Here's something I know: give any kid anywhere in the world a stick and within one minute the kid will pretend the stick is either a baby doll or a gun. It's kind of a universal law for children and imaginative play -- you either play house or blow it up. Or both. I was more a "both" sort of kid. I had a large collection of dolls and also thought cap guns were awesome. Do they sell cap guns anymore? Or caps? Even just pounding caps on the sidewalk with a hammer was fun. I can see the stress-reducing benefits for me even now with that, actually. BAM! BAM! BAM! Ahhh.

Here's something I've noticed: little girls stay little for a far shorter time than they used to, and don't play with dolls anywhere near as long or as much as they used to. This does make me a little sad, I admit. When my daughter has a playdate, it's never her dolls that come out; it's her laptop or videogames or movies or crafting stuff, or the girls go play outside. At eight, I was still fully immersed in my dolls, although I wasn't exactly doing Little Mommy. I would get them all out and create elaborate soap operas, making characters and families out of the lot of them. These "Days Of Our Lives"quality stories went on in my brain for years, and I think I was 13 when I finally put the dolls away for good. That seems to be a shocking age now, doesn't it? Sigh.

There is something so inherently introspective in the act of playing with dolls for children, no matter what kind. In the infant dolls with the chubby legs and pink cheeks, who cry when you push a button on their tummies and pee water into a tiny diaper, you see an earlier you -- the helpless but adorable baby. In the fashion dolls like the wasp-waisted, big-boobed Barbie, you see what you might be someday, some exotic womanly creature with perfect silky hair and permanently-arched feet. Sometimes you nurture the baby; sometimes you push it away, because it's just a baby and you are no baby. You painstakingly take your clumsy little kid fingers and dress Barbie in tiny detailed outfits which cost about as much as your real clothes, and find her both silly and beautiful. In the dolls, you think about your family, your life, what you know now, and you wonder how it's all going to turn out for you someday.

The day you put them away, you are realizing that you are already half-grown, and it's time to move on to the business of becoming. If pretend play is given up too soon, you are jumping ahead to things you aren't really ready for anyway. The pace and pressure of life quickens, but human development will forever have its own timetable.

Here's something that someday I know I would give a million dollars for: one more day with my daughter, aged eight, and her dolls.