The Perfect Gift
I was not the little girl my mother expected.
In her fantasies of raising a daughter, she anticipated a little girl who loved dressing up and playing with dolls. Instead, she got me. Personally, I think God was messing with her.
In any case, my mom still sought to give me all the things she wished she had when she was young. She sewed dozens of dresses for me – many with matching bloomers. She bought me dolls. And, one year, she bought me a playhouse.
It’s important to remember that I was not a normal-sized child. When I was two, my pediatrician Dr. Rhumba told my mom I would be at least six feet tall. I was taller than Dr. Rhumba by the time I was eight. I would show up at the doctor’s office and the receptionist would be looking for my child. (On the plus side, I have looked like I am around thirty for nearly three decades now, which gives me that “ageless” quality – sort of like Dick Clark.)
My mom, knowing that I would outgrow a typical child-sized playhouse well before I reached puberty, commissioned a custom structure. It was eight feet long and eight feet wide, with two Plexiglas windows that opened to allow a cross-breeze and a door large enough to accommodate a full-grown human. She and my grandmother painted it white with pink trim and laid down patterned green linoleum inside it. Mom furnished it with a kitchen play set – stove and refrigerator – as well as a small piano. I think she even put a small upholstered rocking chair in there. Then, one morning, she had it placed next to the mulberry tree in our backyard. She told me to keep my eyes closed as she guided me outside to see my fantastic new playhouse, certain that I would be overjoyed to see it.
My reaction was a disappointment for her. I was never inclined toward the domestic arts, so the idea of a “house” of my own held little appeal. Mom tells me I thanked her and then asked if I could go back inside and read. I think I broke her heart that day, as only small children can do.
Of course, the boys who lived behind me thought the playhouse was great. We used to play “house” – they would stay home and cook and clean, while I went off to “work.” (“Work” was me sitting in the mulberry tree reading.) However, even the enthusiasm of other children didn’t make me love my playhouse. Thinking back, I might have been more interested in it if it had been set up as a library – the one place I really loved to be.
Eventually, the playhouse was given to a friend of my mom’s who used it as a shed. I’m sure he got much more use out of it than I ever did.
My mom finally got the reaction she was looking for when I was around twenty. I opened up a Christmas box and found a maroon wool “swing” coat with rolled cuffs and collar that hung to mid-thigh on me. I loved it so much I cried. She is still incredulous that a gift she picked up almost as an afterthought got more of a reaction than the one she spent hours planning and working on all those years before.
I’m sorry, Mom. I was a kid. I didn’t know any better. Thank you for the playhouse.