As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in student housing while my mom was in college getting her undergraduate and then graduate degrees. There were a ton of kids in the housing complex, and we roved around like a kid gang, armed with travel record players (and accompanying Madonna, Duran Duran and Prince 45s) and vinyl cases full of Barbies.
I grew up what some people might consider poor. We lived on public assistance -- my mom, because she was a single mom, got tuition and housing assistance, and help with food (I still gag a little when I think about government cheese). A work-study program further helped with her tuition, so when she wasn’t in class she was working on campus while I was in daycare or with a sitter. What this all meant is that sometimes my clothes came from Salvation Army, and fancy toys were few and far between. Don’t get me wrong -- we were lucky. And I had plenty. (Fact: kids do not “need” nearly as much stuff as we buy for them. Ask me about all the toys in my son’s room that he doesn’t play with.)
The one thing I really coveted was the Barbie Dream House. My friend had it, AND the Barbie Townhouse, which was groovy 1970s orange and yellow and had an elevator (!). I used to haul my Barbies over to her house, even though I really just wanted to play with HER Barbies -- she had one that smelled like roses. I’m pretty sure she also had one of those old Skipper dolls that grew boobs, but maybe that was a different friend, or maybe my cousin. (This was almost 30 years ago, please excuse my failing memory.)
Anyway, I wanted that stupid Dream House so bad. And I never got it. Can I also tell you guys what my boyfriend calls “The Saddest Story in the World”? When I was about four or five years old, I was at daycare and everyone had just come back from Christmas break. The teacher sat all of us tots in a circle and we went around and said what we got from Santa. Now, this was before my mom went back to college, and she was a single mom, working as a secretary at a bank. Anyway, it came to my turn and I said what I got from Santa and the teacher said, “Oh, you must not have been a very good girl this year, Santa didn’t bring you very much!” And wee Somer promptly burst into tears, and my mom, total type-A, take-no-shit person she is, got the teacher fired. And then my mom had to explain to me that there is no Santa Claus and that I was a very good kid and the only reason I didn’t get much is that she didn’t have much money. The end.
So back in 2003ish, when I told some co-workers The Saddest Story in the World, and also happened to mention that I never got that damn Barbie Dream House, one of them bought me the Dream House for our holiday gift exchange. Which is pretty much the nicest gift anyone has ever given me. Childhood wish fulfilled! I spent a full afternoon setting it up and applying the little stickers (fake flowers, door knob) to the outside, and it sat in my living room for a few days before I put it back in the box and stored it in my closet. (I have since given it away to a kid.)
But some kids do not have these sad little stories about Barbie Dream Houses, because they have everything. They want for nothing, seriously. I’m not going to go on about how some kids are spoiled, blah blah blah. Because believe me, I understand the urge to give your kid everything he wants. The wish to give my kid everything I never had is strong. I just don’t have the budget for that, so Oliver buys his own toys, and we get him a few things for Christmas and his birthday.
My inner no-Barbie-house-having child is so jealous of kids who have sweet playhouses and treehouses. I once housesat for a couple who had built this amazing treehouse for their kids, with a walkway that led directly to the treehouse from the upper deck of the house. It was magical. MAGICAL. I want that treehouse as an adult, and if there is ever a way to make that happen in my life, I will. Imagine me, at 70 years old, having a for-real tea party in a treehouse.
As a treehouse dwelling haver-of-fun, I’m disappointed to hear about this homeowner’s association (HOA) in Augusta, GA, that is suing their neighbors over the playhouse they built for their granddaughter. The HOA’s gripe? The structure is pink, and violates HOA rules. Only a couple of HOA members actually have a problem with it, but the lawsuit is going ahead anyway. The HOA claims that the playhouse must be painted a neutral color, as pink does not conform to the look of the neighborhood. I am counter-filing a complaint that this HOA hates fun.
As much as I sometimes object to making things pink For Girls, there is nothing wrong with the color itself. And if the little girl who plays in this wondrous miniature house (check out that kitchen!) wants it to be a pink fairy princess cottage, then it should be. If you paint something like that beige, it just becomes, like, a tool shed with some toys stored in it. No fun!
And this is reason number whatever that I could never live in one of those gated housing developments with HOA rules -- it is none of my neighbors’ business if I want to put a little pink building in my backyard, for my children, grandchildren, or myself.
Some trivia for fans of "Weeds," which just wrapped up its final season: the community of Agrestic is actually my friend Donna’s neighborhood of Stevenson Ranch, CA, and the Botwin’s living room set was modeled after Donna’s friend’s living room.
Of course, it doesn’t take a gated community with an HOA, or even a bright pink structure, to get the neighbors all riled up. Alison pointed me to this story about her friend, who pissed off the neighbors when he built a crazy elaborate $54,000 treehouse for his daughter.
So. Should I start planning my grown-up treehouse? It will cost more like $54, not $54,000. Will you come have tea with me in it? Bring your Barbies! And does anyone else remember that townhouse with the elevator? It was pretty sweet.