little people’s little lives

by bam

like a mama mouse, or a lilliputian of extreme proportion, i have always been drawn to little rooms. i mean really little rooms.
rooms with teacups the size of thimbles for your pinkie finger. and candlesticks made of a matchstick, snipped in half. and teeny tiny banana bunches, bananas so undersized you might mistake them for a grain of fat risotto. or, the thing that truly sends me to the moon, a newspaper, or a book, with turning pages, each page printed with words so deeply shrunken you’ll go running for the eye chart, and the doctor to go with it.
when i see a little door, or a window peering in on someone little’s little life, i cannot not fall to my knees, start putzing, re-arranging chairs.
i do believe i spent the better part of a good chunk of my youth, certainly from kindergarten to 11, with my nose and my little fingers, stuck in someone’s little house. when i was five, i built a whole village, complete with steepled church, for a ladybug i’d rescued. she, of course, was catholic, and she sat through mass each sunday.
indeed, for a few key summers there, i lived and breathed for the building of my dolls’ house.
all this came swirling back to me just the other day because my best friend’s little girl was here. she came from california, and she, like me, lives and breathes for long unspooling little stories of little people in little places.
but she, being a southern california girl, a child of l.a., she spins her stories with peculiar twists that could only be those of a wise and wiser-than-her-years daughter of the sit-com city.
why, her uncle bob was the one who dreamed up the wonder years and later something called malcolm in the middle, of which i might be among the few in america who are clueless as to what that is, so i should not be surprised that in her dollies’ lives the middle son is rather troubled. “disturbed,” i believe, was the word the 9-year-old used. “he works it out in therapy,” she said, straight-faced.
oh my goodness, can’t you tell, that what goes on in little houses is not much different than full-sized lives.
the dollhouse, i would surmise, is a fine stage for playing out all sorts of plots, twisted and otherwise. and thus, perhaps, the reason i’d propose that every house have a dollhouse. within reach. tucked just off in a corner. at all times. for years and years.
you never know when you might have a little narrative to work out. or a spat that needs some play therapy.
perhaps it’s why, to this day, i am so fascinated by the human drama. i practiced it and practiced it, as a little girl, moving my dollies around their little rooms. i do remember naughty little dollhouse children jumping on their dollhouse beds. and i do remember dollhouse mommies scolding them for doing so.
despite the fact that both my boys are boys, i bought us a dollhouse early on. when the older one was two. i found, in one of my all-natural, all-wood-plaything catalogs, a fine colonial. two floors. ample-sized rooms. lots of windows.
i ordered with it a room or two of furniture. the essentials: a kitchen, a bedroom. and a little nuclear family–what appeared to be two grownups, two kiddies, both genders, though they were amorphous enough that you could have used your imagination and needn’t be offended by some pre-determined definition of what constitutes a family, not in the third millennium where all is open, wide and free. even in dollhouse politics, thank you much.
i don’t believe, sad to say, that anyone around here, besides me, has put in the dollhouse hours i’d hoped for, puttering about that little place, spinning stories by the chapter, with a nightly marker to hold the place ’til tomorrow.
i do know that the latter child, the one more inclined to do so, did a fine job redecorating with a magic marker that is not of the washable ilk. the roof now sports some fine graffiti.
it reminds me of our old neighborhood.
oh well.
i keep the little house on hand for the occasional little friend who might just take to playing the way i used to.
i kid you not there were two whole summers where every single morning i leapt from bed, and every single night i dreaded turning out the light. i was obsessed (an early sign of trouble, i suppose) with cutting out bits of fabric, gluing cardboard, raking my house and, my dollhouse accomplice, martha hackney’s for little bitty treasures to make our cardboard boxes as habitable as they could be.
that proved to be an especially fruitful exercise at martha’s where the closets were crammed with geoffrey beenes and oscar de la rentas that we’d scoop off the floor. alas, martha’s mother or martha’s mother’s cleaning lady always managed to snatch them away just before we put our scissors to them, not knowing they weren’t there to upholster our little couches.
it was there, in a pre-shrunk world of my own making, that i, like any domestically-driven child, came to understand the sanctuary offered by four walls.
it is, i think, where i sprouted roots that only deepened in my affection for the house, and what it stood for. what it offered in ways that anchored me, let me loose to unreel my kites.
sprawled there, scissors to the left, glue bottle to the right, it dawned on me that as i padded my cardboard rooms with certain colors, certain textures, i was unlocking much more than just decor. i was building spaces that made me feel safe. that charmed me. that set my dreams soaring out the windows, into the beyond.
as i’ve grown, i’ve done the same in all the places i have lived, places no longer made of cardboard, and martha hackney’s mother’s hems.
i suppose i’ve often felt a little sheepish, depending as i do on what surrounds me in a room. but it is not about how it looks. it is, rather, how it makes me feel. i am, not unlike the little girl who spent hours making teeny tiny books and sewing pillows the size of chiclets chewing gum, still kindled by the stage sets all around me.
when i walk in a room and inhale a particular cobalt blue, or see the old tin cookie cutter tucked along a favorite heirloom cookbook, it sets my dreamer wheels to turning.
i think, in many ways, i am still a little girl playing with my dollhouse. only now, you can eat the bananas. but you still can’t jump on the beds.


i am curious, did any of you spend hours at your dollhouse? what drew you more intently, the building of the rooms or the unspooling of the stories? or were they wholly intertwined? do you know little children who spend hours on their knees, at the foot of the dollhouse theater? and do you still find that the way you arrange your big-size rooms sets you to feeling safe to dream, and launch your big-size hopes?