must have item in every family with young children. Little girls everywhere and their parents as well are going berserk over these things. Stores are selling out of these dolls as soon as they come in. Lines are forming in front of toy stores across the nation with reports of fights and mini riots whenever the supply can not meet the overwhelming demand. A black market springs up offering Cabbage Patch Kids at more than twice the retail price and these are going just as fast. The dolls even make the cover of Newsweek. It is mass hysteria!
My own nine-year-old is not immune to the insanity, nor am I as I become determined to satisfy her longing. Easier said than done. The demand far exceeds the supply and money is not enough to get you what you want. Luck and determination are also required. It is the only thing my daughter wants for Christmas so I travel everywhere determined to get my hands on one, but it's a crapshoot because thousands of mothers in my immediate vicinity are doing the exact same thing. One early morning while I am standing in line (in the dark) waiting for Toys R Us to open and noting with disbelief how many desperate mothers are in front of me, an idea germinates within. If people are going so crazy over these dolls they might just go crazy over items associated with these dolls. In future years there will be an infinite number of Cabbage Patch Kids accessories but at the moment there are very few. Opportunity knocks.
I know how to sew and I know how to make clothes from patterns so I come up with a plan and put it into motion. The Cabbage Patch Kid's bodies are standardized, which means one size fits all, so I borrow a Cabbage Patch Kid from a lucky friend and using its dimensions design and create Cabbage Patch Kids clothes – little skirts, little pants, shirts, coats, overalls, shorts, little outfits. They are all relatively easy to make and I run them through my sewing machine as fast as I can. When I have a fair supply I plunk down ten dollars and rent a table at a local craft fair. I bring about fifty outfits with me and offer them for $4.00 apiece. I cross my fingers because the dolls themselves are selling for only $20.00. People scarf them up. Everyone is thrilled with them and I am sold out in a couple of hours. I am sitting there with two hundred bucks in my hand! That's two hundred 1983 bucks, mind you!
Excited and inspired by my success, I kick production into high gear and start churning them out of my sewing machine every day and deep into every night. I am selling them to friends and family and at craft shows. My husband is selling them to co-workers. With Christmas coming I can't make them fast enough. They are flying through my sewing machine and over the next few months I make a bunch of money.
Instead of the lousy Christmas we were expecting, we have a great Christmas with lots of presents and goodies and cozy, warm feelings all around. Except for one thing. I am never able to get my hands on an actual Cabbage Patch Kid for my daughter in time for Christmas. The one and only thing she asked for was impossible to get. She has all the Cabbage Patch Kid's clothes in the world but no actual Kid. She takes it like a champ but I can see her disappointment. After Christmas the hysteria dies down a little (not a lot, just a little) and I manage to get one for my daughter's birthday in January. The Cabbage Patch craze continues for the next year and more, and I continue to take advantage of it by making and selling my creations. I make thousands of dollars this way until the madness runs its course and to this day I am still pleased and proud of how I was able to take advantage of that situation. Still, I would give that up in a heart beat if I could just go back and find a way to have my daughter's fondest wish under the tree that year. I know that disappointment is a big part of life, but that would have been sublime.