I am almost done with Hannah’s dollhouse (really, this time). The main roof needs to be shingled, and the stairs installed, but otherwise it is done. Hopefully I’ll be finishing today. Maybe not, the lights need to come down and the lawn needs to be fertilized and I wrote this post instead of getting started, but I think this post was kind of important.
My generation did not have much in the way of parental- or grandparental-created toys. When I think back to the toys with which my friends and I played, a goodly number of them were assembled, certainly, but most of those were “snap these pieces of plastic together, stick on this sheet of decals, and put the batteries in it” and most of that work was done by us, not the adults.
Some people had furniture built by grandpa. My brother and I had bunkbeds that were actually created by our grandfather for our uncles Tom and Pat, but in the previous generation Tom was the elder of the two so the bed with his name on it was designed to be the top bunk, so when we had the bunkbeds assembled I slept in Tom’s bed and Tom slept in Pat’s. But I digress.
Nobody had grandma’s dollhouse. Nobody had grandpa’s wagon. Toys that had been built by great-grandparents for grandparents might be in an attic, but they were typically regarded as being too delicate to be handed over to children. Toys that had been built by grandparents for parents were around, but most of them were up in attics as well, or they were at the very least verboten from child access without parental supervision. Most of them probably had not survived being replaced by toys that were bought instead of built.
This has been kicking around in my head since I read J.L.’s piece on the front page.
It wasn’t my decision to buy this dollhouse kit. I have to admit, from the time I unboxed it until about three weeks ago I’ve been more than a little grumpy about it. The instructions aren’t clear about how much work is involved. There’s a lot of sections where two sentences actually cover several days worth of sanding, trimming, shellacking, painting, re-trimming, re-painting, gluing, oh my goodness how can you possibly clamp this piece to that piece, assemble a giant scaffold so that you have something to clamp to, clean up spilled glue, repaint over glue… run to the hardware store to buy a bar clamp so that the next part won’t be so difficult… etc., etc., etc.
Not to mention that assembling this thing takes a ton of space, which is really the kicker. The garage isn’t well-ordered yet, and moving from stage to stage has necessitated actually moving piles of stuff around. At one point, I had about 100 square feet of surface covered with parts in varying states of preparedness, tools, paint, shellack, empty coffee cups (and beer mugs), and moving a bike in and out of the garage required six minutes of careful duck-walking around fragile bits.
(No, we’re not an episode of “Hoarders”, although it sounds a bit like that from the last paragraph. We have a lot of stuff staged to go in a yard sale, we just haven’t had the time to get that on the calendar.)
Anyway, for someone who has a limited amount of spare time, even if I were fully invested in this thing from the get-go, it would have been a frustrating experience, is what I’m trying to say. I can be a stupidly shortsighted sort of fella when it comes to my spare time.
So, of course, as I’ve gotten closer and closer to endgame, I’m able to focus a lot more on the payoff. It’s going to last a long time. Hannah’s getting this when she’s old enough to treat it properly, and it is the sort of object that I won’t mind wrapping carefully and storing in the garage when she goes off to college, and holding onto when she’s moving around apartments after college, and holding onto when she gets married, and holding onto through the first pregnancy, and holding onto through the second pregnancy, and waiting for there to be a space where it can sit and assume, once again, its proper role as an imagination sandbox for somebody new.
Maybe it won’t be Hannah’s daughter… maybe it’ll be Hannah’s son. Maybe it won’t be Hannah’s child’s toy at all, maybe Hannah won’t have children. Maybe she’ll have a touching internal conflict and give it to Jack’s daughter. Or maybe it will pass outside our direct family and go to my sister’s son’s daughter. Maybe something will happen to it and none of these things will come to pass.
It is, after all, just a thing.
But it’s a thing that I built. It could wind up lasting longer than anything else I’ve done. It might mean something more important to someone in some future generation than anything else I wind up doing with my life (let’s hope that if that’s the case, it’s because it’s realllllly important to someone, of course).
We should do this sort of thing more often, I’ve concluded. Create things, build things for people. Not little things, but big things that last. Big things that take something out of you to make. Less of the buying things and more of the investment of real time in creation, at a cost to us. It means something. I’m not sure what, but it’s something important. Kitty was very wise to come up with this idea. Have I mentioned lately that my wife is a lot more wise than I am?
I think I’m going to build Jack a desk.