It seems to me that most preadolescent girls go through certain distinct phases of development: The Horse Phase is often followed by The Doll Collecting Phase (although sometimes the two are flipped). Either way, both are followed by The Judy Blume Phase, which launches the young girl on to puberty and beyond. Interspersed between these life passages are tangential phases less well known but no doubt equally important. I myself went through a deep obsession with something I call The Crafty Phase.
My Crafty Phase involved one craft and one craft only: shoebox dioramas. Specifically, dioramas built in conjunction with the imaginary world I created surrounding my dollhouse. The dioramas littered my bedroom for years, collecting dust long after I had moved on from the world of dolls and into the teenage life of low self-esteem and mild depression. One day, around the age of 14, I told my mother it was time to throw the dioramas away.
“Well, they are sort of falling apart,” my mother said, pausing to examine her eldest daughter’s creations. “You were so crafty at that age. I can’t believe how much work you put into these.”
So true, I thought to myself. But what my mother didn’t know was that I had created my shoebox dioramas not only to exercise my creative abilities but for another slightly more scandalous purpose. Bluntly put, my shoebox dioramas were created so that I might have an outlet for what was once my number one obsession: Hot Dollhouse Sex.
I received my dollhouse for Christmas, 1985. I had turned 9 years old two days before, and my biggest present was a wood frame four-room dollhouse with an attic and a porch. It remains the best present I have ever received. Not long after its arrival in my life, my father took great pains to wire each room for electricity (yes, each individual room had its own little light switch) and wallpaper and carpet the entire house. My mother helped pick out the furniture, and I spent every spare dollar and moment collecting items with which to decorate my dollhouse. That spring, my grandmother painted the outside white with blue shutters. It was a perfect little world inside my bedroom, occupied by a little dollhouse father who always wore a suit, a little dollhouse mother whose blue dress matched the shutters of the house, a little dollhouse girl whose favorite friend was a little dollhouse kitty cat made of porcelain, a little dollhouse baby dressed in pink, and a little dollhouse maid with red hair.
For several months, the little dollhouse family acted out such benign storylines as Little Dollhouse Girl Goes to School or Little Dollhouse Girl Almost Drowns. Spread prostrate on my tummy in front of the majestic home, I would act out the voices for each character and manipulate the dollhouse characters in and out of rooms and up and down staircases.
However, sometime around my tenth birthday, I began to tire of what I felt were boring plotlines. Little Dollhouse Girl had drowned, gotten lost on the way to grandma’s, been a’berry pickin’, and celebrated Christmas 23 times. (Yes, the perfect little dollhouse came with a miniature Christmas tree and miniature wrapped presents. Even now, I curl my toes with delight at the thought of them.) But after more than 20 Christmases in fewer than 12 months, I found myself a little tired with Little Dollhouse Girl and suddenly intrigued with another, less developed character: the maid.
Perhaps it was the fact that the maid had the prettiest painted face out of all the dollhouse characters. Perhaps it was the fact that her tiny maid cap could be pulled off and her red hair mussed to create an almost wanton look. I’m not sure what it was, exactly, but I quickly realized one thing for certain. My little dollhouse maid was actually one big slut.
In a matter of hours, she transformed from dutiful family servant with little to do but busy herself at the kitchen sink into the Main Character of my soap opera. She seduced Dollhouse Father away from Dollhouse Mother in the little dollhouse living room, in the little dollhouse attic, in the adorably tiny little dollhouse broom closet, on the little dollhouse porch, even in (gasp!) Little Dollhouse Girl’s own bedroom! It was scandalous, wrong, sick even. But how could Dollhouse Father resist the maid’s working class Irish brogue, her apple red cheeks, her maid’s uniform, for the love of God!! He could not resist, and so he took the maid again and again in every private and not so private place in the dollhouse.
Soon, of course, I ran out of spaces for such sordid affairs to take place. Where else could Dollhouse Father and the maid do it? (Or, as I put it in my delicate, precocious 10-year-old terms, “Share their love and passion”?) What I needed was a world outside the dollhouse – other places where Dollhouse Father and the maid could steal away from prying eyes.
A story in one of my dollhouse magazines gave me the idea – shoebox dioramas! My little dollhouse universe could expand beyond the blue and white house and inhabit an entire village, with each shoebox establishment another scene for my increasingly trashy drama.
I quickly located a bunch of empty shoeboxes in the cluttered basement and set to work. Low on money and supplies, I made do with what I had. Cardboard and masking tape became tables and chairs. Construction paper and glue transformed into mini edibles to be served by an imaginary waitress. A piece of red and white cloth from the scrap basket could be cut up to be used for mini tablecloths. Presto! Soon the maid and Dollhouse Father had a cozy little bistro at which to meet after hours.
But a dining establishment would not be enough. My busy little hands quickly created 10 tiny shoebox-sized dens of unbridled dollhouse lust. The millinery, where Dollhouse Father and the maid could arrange a tryst behind women’s hats made of paper and feathers. The hardware store, where the two of them shared intimacies on the floor near scraps of wood and tools made of nails and Scotch tape. The chapel – oh yes, the chapel – where Dollhouse Father and the maid swore that even God could not stop the burning in their loins.
Oh sure, sometimes the other dollhouse family members made their way onto my sets. But they were merely vehicles to create suspense, to make the meetings between Dollhouse Father and the maid all the more passionate and exciting. Would Little Dollhouse Girl become suspicious when walking in on her father and the maid sharing a soda at the café? Or would she believe them when they told her they were merely negotiating a raise in the maid’s salary? Would Dollhouse Mother feel pleased when Dollhouse Father suggested she go on a trip to the millinery to buy herself a new hat? Or would she (correctly) guess that she was being kicked out so her husband and her maid could make mad love on the kitchen table? Oh the drama! Oh the heartache! Oh the prurience!
Over time, my fondness for the dioramas became well-known in my family (although the reason for that fondness stayed my secret), and each year I received little dollhouse trinkets to make my world even more authentic. The millinery store received a miniature female mannequin, the grocery store gained miniature paper sacks full of miniature food including rolls of bread and tiny tomatoes. With each new addition the soap opera grew more complicated, more dangerous, more thrilling. Sometimes, I even permitted Dollhouse Father and the maid to get caught in a compromising position, and the new props allowed me to give Dollhouse Mother something to hurl at her cheating spouse and ungrateful servant. What fun!
Of course, as with all preadolescent girl phases, my Crafty Phase also passed. By the time high school rolled around, I was embroiled in my own soap operas, although Will I Ever Kiss a Boy? and Do All My Friends Actually Hate Me? paled in comparison to the explosive dramas in Dollhouse World.
It’s been ages since I acted out a scene with the Dollhouse Family, and although the dioramas were thrown into the garbage, the dollhouse – the original den of yearning –still exists. It sits where it always sat, in my childhood bedroom at home. That bedroom is a now a guest room, and when I go home for a visit, sentimentality draws me to the dollhouse, and I lovingly take out some old tissues and dust the tiny beds, the chairs and tables, the red velvet sofas and the handsome bathtub with the clawed feet. My mother arranged the dolls after I moved out, and for more than 10 years they have stayed in the same static position: Father and Mother sit together on the couch, their battered marriage made almost whole again by the passage of time. Little Dollhouse Girl and her baby sister – thankfully too young to be cognizant of the adulterous acts that once transpired in her own nursery – play at their feet, under the Christmas tree which is perpetually standing over wrapped Christmas presents that will never be opened.
And what of the maid? She is just inches away, on the other side of the living room wall, alone in the kitchen with her miniature chocolate cake and her miniature bottle of cheap wine.
Each time I come home, my mother sees me cleaning the dollhouse, and she says what a shame it is that no one pays it any attention any more, and wouldn’t I like to take it back with me to Texas?
I always give her the same response: it simply wouldn’t work out. The dollhouse would be too expensive to ship back. Once in Houston, my cats might destroy it, the dog could attack it. And anyway, where would I put it?
But as I deliver my rote reply as to why I cannot take the house home with me, I look into the maid’s fiery blue eyes and think back to the nights in the alley between the café and the chapel, and I know the real reason for my answer. The real reason why the dollhouse must never again fall into my crafty hands. The temptation – for all of us – would simply be too much.