Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Ten Things I Learned from Building a Dollhouse with My Daughter

In 2019 my wife and I got our daughter a dollhouse for her ninth birthday. Initially I wanted to completely build a dollhouse from scratch with her, but my wife helped talk me down from that ledge. (She typically only has to ask, "When will you find time to do that?" So much wisdom!) So we opted for a Victorian wooden dollhouse kit (available at Hobby Lobby) -- still pretty DIY in the true Renaissance Dad style, but with pieces already cut out. 

When Big A opened the dollhouse, her face lit up. She asked when we could start building it, which we did right away. Started. And it took us one year to build, from start to finish. 

One. Year.

I thought I was prepared for this. My friend Stan built a dollhouse with his daughter, and they worked on it for something like 18 years. He and I often talked about the process, so I had mentally prepared for a building project that would be something akin to building an actual house. I wasn't sure if my nine-year-old would feel the same way.

I was pleasantly surprised. My daughter not only loves building things (check out her inspiring project here), but she also loves just spending time with me (Daddy Daughter Date here). The dollhouse is the perfect combination of these two things.

And here are some things that I have learned in the year that it took us to build the doll house.

1. This project was my daughter's, and it went the speed that she wanted. If I had done the dollhouse on my own, I would have laser-beamed on each task, working on it evening and weekend until it was done. But it wasn't my own, and the goal was not a completed house. The goal was to spend time with my daughter on a common task.

2. I was a consultant. The house was my daughter's. She picked the colors, the wallpaper, the style. I got to make recommendations, but she could completely ignore me whenever she chose. And she did. But that's okay, since I wanted the house to be hers. Again, I was along for the enjoyable ride, so "fancy" ruled the day no matter how much I preferred "practical" or "classy". 

3. This project needed a space. Initially we were working in our guest bedroom. But then guests happened, and the dollhouse moved to the garage. Then summer happened, and it moved inside during some stages. I finally cleared off some table space in the garage, and that is where our "workspace" was. When it was moving around every couple of days, it was a pain. So the dollhouse space was a very necessary component of the project.

4. Some expectations needed to be tempered. Mainly mine. I thought of electric lights and tiny plugs and lamps that lit up. But my daughter's desires and a limited budget meant that we had to make some choices. The desire to put wallpaper up overrode the desire for copper tape electrical. Wanting the fancier wallpaper pack and the additional door to the balcony meant that some furniture would have to wait. Again, my daughter was the driving force for the project, and I helped walk her through the decisions, but ultimately they were hers. 

5. Even though this was a kit, there was a lot of room for additions and changes. My daughter was concerned that there was no way to get to the balcony, so we cut an opening and added a door. It made me think of cutting into the wall of my house to add a door or a bookcase. We added banisters and flowers in the flower boxes and a tiny doorknob on the front door. There is a lot of room for creative additions, and nine-year-olds can think of a lot! 

6. Much like an actual house, I don't think this project will ever be finished. We "finished" it and moved it to my daughter's room, but we still have things to work on in the future. We have a fireplace to add, and have talked about an external chimney. We occasionally look at interior doors. There are more things to add on when we're ready to work again, but for now it is a functioning dollhouse that she can enjoy. 

7. Read the directions ahead of time. Like before you start working with your children. This maybe should have been #1, but it's the hardest for me so I needed to move it down the list. There were several steps where I thought I knew what was happening, but if I had read carefully, or had read ahead, I would have realized what was actually happening. Also, using the recommended glue for assembly made a world of difference. 

8. Find things to laugh about, and have fun. There are almost 1,000 shingles on this house, and gluing them took several days. Some days were better than others. Some days left crooked shingles, or shingles that had visible glue on them. Instead of getting upset that this was not perfect, we laughed and talked about having to fire the roofing crew because they were drinking on the job. This really helped my daughter, who tends to be a perfectionist, realize that the whole thing doesn't have to be perfect. 

9. If you do have to fire the roofing crew for drinking on the job, please be sure to report them to your local Registry of Contractors. It's the right thing to do... 

10. Enjoy the time. Now that we have finished the house, I miss the regular one-on-one time that I got to spend with my daughter on this project. But I'm constantly on the lookout for new projects to do with my kids, new adventures, and new experiences to enjoy together. That's all part of being a Renaissance Dad!