"Daddy! That's not how you play dolls!"
"Then how do I, dear? Show me, Mallorie."
She takes the doll from her father. The figure has perfectly combed, peach-colored hair that is the same color as his plastic skin. It is a husband doll, and he has a tan shirt with tiny, black buttons, brown pants, and a miniature tie. In her other hand, she holds a figure with a flowery, green dress, black shoes, and a short bob that is the same color as her husband's hair. Mal's fingers barely reach around the bodies of the dolls. The small, pink Victorian-style house is resting on the floor.
"Like this." She was sitting on the back of her legs, and had to shift her weight so that they wouldn't fall asleep. After a minute, she decides to lie on her belly instead. Clearing her throat, she tries to imitate a man's voice. "Sweetie, we have to get ready for the party. There's a lot of work to do." Her voice then became more feminine. "Yes, honey, lots of work! The guests will be here in an hour!"
"What kind of party is it?" Stephen Miles asks his daughter.
"A birthday party. It's Lucy and Phillip's birthday."
"Who's Lucy and Phillip?"
"Daddy, Lucy is their little girl—I told you her name was Lucy. She has a twin, and his name is Phillip."
"How old are they today?"
"That's a big birthday."
Mal nods and then starts to play again. She makes the mother doll wobble back and forth. "Honey, we have to get the cake and put up the streamers, and then we have to get the plates and the music and the ice cream, and the goodie bags, and the hats! I will—" Mal pauses to scratch her nose with the sleeve of her purple shirt. "I will go out and buy the food and the decorations. Honey, make sure that Lucy and Phillip stay away! This is a surprise party." Her voice changes again, and the father doll becomes animated, jumping up and down. "Those kids! They've almost ruined the surprise twice! Don't worry, I will keep them away."
Miles then finds the "Phillip" doll and makes him stand at the top of the stairs in the house. He says, "Mom, Dad, what are you doing down there? Lucy called me a bad name."
Mal gasps. "Daddy! Lucy isn't mean! Phillip is the one who calls her names!"
Chuckling, her father swaps out Phillip for Lucy and says the same thing, only in a high-pitched voice. "He took one of my toys!" he adds.
Mallorie is still holding the parent dolls. "Ahhh! Oh-no!" exclaims the father doll. "Honey, the kids are going to come downstairs and ruin the surprise! I will keep them busy while you go shopping." She then makes the mother doll turn around and walk away. "Thank you," she says, "I will be back in half an hour with the party stuff! Oh, there's so much to do!" Mal puts the mother doll down and makes the father doll jump around the miniature dining room area in the house. "So much to do!" the father doll says.
Miles picks Phillip up again and tries to make the doll stand next to Lucy, but it's impossible for him to have both his hands in the house at the same time. He brings the dolls down to the main area where the father doll is. They start shoving each other. "I want my toy back!" shrieks Lucy. "No, dummy, you can't have it back!" shrieks Phillip.
Mal makes the father doll hop over to the kids. "No! Enough! Stop fighting! Phillip, give Lucy back her toy, and it's not nice to call your sister names."
"Awe, okay, Dad," Phillip whines, then hops up the stairs and lies down on the landing.
The father doll turns to the Lucy doll and pats her shoulder. "Sweetie, are you okay?"
"I'm okay." Miles's voice cracks a bit.
"Okay. Daughter? Why don't you and your brother ride your bikes around the neighborhood for an hour, okay?"
"Okay. Dad, what are we doing today?" the Lucy doll asks. "Did you forget what today is?" The Phillip doll appears again and jumps up and down. "Yes, today is our birthday! Where are the presents and the cake?"
Mal then makes the father doll walk off for a moment. As if he's performing an inner monologue, she makes him whisper, "Eeek! Oh no! The kids are going to ruin the surprise! That's not good! Mom is going to be here any minute with the party decorations, and they'll see that and know there is going to be a party!" The father doll then goes back to the kids. "We're not doing anything for your birthdays," fibs the doll. "I'm sorry, but your mom and I decided not to do anything. You're getting too old for parties."
The children dolls jump up and down in protest. "Nooo!" Miles then makes them go at it again with their stiff arms.
Mallorie makes the father doll groan. "Ugh! Stop fighting! Go to your rooms, and don't come out until I tell you to! You're being punished!"
The Lucy doll pauses. "I thought I was going on a bike ride."
"Well, you can't, unless you apologize first. You were beating your brother up."
"No, I won't apologize to him."
"Daddy," Mallorie says, "Lucy has to apologize! She always does. Phillip has to apologize, too. Dolls are very polite to each other."
"Why is that?"
She shrugs, tucking a strand of her wavy, brown hair behind her ear. "I don't want to play with mean dolls, Daddy," she offers. She then looks up. "Why are people mean to each other?"
He smiles. "That's not an easy question to answer, Mallorie. Sometimes they just are, or sometimes they're mean because they're really sad inside. But, there are lots of nice people out there."
"Like you? And Mommy?"
Mallorie picks at the buttons on the father doll's shirt. "I don't know if Jay is nice or mean. He pulls my hair and ruins my toys." Her mind is no longer on the pink dollhouse with the yellow trim.
"He's just a baby, and he doesn't know any better. Jay will learn to not pull your hair and to be more careful with your toys. You'll learn to get along with your little brother."
She blinks thoughtfully. "Are you sure?"
Miles nods. "I am certain." He then cocks his head to the side, listening. "I think it's time for dinner. Your mother is setting the table." He starts to get up from the floor.
Mallorie grins and sits up on her knees. "Thanks for playing dolls with me, Daddy." She stretches her arms, and he hoists her up. "Daddy, did you play dolls when you were little?"
"Not exactly. I played with toy soldiers and toy cars."
He's carrying her from her bedroom, with its creamy, yellow, patterned wallpaper, and they're headed down the hallway.
"How do you play with toy soldier? And cars? Is it fun?"
"It is lots of fun. I can show you sometime. How about that? Would you like that?"
"Yes, Daddy, I would."