The Creek
A Barbie & Ken Rite of Passage

By Tysa Goodrich

Ashley & Terra... Picture taken the day of girls' creek adventure by
Tysa (Terra's mom) © 1998 Wild Coyotes...a music & story company

It’s almost time to say “so long” to another 5th grade class at Topanga Elementary. My daughter Terra Kohut (10 ½) and her friend, Ashley Darrow (11), are two of the 51 students getting ready to graduate June 18th at their Class of ‘98 Culmination Ceremony. With all that’s going on in the spinning chaos of growing up—homework, reports due, what junior high everyone’s going to . . . who likes who, who’s cool, am I cool? . . . and the rapidly disappearing little-girl desires—Ashley and Terra decided to flee the flurry and spend one Saturday down at the creek by our house in Old Canyon. A creek once dry, now awakened—thanks to El Niño.

It soon dawned on me that their creek experience might have been more than just a couple of girls having fun, for when they returned, I could see a sparkle in their eyes, a sense of satisfaction at their adventure, and an innocent powerfulness about them. When I started to get pieces of their story, I decided it was well worth conducting an interview—to try to get a sense of exactly what happened down there, because for me, the metaphors were too enticing to ignore.

Being that I was once their age, I remember trying to hold onto my own power for as long as I could before entering womanhood. I think Terra and Ashley see things differently than I did. When I was 12- years-old (in the 1960’s), I knew that becoming a woman meant giving up my power. As I approached adolescence, the veils of my childhood fantasies lifted, sending me into that looming onset of sheer panic! I stood firmly and stubbornly planted in tomboy-hood for as long as I could, holding myself and my power together. But then of course, I inevitably developed beyond repair, and my tomboy shield crumbled as my body got rounder. On the other hand, Terra and Ashley both seem to be welcoming their newly emerging femininity and pre-teen intensities with a sort of crusader-like attitude, and with their ‘girl power’ fully self-acknowledged.

In our modern culture, it seems that rituals of passage for girls-becoming-women don’t really exist—at least ones that deal with internal or soul-directed changes. Perhaps it is touched upon in social and religious events, somewhere between "please pass the potato salad" and "Here, read this book." Terra and Ashley appeared to have taken it upon themselves to uniquely kickstart their early transitioning.

When they returned from the creek, they brought back sopped-and-disheveled ‘flexible’ Barbie, and of course Ken...only Ken was missing a leg and some of his clothes! With that—within Terra’s and Ashley’s voices, and my own musings—I’m going to try to relay this tale of adventure:

The first time they went down to the creek, they tried very hard not to get their feet wet as they traversed the steep-sloped banks until . . .

Ashley: “All of a sudden, we fell in! . . . and we got wet.”
Terra: “And we just thought, ‘what the heck!’—you know, ‘why are we doing this when we could just walk the creek?’ So [then], we didn’t try to stay out of the creek anymore.”

In talking to the girls further, I got the sense that the ‘adventure’ was key to their success at the creek: the total immersion into whatever dangers were lurking, and the mishaps of their trial-by-error experimentation of not-so-previously-allowed avenues into their own autonomy, experiencing it together and away from adult supervision.

Ashley expressed it well—about the adventure and the danger—when she said, “Well, sometimes…um…the down part [was], when we went into the creek today, when we went on the brush, and there was another part of the creek, up a little hill, I wanted to go up that, but I’m scared there’s bobcats or something, but it looks really cool, though.”

Of course, they didn’t know that I was peeking over our deck down at the creek and listening for their voices every 5 minutes. I, like them, was aware of the bobcats that visit upon our deck and the back slope behind our house. But even so, I remained invisible. I somehow knew it was important for them to be alone together. And Barbie and Ken were there to participate in the adventure.

I started the questioning with, “Now, you had Ken with you?. . .” [Ashley and Terra both giggle.]

Terra answers, “. . . and Barbie.”
Ashley proceeded to describe what happened. “His leg fell off the first time we went in the creek.” [giggles]
Terra continues. “We were throwing Ken across the creek because—I don’t know why, but . . . it was mainly to have fun; and so we threw him, and he got caught in a tree, and his leg got caught in the branch . . . he was still going pretty fast, so his leg ripped off, and his pants fell off, too . . . and he fell in the creek.”

Apparently, as the girls threw Ken across the creek and into a tree, the impact of such tore his leg off and also depanted him. At this point, Terra and Ashley became preoccupied with their microphones and Terra starts to sing “Burn, Baby Burn.” [How does she know that song?]

Terra: "This is like a real interview!”
Ashley: “I know!”
Terra: “Kathie Lee...Regis.”

I continued the interview, “What else did you have with you?”
Ashley and Terra chanted simultaneously, “had-a-cage.”
Me: “Where was the cage?”
Terra: “The cage, we built it, before we went in.”

Now the cage was built prior to the incident with Ken. They had built it out of Tinker Toys.
I asked, “And who did you put in the cage?”
Terra responded with, “Barbie and Ken” ...
with Ashley repeating, “Yeah, Barbie and Ken.”

Terra: “We thought it would float.”
Me: “You thought it would float, so you tried putting them in the creek in the cage, and what happened?”
Both: “They sank.”
Me: “And how did you feel about that?” [Of course, trying to get them to talk about their feelings, and being “the mom,” they weren’t so willing to expose their sense of privacy during this interview—which was frustrating—but I understood]

Ashley: “Well, I go, ‘No!’”
Terra: “I didn’t really . . . I sort of . . . was a little disappointed that it didn’t float.”
[Ashley asks for more marshmallows for her hot chocolate...and the interview continues]

Me: [trying to be philosophical] “Umm…so what I’m thinking is: ‘ girls, your bodies are starting to change...’”
Both: [giggle]
Me: “’re becoming young women, and you’re having to deal with boys... and don’t you kind of look at Barbie and Ken as a kind of symbol for the grown-up world in a way?”
Both: [adamantly opposed, making fun of me] “NO!!”
Me: [still trying to be philosophical…big mistake!] “No? Now, what do you think about Barbie and her shape, and the way she looks, the way she’s built with a real teeny little waist and...”
Ashley: “...plastic?”

Oh, well. With that, I knew it was futile trying to read my own version of feminine adolescent crisis into their experience. From then on, I tried to stick more to the actual course of events. On their break between falling into the creek and going back down for the second time—this time not caring whether they were going to get wet—Ashley and Terra removed their soppy socks and (per my suggestion) placed their feet inside plastic bread bags before putting their soaked shoes back on again:

Me: “I want to know everything that you did. You remember?”
Terra: “We were putting on plastic bags and we were talking about how retarded it was, how weird it looked, and...”
Me: “...and how weird your mom was for suggesting it?”
Both: “Yeah!” [giggling]
Me: “O.K. No problem. Now, let’s get back to the subject of Ken falling out of the tree. Now, what was that like?”
Ashley: “Ken was in the tree. It was over the ditch part where all the rocks are. [to Terra] Remember when we had to go over the creek and there was like…umm…a big ditch, a humungous hole, and rocks and stuff? He got stuck there.”
Me: “Was that funny?”
Ashley: “It was sort of scary cause we had to go get him.”
Me: “Ohhhh..., yeah. [both girls giggle a lot - and I don’t have a clue why] So, he got stuck in a place where it was kind of treacherous for you to go get him?"
Ashley: "Yeah."
Me: "But you wanted to go retrieve him anyway, right?"
Ashley: "Yeah."
Terra: "Umhmm."
Ashley: "So we wouldn’t find him a week later, still there."
Terra: [dramatizing by speaking in a wavering giggle tone] “…rotting.”
Me: “So, how did it feel having Ken without a leg? Did you feel bad?”
Terra: “Yeah, cause I wanted to do more experiments on him. And now he’s just a weakling.”
Me: “And now, Ken’s outside. You left him outside.”
Ashley: [to Terra] “And what do you have to say for yourself!”
Terra: [in a southern accent - like Scarlett O’Hara] “I’m a weakling, man. I failed!”
[then, switches her part to that of Barbie, weeping]
Barbie: “It was scary. It was really scary and I tried to swim but I couldn’t. I tried to save him. It was too late. I mean, I saw the leg in the air like superman flying across the sky…and I couldn’t do anything about it.” [sighs]
Me: “...kind of like growing up, huh?”
Terra: “Huh?”
Me: “It’s kind of like growing up. You can’t do anything about that either, right?”
Terra: “Yeah, but how does that have to do with the creek?”

What does growing up have to do with the creek? Foiled again. At this point, I’m feeling pretty frustrated: one more futile attempt to get my 10-yr-old to see what was obvious to me—the metaphor! As they continue to playact their adventure, I’m rounding out my interview with the feeling that I really don’t know what happened down there. I managed to get them to confess to feeling a little bad for Ken, but what should have been obvious to me, they needed to point out.

Terra: “Well, sort of [feels bad for Ken], a little bit, because he doesn’t have a leg. But, he’s just plastic. It’s not like he has a heart or anything.”
Me: “Oh, I know that…[did I?]. But when you were little girls, your dolls were like…real!”
Terra: “Oh, yes. I know, they were special.”

I was finally able to coerce a little introspection from Ashley and Terra—in response to my incessant pursuit of metaphor—with some final questions. This is after Ashley so poignantly asked about my meandering reflections on the relationship between the Barbies (Barbie and Ken) and their creek experience:

Ashley: [reiterating Terra’s sentiments] “What do Barbie dolls have to do with the creek?”
Me: “You had the Barbie dolls at the creek. That’s what I want to know about.”
Terra: “It was part of the torturing process.”
Me: [oh no, what’s this about?] “Now, tell me about that.”
Terra: “Well...we take them by the hair, and if it’s Ken, usually by the foot, and we swing them really high and we throw them as hard as we can so they land in the creek far, far away, and we have to go get them. The reason why we also take Barbies into the creek, as a matter of torture, is because it’s funner to have something to play around with in the creek than just…I mean, it’s fun to make up games in the creek and stuff, but it’s really great! It’s just so fun there. It’s like you’re so free.”
Me: Does it feel like you’re not going to be playing with Barbies much longer?
Terra: "Yeah."
Me: “So, this is kind of a way for you guys to let go of Barbie, right?”
Ashley: “Yeah.”
Terra: “Yeah.”
Me: “So, it kind of feels free a little bit to be able to do that, right?”
Ashley: “Yeah.”
Terra: “It kind of feels good.”
Ashley: “Cause we don’t have any rules like ‘you can’t do this’ and ‘you can’t do that’…there’s no rules in the creek.”
Terra: “I know. I know, nobody can tell us what to do.”
Ashley: “So, it’s like…”
Terra: “...It’s like you’re free!”
Ashley: “So, when you throw Ken, a person doesn’t go up to you and go, ‘you can’t do that.’ ‘you can’t do this.’ ‘You can’t go that far.’ ‘You have to stay right here.’ There’s no rules. You can just go as far as you want.”
Terra: “Umhmm. Even if they say you can’t, you still do it because grownups just don’t go in the creek.”
Ashley: “They don’t know how fun it is?”
Terra: “Yeah, they can’t understand it.”

My preconceptions about the meanings and metaphors behind Ashley and Terra’s creek adventure, and all my ‘thinking-I-knew-all-about-it,’ seems to have been broken apart by their own, quite unique blend of experience. Ashley and Terra both revealed to me a peek inside their journey into freedom and power, and I feel honored to have been a participant—however remote—in their adventure. The creek is only reserved for your close friends ... your creek friends, and what happens there may be a little bit of magic.

With love to Terra and Ashley.

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