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The Dollhouse

“Is that a house?”

We were spending the night at my parents’ home recently, and Little Drummer Boy was looking at the top of a chifferobe in the room where he and Bug sleep. My Mom keeps my childhood dollhouse there, and I think it was the first time Little Drummer Boy had really noticed it. When he found out the house was mine, LDB immediately wanted to play with it. I let him know that the house had too many small pieces inside it to be safe for Baby Girl and that it was better to leave it on the shelf for now. But, I explained that G-Mo had given me the dollhouse when I was little and that I would probably give it to Baby Girl one day when she is old enough to enjoy it.

“But, I won’t be able to play with it then.”

I assuaged his concern with the argument that he could play with the dollhouse WITH Baby Girl–that she would really love that and he would have lots of fun. I’ve witnessed that she does indeed relish the attentions of her oldest brother. However, it was one of those moments when I wasn’t sure if I had actually told him the truth. Little Drummer Boy is quite interested in the dollhouse now. But, that won’t always be true. By the time I decide to pass on this little chapter of Mommy-history, that may not be the case any longer. In three or four years when Baby Girl is old enough to be inspired by a well-furnished and appointed dollhouse, I’m not sure Little Drummer Boy will want to give it the same attention he did on this night. He will likely have moved on to past-times more of interest to an older boy. And their opportunity to play “together” with it may be nothing more than an older brother giving momentary indulgence to his baby sister. If that. I don’t even like to think about it.

I’m an only child, and although I don’t think I fit many of the stereotypes attributed to that family set-up, I find myself paying close attention to the dynamics between my children. The whole brother and sister thing is actually quite baffling to me. And, as I notice each of their ever-changing stages, I’m constantly trying to figure it out. I try to discover how to build their relationships with one another and still nuture their individual gifts and fascinations. And, even though we come as a set, I find myself still figuring out how to build my individual and unique relationship with each of them. As an only child, that relationship with MY mother was easy. I want them to have it too, even though they each share me with the others. I want them to have the assurances that I love and treasure each of them as individuals and that I’m so proud of each of their gifts and accomplishments. I want each to carry with them those moments when they know I was all theirs, that I really saw them and heard them.

This Christmas, as I ponder their sweet conversations, their moments of play together and even their moments of tussling, that dollhouse takes center stage in my mind.

Santa Claus brought me the dollhouse when I was young. But, even in my assurance of the jolly elf’s existence, in my willingness to overlook the fact that my grandparents didn’t have a chimney, in my amazement at the cookie plate filled with only crumbs each Christmas morning, somewhere in my heart I knew. I knew that this dollhouse was from my mother.

The blue and white two-story house came completely unfinished on the inside. Although there were Chippendale chairs, a Victorian sofa, a porcelain sink, tiny candlesticks, metal spatterwear for the table and even a Christmas tree and wreath, the walls and floors and windows were bare. Along with the house, there was a collection of wallpaper, fabric samples and ribbons as part of Christmas–materials waiting to appoint the rooms to my satisfaction. My Mom let me choose the colors and fabrics for each room and helped me hang the wallpaper, fashion the curtains and arrange the furniture. It was the perfect way to give a dollhouse to a girl with my early design sensibilities and my penchant toward nesting. But, the true gift Mom gave me that year was the special time she created for me to spend with her enjoying that dollhouse. In meaning and memory, it stands out among all the wonderfully “perfect” gifts Santa brought over the years. Mom made the process just as powerful as the final product. The lasting power came through the experience she carved out.

I want to give each of my children that experience. I want them each to have their own “dollhouse.” Their own time of undivided attention. Their own process of working together. Their own moments of playing together. Perhaps it takes more concentration, more discipline with my three gifts than it did with an only child. Perhaps it takes more wisdom or more time management. I don’t know. Still, it’s worth the effort and whatever trial-and-error is required in figuring out how to make those moments a reality. This season, I hope I can give them more than just gifts. I hope I can give them my feeble, untrained lessons in brother- and sisterhood. I hope I can give them time that translates into experiences and security and confidence. Amazon.com aside, I hope I can give them my self.


  1. I remember that dollhouse. I actually got to play with it one time! You are so right about individual time with siblings. When Sam was my only child, he was the center of my universe. Now that I have Justin, my universe seems split! It is easier now to spend individual time with Justin because he wants to help me all the time. But when Sam tries to do something special with me, Justin always shows up! I feel like I’m missing out on Sam’s childhood!

    • Rhonda! It’s so funny that you remember playing with the dollhouse. I’m SO glad to hear you say that you struggle with this too since you actually have two other siblings. The split universe is the perfect description. I think it helps to step back and recognize that our relationships with each of the kids is bigger than a couple of situations and even the individual stages they go through. I can get so focused in that it’s hard to see the bigger picture. Thank you so much for reading. Looking forward to seeing you guys in a few days!

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