My dad built this dollhouse for my sister and I back in 1983. It's a pretty impressive little place. In addition to six fabulous rooms, the home features an elevator, a stained glass window, and a rooftop terrace, and it's lit by Christmas lights which also serve as the "fire" in the brick fireplace at the center of the living room. We played with the house a ton growing up until some point when I guess we played with it for the last time and, after gathering some dust, it was quietly stored away.
My mom took it with her when my parents split, my sister and I already adults by that point but with no children of our own quite yet. She carried it with her through several moves, tucking it in basements and sheds, until it finally made its way to my home. I hid it away in the crawlspace under the stairs, draped in an old duvet cover, waiting for the time when I could give it some TLC.
I pulled it out of hiding this fall to survey the damage, on a day when my kids weren't around. The carpet was mouldy. Some of the wallpaper was peeling. There were chips in the wood. One of the support beams holding the elevator was long lost. But the bones were good. It was solid. And so the renovations began. On kid-free weekends, I lugged it out of the crawlspace, pulled out the carpet, washed it down. My father-in-law fixed the elevator. And in the final weeks before Christmas, I put on the final touches. I sewed tiny pillows and blankets and searched high and low for mini-Christmas lights to replace the 30-year-old ones that were a guaranteed electrocution hazard (those mini-lights were everywhere in early December, I swear, but a few days before Christmas, they were SO hard to find. Thanks for coming through, Napanee Walmart!).
I gave it to my daughters on Christmas Eve, lights a-flashing, and their eyes lit up in turn. Numerous domestic dramas have already taken place within its walls, and there has been a lot of tucking in of all of the dolls into all of the beds, usually after they've been sent sliding down the roof one by one to the sound of wild giggling. I remember my sister and I doing the exact same thing.
I love that the dollhouse is now a hodgepodge of old and new: The brick of the fireplace is the same brick from the fireplace in my childhood home, the flowery blue wallpaper in the bedroom the same as that in our old dining room. The grey paint I used to touch up various walls is the same grey I painted the bedroom in my current home. Some of the furniture is the same my sister and I played with 30 years ago; other pieces are brand new, lovingly crafted by my friend Dan (who needs a website promoting the new dollhouse-furniture-making venture I am insisting he embark upon). The new "hard wood" laminate I put down in the living room is a remnant from my in-laws' place. The elevator is made using picture frames, leftovers from my dad's framing business, I'm sure.
When I set out on this renovation project, I didn't anticipate that the process would also lead me to reconcile some things from my past. As I pulled up old carpet, I pulled up old feelings, some happy and others not as much. I chose to welcome them all the same, and sit with them awhile. And then I put them to bed.
And as I worked to clean up and refresh each room, I also found myself thinking about how I could improve the rooms of my own home in this coming year, not so much my physical home as the relationships and values that are my home base. The living room reminded me to spend more quality time with my family. The kitchen: To better nourish my body, and take time for more kitchen dance parties. While wallpapering the bedroom with the contact paper that covers the surface of my dresser, I thought about how I wanted to make my own bedroom a sanctuary and get more rest, and perhaps do more of that other thing that happens in bedrooms (reading, Mom, I'm talking about reading). Setting the tiny Adirondack chairs on the terrace made me daydream about sitting in the sun, and I resolved to spend more time outside. I lifted the garage door so the tiny people could take a road trip, and thought about how I want to go on more adventures, and leave my comfort zone once in awhile.
This little home. It's so much more than a play thing. I look at it and I see both my past and my present. I see my sister and remember the fierce sisterly love that echoed in those little rooms, that same love that I hear on the phone line these days as we discuss relationships and careers and laugh over our stupid inside jokes. That same love I see between my own girls as they send one doll up the elevator, another down the roof, with peels of laughter.
And I wonder if one day one of my girls will fix up the dollhouse for her own children, make her own changes, remember that same grey in her mom's old bedroom, marvel at the blue fleece blankets she once wrapped around little wooden limbs. I hope she will. I'll store it away someday when they've left the dolls tucked in one last time, and I'll take it with me, and it will be waiting.