Sunday, January 24, 2016


When I was quite young, perhaps 3 or so, my parents bought me a large Playskool dollhouse for Christmas. Molded out of white and pastel plastics, it came with several rooms, furniture, and a doll family consisting of a mother, father, baby, and teenage girl who I guess was supposed to be the babysitter. Over the years I accumulated more dolls and pieces to add to the dollhouse. It became one of the main foci of my play for the next several years.
My dollhouse looked something like this, though this one has more pieces than mine did.
 Playing with the dollhouse probably helped structure my ideas about gender roles and what families are like, but that's not what I remember most fondly about it. Instead, I remember how much fun I had making the dolls characters in my stories. Even if most of the stories I played out with them were about mundane everyday life, I enjoyed having characters in my control and putting them in various situations.

My story-making wasn't limited to the dollhouse; it's just the oldest and longest-running example I remember. I did the same with baby dolls, Barbies, stuffed animals, McDonald's toys, imaginary friends, and nearly anything I could personify. While media helped me figure out what a story was, these toys helped me to create my own. I really think pretend play with these toys helped me to structure my thinking in a narrative manner, something that persists to this day. I also still greatly value good stories and imagination. But more importantly, by taking on the perspectives of these toys-as-characters, I practiced empathy, perspective-taking, and emotional skills. Because I was the oldest child, it was several years before my sister was old enough to play with me. So pretending with my toys and imaginary friends was how I started to practice getting along with people.

I believe these experiences were crucial for my development, both as a storyteller, and as a person who tries to get along with others and make a difference in their lives. Narrative is still my favorite form of literature both to consume and write, and concrete examples described as narratives are best at helping me to understand complex phenomena. And I still think of my life primarily in terms of the way I relate to other people. So the dollhouse and other toys like it helped me structure my thinking both cognitively and emotionally.

Here I am, c. 1994, with the Playskool dollhouse beside me.

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