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“Do you promise to love and care for the baby?”

This week I got to sit down with Elna Baker, a writer and performer that will be hosting the Grand Slam, performing her one-woman show and leading a storytelling workshop in our 2010 First Person Arts Festival, to talk about “Babies Buying Babies.” It is one of her most popular stories that has been featured on This American Life and in her memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

“Babies Buying Babies” is a story about Elna’s first job after college as an FAO Schwarz toy demonstrator in the Lee Middleton Doll adoption center (and more importantly, what happens when the adoption center sells out of all the white baby dolls three weeks before Christmas). 

What is a “toy demonstrator”? “What they do at FAO Schwarz is sell [the dolls] as an experience,” Elna described, “They had a white picket fence and incubators set up.” The illusion of this world had to be constantly kept up, so the “nurses” were constantly rocking a sample baby. Well, more like a factory reject baby, Nubbins. 

Nubbins’ hands looked more like flippers and his head (covered with scary red hair) was so much heavier than the other dolls that the nurses would complain of back pain because they had to rock or hold him constantly.  

A Lee Middleton Doll


In the story, Elna describes the reactions of the white moms when they discover that the incubators only have minority babies “sleeping” in them. “Where are the white babies?” one mother demands. Some of the mothers even show interest in Nubbins, a white baby, until they see his green eyes, red hair, and flippers. 

Still, the question remains, who will go first? Nubbins or all the perfect minority baby dolls?

As Elna and I talked, we began to feel nostalgic for our own dolls (we were both die-hard Barbie fans). “They were so beautiful, I always wanted to look like a Barbie,” she said. 

Elna’s favorite Barbie is one that she described as a Mexican Princess, “She looked like Penelope Cruz and I wanted to look like her so bad. Already you’re trying to look like something that’s impossible — 6 foot, big boobs, tiny waist, but I wanted my skin complexion and hair color to change.”

Princess of Ancient Mexico Barbie


Neither of us looked like our Barbies, even though Elna is half-Mexican. I’m half-Asian, and to me, Barbie will forever be burned into my memory as a blonde. However, my parents never found it odd that most of my toys did not resemble me in the least. (A complete 180 from the mothers that inhabit Elna’s story and find it incomprehensible that their child might be associated with a “dark” baby doll.) 

Elna went on to say, “I think that in some ways, that having a doll of a different ethnicity and treating them like it’s your own baby, […] fosters a sense of attachment to how that doll looks too. I think it’s a positive. I don’t think it’s that important for kids to have dolls to look exactly like them…I think it’s good, just for a sense of imagination. When I had that Hispanic Barbie, I remember I’d look at her and imagine where she was from and what it was like in Mexico. I invented this whole castle…It was exotic and intriguing to me, to have a doll that was different. I did grow up overseas when I was little bit older, but when I was young, I was living in Washington state and it was in the suburbs and more homogenous.” 

Most people would probably agree with Elna. The son of late Lee Middleton even e-mailed her. No, not to inform her of an impending law suit, but to tell her how much he enjoyed the story and how much he thought his mother would have loved the message behind it as well. “I was really touched that he wrote me,” Elna said. 

To be sure, the story of Nubbins and the poor minority babies at FAO Schwarz is a memorable one. “It’s about something bigger than me,” says Elna, “It’s hard to stumble into those life experiences when you get to tell a greater story that’s bigger than your own.

You can listen to “Babies Buying Babies” at Elna’s website here.

Make sure not to miss Elna during the First Person Festival!

The Grand Slam Soiree 
Wednesday, November 10th
Slam Soiree: 6 – 8pm
Grand Slam: 8:30 – 10:30pm
Main Stage / Painted Bride Art Center
$30 for Grand Slam and Soiree ($24 for First Person Members)
$15 Grand Slam only ($12 for First Person members)
Click here for more information and to buy tickets. 

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance 
Thursday, November 11, 9:30pm
Friday, November 12, 6:30PM
Raw Space / 60 minutes
$15 ($12 for First Person members)
Click here for more information and to buy tickets. 

The Philadelphia Nondenominational Anyone Can Tell A Story Workshop: Storytelling With Elna Baker
Saturday, November 13
$35 ($28 for First Person Members)
Click for more information and to enroll. 

– Laura Reeve

Upcoming Events
  • StorySlam: Laws of Nature (tickets on sale 4/8/19)
  • Date: April 30, 2019
  • Time: 7:30 PM
  • Venue: The Playground at the Adrienne
  • Location: 2030 Sansom Street
  • I Want to Be: Stories Inspired by Jerry Pinkney
  • Date: May 4, 2019
  • Time: 7 PM - 9 PM
  • Venue: Woodmere Art Museum
  • Location: 9201 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19118