Recently Gwyn’s kindergarten celebrated the 100th day of school with an assignment to bring a hundred things to class. We suggested Gwyn put one hundred beads on a string. No interest. We suggested she count out a hundred elbow noodles. No go. On a whim I said, “I bet if you gathered up all the paper dolls you’ve made, you’d have a hundred.”
Gwyn has been making paper dolls obsessively for over a year. She has Emily or I draw an outline of a body, then she colors the skin, face, and hair and creates a wardrobe—with flaps. For Christmas her great aunt gave her paper doll stencils which occasionally now take the pressure off us. When Gwyn read about how Betsy and Tacy cut their paper dolls from magazines, she added that variation. Her favorite paper dolls she makes in sets—the Christmas set with Mr. and Mrs. Santa and some elves; the Frozen set with Anna and Elsa’s complete wardrobes; the “Mama, Imma, and Gwyn go to Hawaii” set, with hula skirts and lava-proof suits. I particularly love the set of God paper dolls. They have enormous heads, small bodies, and they’re related: grandfather and grandmother God, the parent Gods, the kid Gods with curly hair, the toddler Gods. “All the world’s a family,” Gwyn likes to say. I’m glad that’s how she thinks of God.
So we collected paper dolls from every corner of the house (which tells you something about our housekeeping) and laid them in rows of ten on the living room carpet. Ninety-seven. We’d also found another ten or so that hadn’t yet been cut out. If we’d added every dress, mitten, slipper, car, and cat she’s made, I bet the total would be 500.
I spent three nights away on retreat this last weekend, practicing mindfulness and meditation, and when I got home Gwyn couldn’t wait to give me a present. “Open Immediately,” the envelope said. Inside was a paper doll set of our family, each with a few outfits, pajamas, and a crown. Gwyn and I sat on our hall steps while I ooo-ed and ah-ed and gave Gwyn squeezes. She’d made us matching clothes in our favorite colors. And I thought of her over the long weekend without me, pouring all her energy into this paper representation of our family; I imagined her bent over the dining room table, making her passionate “I love you—I love you—I love you” into little flat people she could give hair-dos and tenderly clothe, and I saw finally how we’d each in our own ways been praying all weekend, placing our hearts into this vast, connected, and holy family. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Ebook readers: Hannah, Delivered is on sale for $0.99 this week only!
I have three openings left in my Madeline Island School of the Arts retreat, Alone Together: Write that Book! I’d love for you to join me.
April 9, 7:30 a.m: I’ll be speaking at the Twin Cities Carleton Breakfast Club.
April 23, 7 p.m., Wine & Writing: The Inner Life of Books, a conversation with P. S. Duffy at The Crossings of Zumbrota.
April 27, 6:30-8:30 p.m.: Free reading, signing, and conversation at The Loft ~ Bachrach Building, 318 Central Avenue, Faribault, MN.
May 1: “Wearing Bifocals,” a lecture at the Out After Carleton Reunion, Carleton College.
May 7, 7 p.m., Listen To Your Mother, Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, MN.