Monday, January 03, 2011

Tiny Things

Oldest and Middle pooled their Christmas giftcards this week and purchased a ginormous box full of Barbie home furnishings and accessories.  This kit was complete with staging for bathroom, living room, kitchen, and (of course?) a dressing table/toiletry-type room. While things-Barbie do not usually catch my fancy, I was drawn in by the plastic kitchen tea kettle, no bigger than my thumb, and the round dinner plates, the size of my thumb's pad. In addition, I was mesmerized by the pink toilet, with a real flip-lid, and the pink plastic-crystal chandelier that hung from a stand. It puts me to recollecting my own Barbie kitchen accessories. The year was 1988. The items: pink plastic coffee maker and off-white "electric" kettle. I dissolved instant coffee granules in warm water inside that plastic coffee maker, and I let tiny shards of uncooked spaghetti soften in the kettle with the hottest water I could get from the tap.
I have always loved tiny things, including the dollhouses outside the pediatric clinics at the University of Iowa Hospitals.  Some of them have been on display since 1988, too. That year and many after, I stared, mesmerized, through their plexiglass cages at minute woven rugs and ceramic kittens lapping up ceramic puddles of milk.  Memory tells me there were gold forks on the table, different floral papers wrapping the walls of each room, a newspaper rolled and perched on the front step, and a rickety old bicycle leaning against the side of the house.  I imbued all tiny things with special powers; I lent them an air of innocence.  That miniature newspaper possessed the gift of being insubstantial, unlike the real Community News Advertiser that came to my parents' front door every Wednesday, a paper full of rank black ink and advertisements indicating that real people somewhere nearby wanted--jobs, food, babysitters, lawnmowers. And my tiny coffee pot and electric kettle were so light and insignificant that there was never even a remote possibility that they would bear what my mother's Pfalzgraff gravy boat, say, had to endure, all that passing on ritualized days of the year, passing between hands belonging to people who argued, cried, hated, mourned, laughed, teased, married, divorced, and got back together. The gravy boat could get stained, chipped, dropped, thrown. My electric Barbie kettle would not, not if I had anything to do with it, because tiny things have never had to bear the burden of being connected to gritty human drama. They signify an ideal; tiny plates belong to dolls whose happy histories can be dreamt up, whimsied up, by tiny humans, now by my Tinies. These girls, my girls, look at a fragile plastic plate, as thin as a sliver of almond, and think something as simple as food with a joyful and satisfied squeal of delight. They look at a pink chandelier, and exhale pleasure at its ode to prettiness. And they stage a "room" full of furniture with perfect feng shui mastery; there is no clutter to concern themselves with, no muddy shoe piles by the back door, no markers on the floor, no strands of yarn or scissors lying askew, no parents tensely posturing at one another.

I'm drawn to order as much as they are. Some days I want to hunker down on the floor and set up the coffee pot, the long-handled spoon, the vase with flowers. Usually my real, life-sized washing machine and dishwasher and kitchen table interrupt such fantasies. But that's okay; I had my turns with tiny things when I was tiny. Tinydom offers peace, a roomful of order for tiny people, a way to practice for real life, a field guide for Where Things Go and How Things are Used and By, For, and With Whom so that if, in real life, they ever get mixed up, they'll know it and put things to rights as best they can.

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