Last week, my friend Peter shared his sister’s blog post about Christmases when they were growing up. In the post, his sister mentioned that his parents had made a lot of their Christmas gifts, and it reminded me of my favorite Christmas gift ever, which, to this day, has never been topped.
I’m not sure exactly how old I was, but I was young enough to be playing with Barbie dolls. That Christmas, I had asked Santa for some new dolls, “Tammy and her family”—which included Tammy, her mom and dad, and a brother and sister.
Anyway, my parents (AKA “Santa”) decided to make a dollhouse for me to go along with my new Tammy dolls. They went out and got cardboard boxes, cut off the lids, turned them on their sides and attached them to each other so that they formed a house with four rooms—two up and two down. Mom got wallpaper samples and covered the “walls” of the rooms, and she made sofas and beds out of shoeboxes, even sewing bedspreads and pillows for them. They used my Barbie dolls to measure stuff for the house, which is where the problem came in.
My parents discovered—on Christmas Eve, no less—that the Tammy dolls were a bit bigger than my Barbie dolls, enough that they didn’t fit in the dollhouse Mom and Dad had made. It wasn’t just a tight fit; they couldn’t even stand up.
Now, I’m pretty sure I would have been happy to get the house they’d made…I mean it did fit Barbie and Ken. However, Mom and Dad were determined to have a house for Tammy and her family, so…what else? They went and got more boxes and more wallpaper and made another dollhouse.
Which, of course, meant I ended up with two dollhouses. Tammy and her family lived in one, Barbie and her pals in the other.
I’m sure at least part of the motivation for Mom and Dad making the dollhouse themselves was financial. We never wanted for anything when I was growing up, but we weren’t rich by a long shot, and there were four of us kids to buy presents for. I seem to remember that there was also a house for Tammy and her family in the Sears Wish Book, and I might have even asked for the house. If so, Mom and Dad, sorting for priorities, probably figured they couldn’t make the dolls, but they could make a dollhouse.
At the end of the day, however, the gift of the dollhouses went far beyond my parents’ original aim to give me a dollhouse for my new dolls. First, it was a gift of time. My parents were busy people. In addition to his full-time job, my dad was also building, pretty much single-handedly, an addition to our house that would eventually double its size (including three bedrooms, a bath and a half, and a full basement). My mom had four kids—enough said.
The gift of the dollhouses was also a gift of imagination. What my parents had done with cardboard and boxes and wallpaper and fabric scraps sparked my own creativity and led me to make my own things for the dollhouses. To this day, I love decorating my home and doing DIY projects, and I like to think that my enjoyment of these things started with having a house of my own to play with while I was still in single digits.
I spent a lot of hours sitting in front of those dollhouses, making up stories and acting out adventures for my dolls. Is that why I ended up in the theatre? Who knows, but I figure that being allowed, even encouraged, to play creatively at an early age probably didn’t hurt.
When I told Mom tonight that I was writing this post, and that the dollhouses were my favorite Christmas present ever, she seemed surprised and pleased. Then I asked her something I’d never asked—how exactly they’d done it, where they’d actually built the house so that I didn’t find out about it. After all, we lived in a little three-bedroom ranch house, with no garage or anything. She said, “Well, we didn’t put the whole thing together til the end, but we worked on it every night after you all were asleep. Dad would get it down from the attic, and we’d work on it, and then he’d put it back up in the attic.” Now we’re talking pull-down attic steps here, so it was not an easy thing for my dad to go traipsing up to the attic twice every night (and quietly, no less). When I looked at Mom, shocked that they would go to such trouble, she said, “Well, we did what we had to do.”
Of course, the point is that they didn’t have to do it, but they did. Such love, to go to so much trouble for something that others might consider frivolous. I didn’t get it back then (remember, it was from “Santa”), but I got it later, when I knew. So thanks, Mom and Dad. Thanks for loving me with cardboard and wallpaper and fabric and boxes and a whole lot of time and energy. In giving me those dollhouses, you gave me the gift of yourselves, and in my book, it’s kinda hard to top that.