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My Beloved Homemade Dollhouse: A Tribute to My Mom

November 7, 2011

To my mom … Happy Birthday!

My mom is one of the most creative people I know. She can take an ordinary box, jar lid or toilet paper roll and turn it into something magical. With a little paint, scissors and pipe cleaners, an egg carton was turned into a bouquet of flowers for my kindergarten teacher. An empty paper towel roll became a rain stick, filled with rice and decorated with glitter. She turned the ordinary into extraordinary.

When I was 4-years-old, mom made me the most amazing doll house. It was a three-story mansion made completely out of diaper boxes and a small kleenex box rigged as an indoor elevator. We decorated the boxes; and accessorized the contents with Little People furniture and dolls. There may have even been “wall paper” inside (likely with real wall paper samples and paint chips). It was amazing — like my own Barbie dreamhouse (before Barbie owned property). Friends would come over and stare at the house in awe. It was special; unique.

On a summer day in August 1979, my parents, baby sister, and me packed our belongings into boxes and suitcases and prepared to move from Castro Valley to San Diego, Ca. We loaded the Mayflower moving fan with furniture, clothes, home decor, art, bikes and toys. Sadly, what was not in the moving van was my beloved dollhouse. I was crying hysterically. Not because of the prospect of moving. But because I was devastated to leave behind my dreamhouse.

It could not go on the airplane or the moving van because it was fragile and would likely be destroyed. The day the moving van pulled out of our driveway, Christi, the little girl from down the street, came by to pick up the one remaining item in the house — her new dollhouse (and my treasured toy). I was happy it was going to a friend, but so sad to see it go.

“We’ll make another one in San Diego,” mom assured me. I was sure we would. But it didn’t lessen the sadness I felt as I said good bye to the treasured house made out of cardboard. And of course, mom used her magic and creativity to construct many more amazing things with household toss-aways — like a new kid-sized house made out of — you guessed it — moving boxes.

Unfortunately I do not have a photograph of the beloved doll house. But I do have the memory and these images that I treasure.

Mom and Me Now (August 2011)

Mom and Me Then (circa 1978) (also pictured: Dad and Charlie the Beagle)

Me and Sophie Today (November 6, 2011) — I had to get this one in!

This post is part of my NaNoWriMo project.

45 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2011 3:39 am

    Wow, Sophie looks just like you as a kid. Lovely story and good luck with the NNWM!

    • November 11, 2011 9:14 pm

      Thanks. Yes, Sophie is my little Mini Me, isn’t she?

  2. November 7, 2011 4:34 am

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY (sorry I missed it on FB!)… Sophie really does look so much like you, amazing. And what a lovely lovely post about your Mom and her devotion to you. Much like you and Sophie — I love that!

    • November 11, 2011 9:14 pm

      Thanks for the nice words, Julia. I think I do get my creativity from my mom. I’m grateful for that.

  3. November 7, 2011 4:45 am

    What a great story! My mother was and is the complete opposite – totally uncrafty! And holy cow – your daughter looks JUST like you!

    • November 11, 2011 9:15 pm

      But I’m sure your mom had other great qualities she passed on to you. Funny, I think Sophie looks like me, but I didn’t realize it was so much until all of you said that.

  4. November 7, 2011 5:34 am

    How wonderful to have had a special toy that your mother made for you. My childhood dollhouse was made from a kit, but a lot of my clothes were handmade by my mother and grandmother. I loved that red and blue ruffled dress and I can remember how I cried when I outgrew it. I still have a few tiny sweaters tucked away in a drawer.

    • November 11, 2011 9:16 pm

      Shary, that is so cool you still have sweaters! And how neat your mom and grandmother made your clothes. I think that’s so special. As I’ve gotten older, I realize how special those gifts truly are.

  5. November 7, 2011 6:41 am

    I see where you get your creativity from! And like others have said, it’s amazing how much Sophie looks like you as a kid!

    • November 11, 2011 9:17 pm

      Thanks, Caryn. Yes, my mom really has a knack for creativity. Glad I got a few of those traits.

  6. November 7, 2011 7:05 am

    Your Mom is a beautiful lady. It’s obvious you and Sophie get your talent and good looks from her. This is a wonderful tribute, so full of fun and sweet memories. 🙂

    • November 11, 2011 9:18 pm

      Thanks so much! It’s neat hearing how everyone thinks Sophie and I looked so much alike as a kid.

  7. November 7, 2011 7:08 am

    Now I know where you get all your creativity. What a beautiful story and tribute to your mom!

    • November 11, 2011 9:18 pm

      Thanks, Susan. Although she is far more creative than me, I’m glad I got a few of those genes.

  8. November 7, 2011 8:47 am

    Happy birthday to your mom and to you and to Sophie, who looks a lot like you when you were a little girl!

    • November 11, 2011 9:18 pm

      Thanks, Rada. Me, my mom and my Mini Me thank you 🙂

  9. November 7, 2011 8:58 am

    I love it! What a great demonstration of how kids do not need the fanciest store bought toys in the world to be happy, something made with love and creativity is even more special to them. And your daughter really does look just like you when you were little. How cool! 🙂

    • November 11, 2011 9:19 pm

      Isn’t that true? I swear the toys Sophie likes the best are simple things that used to be mine when I was a kid or just handmade items. I think those things spark more creativity in the young minds.

  10. November 7, 2011 9:22 am

    Ooh, the pain of detachment and I am sure it was hard for your mother to see you suffer so much, I could feel it just reading. What a fortunate child you were to have such a creative mother who clearly loved to make things, talent is one thing, but using it to create a wonderful world for a child is something special that you obviously appreciated.

    The photos are just divine, aren’t those old photos just magic, thanks for sharing.

    • November 11, 2011 9:20 pm

      Thank you, Claire. My mom is – and always will be – a teacher. I can see it even more now when I think back to these memories and the homemade things she made. I was lucky. And yes, I’m so grateful I have those old photographs.

  11. November 7, 2011 11:14 am

    Sophie is your spitting image, Leah! You are both too adorable for words! Last night I was making coasters out of old tile and felt. As I was using the hot glue gun, I was reminded of all the times my mother and I did crafts together just like what I was doing. We are blessed to have such creatively nurturing mothers. Great post.

    • November 11, 2011 9:21 pm

      That’s really neat that you and your mother did those things. Thanks for sharing that Jolina. Do you feel that it’s a part of you that you will also pass along to your daughter? That’s definitely how I feel.

  12. November 7, 2011 3:03 pm

    Happy Birthday(s) to all!!

    I literally gasped when I saw the picture of you as a little girl……. the likeness to your sweet Sophie is uncanny!!

    What a wonderfully, creative Mom you have … and she instilled in you the value of making something special and unique …. and you’re passing it on!

    Cheers, MJ

    • November 11, 2011 9:22 pm

      Thanks, MJ! I do think that is one of my mom’s finest qualities and I hope to instill it upon Sophie (aka Mini Me) as well.

  13. November 7, 2011 4:49 pm

    Your dad’s beard is THE BEST. Anyway, Happy Birthday to two wonderful ladies! 🙂

    • November 11, 2011 9:22 pm

      Ah thanks, Polo. And yeah, my dad’s beard is awesome. Don’t you think he should grow it back?

  14. November 7, 2011 5:51 pm

    Great photos, Leah. I love the one of you with your parents and childhood dog.
    My father used to make me box playhouses too, so this brought back memories! My husband was in the military and we moved frequently, so I did that with my two kids too. Many memories of drawing window boxes full of petunias outside shuttered windows.
    The doll house story was wonderful. Your mother sounds like a wonderful, creative mom…guess that’s where you get it, huh?

    • November 11, 2011 9:23 pm

      Thanks, Cynthia. And thanks for sharing your childhood memories. It’s neat how we all seem to remember those homemade treasures. That’s what means so much.

  15. November 7, 2011 5:53 pm

    What a beautiful story!! Happy birthday! And Charlie the beagle is adorable 🙂

    • November 11, 2011 9:23 pm

      Thanks, Kas. Isn’t Charlie cute? I think that’s why I have a thing for beagles!

  16. November 7, 2011 6:08 pm

    Like the others I am still stuck on how much Sophie looks like you – WOW. Happy Bday, Miss Leah’s Mom!

  17. November 7, 2011 6:46 pm

    Happy Birthday and what a beautiful story! I can picture you and your mother weaving magic together. I wish you had a picture of the house, but you truly painted one with your words! Thanks for sharing the story AND the pictures!

    • November 11, 2011 9:24 pm

      Thanks, Ann. And yes, I SO wish I had photos of the house. I went through all my childhood photo albums looking for one with no luck. At least it’s still a vision in my head.

  18. November 7, 2011 8:50 pm

    A very moving piece, Leah. You probably left your mother verklempt after reading this. Hope she had a wonderful birthday. Jolina is right. The resemblance between your childhood photo and Sophie is uncanny.

    Oh, and by the way, I recognize that top photo. Don’t I get a photo credit? 😉

    • November 11, 2011 9:24 pm

      Thanks, Monica. Yes, you should get a photo credit. I’ll add that back in 😉

  19. November 7, 2011 11:50 pm

    I love the picture of your parents! Sophie is the image of you as a little one. Great post and great tribute to your mum.

    • November 11, 2011 9:25 pm

      Thanks, Elizabeth. It’s nice to remember all the good times in life.

  20. November 9, 2011 8:21 am

    Happy Birthday! I know your Mom felt so honored! You definitely inherited her creativity and skills!

    • November 11, 2011 9:26 pm

      Thanks so much. I’m glad I got that part of her passed along to me. Hopefully Sophie will get it too.

  21. November 9, 2011 10:12 am

    The dollhouse sounds incredible. Making things like that is so special and even though you don’t have pictures you obviously have a very vivid memory of it. By the way, your beagle from the 70’s was totally high, or perhaps the sun was in his eyes 🙂

    • November 11, 2011 9:27 pm

      Ha ha, Sara! He probably was high. In fact, I think he had glaucoma toward the end. So perhaps he just had a little something to make him comfortable for the photo 🙂

  22. November 14, 2011 2:31 pm

    What a wonderful memory. My mom’s talents were in another direction, but still the idea of creating something tangible together seems to be fading in this era of organized sports and video-based playtime.

  23. August 23, 2014 8:17 am

    I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your sites really nice, keep it up!

    I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back down the road.

    Many thanks


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