When it’s not an off-the-shelf model, expect the unexpected.
It was my wife’s idea, really. “Why don’t you build Julia a dollhouse,” she said one chilly November evening as we were settling in with hot chocolates before the warmth of the woodstove.
“Sounds like a good idea,” I responded rather absentmindedly as I dove into that day’s crossword puzzle never suspecting that she actually wanted me to do it. But she did … and in time for Christmas, no less.
Now, I’m not bad with hammer and saw. I’ve done a lot of work on our house and can build a stud wall with the best of ’em. I’ve even constructed a two-level wooden deck, in the dead of winter, no less. But when it comes to small, fine detail, well, to say I’m all thumbs is giving me credit I don’t deserve. Not that it’s my fault, mind you. It’s just that when, at the age of two, your sister (accidentally she claims) cuts off the end of your index finger with a meat grinder, you just naturally shy away from things that require fingertip control.
One of my wife’s most endearing qualities is that she doesn’t nag. So, it was easy for me to not have the time to meet the intended deadline. “Gee, I’d really like to start it, but I’ve got to fix that leaky faucet first,” worked like a charm.
Unfortunately, children tend to have birthdays every year and a few weeks after Christmas the dollhouse project was again raised. The faucet routine would never pass muster twice. I knew I was licked.
“OK,” I thought to myself, “This shouldn’t be too hard. Three walls, a floor, a roof and a quick coat of paint. No sweat.”
“How big should it be, honey?”
When she held her arms far enough apart to hug a Sumo wrestler, I knew I was in trouble. “One room or two?” I asked hopefully.
“Six seems about right,” she replied smoothly.
“Am I building a dollhouse or a vacation home?!”
Of no use to argue, though; what was to be was to be. But I was prepared. It was time to activate Plan 1.
Off I trekked to the House of Dolls, Etc. to find the best dollhouse kit in the world. And did they have them. Big houses, little houses. Colonials and capes. Front porches and back stoops. Houses with windows and doors that opened. Spiral staircases with turned balusters and newel posts. And not one house with an actual doll in it. No, these beauties were for the pleasure of the designer, not for a kid’s imagination. (They were also for padding the store owner’s pockets, with prices starting at $250 for the smallest, plainest model … even by my standards.)
I didn’t take long to decide to move on to Plan 2: buy a few accessories and slap them on a plywood box. So, I slipped to the back of the store for the required materials. If my heart skipped a beat looking at complete kits, the cost of accessories was enough to summon an EMT. Siding for $10 a bundle. Roof shingles at twice that. Linoleum for the floors that cost as much as a kitchen sink. A real, full-size kitchen sink! Wallpaper, fireplaces, chimneys, bathroom fixtures, and railings of every size, shape and description. This was a Disneyland of dollhouse decorations with price tags only a high-roller on a hot streak could afford. I quickly invoked Plan 3.
Armed with pilfered pamphlets, borrowed ideas, and a pocket calculator, I quickly figured that I could build a real fine dollhouse from scratch for under fifty bucks. Birch plywood for the floors, sides and walls. Masonite for the roof. Cut a nice, neat hole and, voila, a window. Another hole in the roof: a skylight. Add a couple of blocks of wood for the kitchen counters; jigsaw some staircase risers; spray paint the outside walls sky blue; nail and glue it all together and there it was: a dollhouse that any little girl would love (and any dad could be proud of).
Funny how insecure we are when it comes to trusting our kids to behave in an appropriate manner. I hoped that Julia would play with the dollhouse for many long hours. But would she like it any more than the jump rope or the new dress that were also in the birthday bag was the big question? Twenty plus hours of construction post-bedtime was on the line.
At her birthday party, presents were attacked with the zeal only a four-year old could muster. Paper flying this way and that. Boxes ripped open enthusiastically. Each gift was inspected quickly and put aside with perfunctory thank you as the next box was eyed with gleeful anticipation. After all the gifts were exhausted, my wife sneaked the dollhouse into the room, shrouded in an old sheet. Bewilderment struck Julia’s face. What can this giant thing be? And can it really be all for me?
Approaching it more slowly and carefully than I’ve ever seen her move before, Julia jumped as my wife pulled away the sheet with the flourish of a master magician to reveal a 32″-wide, 18″-deep, 22″-high, modified saltbox with living room, eat-in kitchen, two bedrooms, one bathroom and an attic – all designed and built by Daddy. That’s when the unexpected happened.
Julia turned to me and said – without prompting and with uncharacteristic conviction – “Thank you, Daddy. I love it!” followed by a tooth-knocking kiss and a hug that nearly choked the wind out of me. And for that beautiful moment, I was never happier to be a parent, and never loved my wife more for prodding me into doing the things that are so very special to little girls … things I never would have thought of myself.
The dollhouse was the hit of the party, and I silently congratulated myself on my newfound ability to work in miniature. In fact, everything went just as planned until the next day when the first thing out of Julia’s mouth was, “Daddy, will you play house with me and my dolls?”
Well, I guess if I can build it, I can play with it. “OK. Who moves first?”
© Rick Blum 2017
Rick Blum has been writing humorous essays and poetry for more than 25 years during stints as a nightclub owner, high-tech manager, market research mogul and, most recently, old geezer. His writings have appeared in Humor Times, Boston Literary Magazine, and The Satirist, among others. He is a two-time winner of the annual Carlisle Poetry contest, and received honorable mention in the Boston Globe Magazine Deflategate poetry challenge.