What's surprising is the intensity of the mothers making believe their bundles are alive.
By STEPHEN A. CROCKETT JR.
WASHINGTON -- There near the "Queens Bear" booth is a huddle of women holding "preemies" in baby blankets, chitchatting away.
Off in the corner a woman from England pushes her newest infant in a white and red stroller.
Another woman keeps leaning into the stroller and using the outside of her hand to brush the baby's plump cheek. In a nearby chair, a burly guy cuddles a preemie in a blanket, waiting for his wife.
Annette Hall, 55, turns the corner pushing a single stroller filled with her two little ones and carrying a third. Three young women run up to her.
"She got the one that we were holding," one of the women says.
"Yeah, I just got him," says Hall, a Baltimore resident, as she parks Martin, 2 months, and DeShawn, 2 weeks, off to the side.
"And what's his name?" the woman asks.
"Amiryal," Hall answers, beaming like a proud mother.
"He is so cuuute," the woman says, and the other two women coo in unison.
Hall's niece, 34-year-old Annie Woodson, walks into the frame pushing her two: Sharyta, 5 months, and Tylisa, 6 months (nicknamed Tiny because she is so small).
But Hall doesn't notice her. She is busy showing off her new baby.
"See, my boy has been circumcised," she says to one woman and takes off the baby's bottoms to show her. Another woman walks up.
"Ohhh, now he's embarrassed," she says and kisses Amiryal's tiny fingers while Hall puts his bottoms back on.
Here's the scene
As you watch this scene of motherhood, it's easy to think of an early morning in Anywhere, U.S.A, in front of a Starbucks.
Except, although these interactions are real, the babies are not. They look, feel and smell like real babies, but they are dolls. Expensive, stunningly realistic dolls. Hall just got Amiryal on sale for $650. Some dolls in this genre cost nearly $2,000.
This is the Doll and Teddy Bear Expo. Over the weekend, some 6,500 people paid $15 each to stroll through the convention hall of Washington's Marriott Wardman Park Hotel and see all that is hip in the world of dolls and teddies (not dolls wearing teddies; that's another convention).
These dolls are eerily authentic works elegantly handcrafted by artists, such as Carol Kneisley, who used to be a schoolteacher and seamstress but now is a modern-day Geppetto.
Kneisley's dolls, like those sold by a few other vendors here, look unsettlingly real, from their little fingers and toes to the wrinkles around the kneecaps and the curves of their cheeks. These babies weigh the same as actual babies, have the same neck-support issues as real babies, wear the same clothes as actual babies.
To create the dolls, Kneisley uses pictures from hospital Web sites (which would explain the two babies with realistic-looking, freshly cut umbilical cords with the clips still attached), magazines and "my grandbabies."
She works in Cernit and Super Sculpey polymer clays; other makers use silicone. For hair she uses mohair. The eyes are made of glass. On average, it takes three days to a week to finish a doll.
For this expo she flew in 12 babies from Eugene, Ore.
Is it weird?
"It isn't rare to have to do a double take when a stroller comes by," says Kathi Edelson Wolder, PR rep for Jones Publishing, which sponsored the event. Jones Publishing publishes the magazines Dolls, Teddy Bear Review, Doll Crafter, Doll Costuming, Fired Arts & amp; Crafts and Popular Ceramics. This was its 11th expo in Washington.
To an outsider, the first word that comes to mind: weird. Women are carrying and caring for fake children, and even though these children are fake, the love is real.
One woman is holding a baby over her shoulder and tapping his back the way a mother would after a feeding. You want to walk up and say: "Hey, lady, you can keep patting, but he ain't never going to burp."
But that would take away from what's happening: the intensity of make-believe.
These little creatures with their tiny noses and their almond eyes somehow give something back to the owners. Spend about 10 minutes watching these proud mothers going around smiling and talking with the wrinkly little babies, and it becomes believable.
That stroller is a necessity (how else would you push a baby around?), and these preemies do need baby blankets because it's chilly in here.
Sue Smith, 42, the woman from England, has been collecting for two years and has nine dolls. She says she has spent "thousands and thousands" of dollars on clothes and baby accessories. She has one doll that is 6 years old and wears a size 9 shoe.
"It is hard when you are out shopping. When I've been out buying shoes, I had to explain that these were for a doll. People look at you funny."
Here's one creator
Kneisley, 62, started making the babies 41/2 years ago after she saw one in a store in New Orleans.
"I saw these babies and I knew that I wanted to do that," she says. "I told my husband that I was going to start making them. I put a high value on new life; I think it's so beautiful."
But this convention isn't just about the world of the infants; there are one-of-a-kind dolls dressed in everything from tweed suits to kimonos. And you haven't seen teddy bears till you have been to this expo.
Unconventional bears can be separated into three categories: Bears Wearing (military uniforms seem to be big), Bears Doing (fill in just about any activity here) and Bears Sitting On or In (bears seem to like cars, motorcycles and shoes).
Hall has been holding Amiryal since she got him and now she wants to put him into the stroller, but there isn't room because Martin and DeShawn aren't budging.
Woodson tries to squeeze him in the front, but Hall leans in with a horrified look.
"Don't squeeze my baby's legs like that," she says.
They agree to rest the baby on top of the other two's heads.
And they stroll out of the expo, Woodson, Hall and five little precious bundles of silicone.