Christmas of third grade, my grandfather made my sister and me an elaborate dollhouse. My grandmother sewed outfits for the dolls and tiny cushions for the homemade chairs and couches. The dollhouse had to stay at my grandparent's house (I think Oma thought us too reckless, my mother too aloof, to be awarded custody), and for the next several years, the dollhouse was the centerpiece of our visits.
Unlike our real house, which was typically in a state of squalor, the dollhouse was kept pristine and orderly. The fake dollhouse family: mom, dad, brother, sister, infant, and maid, never interacted. Each occupied its own room, staged like the furnishings. The maid ironed outfits on the homemade ironing board in the penthouse section; the dad sat at an expansive desk in his study, a tiny cocktail sitting on the miniature ink blotter in front of him; the brother sat on the wooden toilet my Opa had fashioned from balsa and felt (poop and boys went together, somehow); and the sister frolicked in the play room amongst even tinier dolls, with the legless infant in its cradle down the hall. I don't remember where we propped up the mother.
Now, as a grown-up, week two of my real home having a "for sale" sign in front of it has proven to be a trip back in time. We've stashed, burned or given away all the clutter, and what remains is the scaffolding--the bare bones--of our bungalow. Every morning, like the dollhouse maid, I tuck, smooth, fold and neaten all evidence of life. I re-inflate the leaky Aerobed in the guest room, slip the toothbrush jar behind the molding in the open bathroom closet, replace the white bath mat so it adequately covers the cold tile and ugly-colored grout. I turn on the classical station, dial up the heat, rearrange the bowl of fake apples, and strategically turn on lights. I stop short of ironing our pillowcases, but just barely.
The weird thing is--I'm enjoying this ritual. I've timed it so I can leave the house with everything in place within 20 minutes of my little boy catching the school bus. Each day I've been fielding phone calls from eager real estate agents who are bustling to show the dollhouse to smiling families. There are two couples who've been do-si-doing each other in their follow-up visits to my perfectly staged abode.
What I remember most about my time with Opa's dollhouse is the feeling of satisfaction after leaving everything "just so." Though getting my house to this point was daunting and twitch-invoking, now that it's tidy, I feel calm, centered, grateful and relaxed when I go home at night and pour my goblet of Scotch. Just like the fake father in the dollhouse, I enjoy the quiet moments, surveying the lack of disorder around me.