When I was young, my favorite thing to do was play House—a general label for a game that meant nothing more than pretending to be grown up. It was all I ever wanted—to be older and have a house and babies and do mom-ish things like change diapers and make dinner and throw a purse over my shoulder while I said something very adult-ish like, “Hey everybody, I’m going to the store!” I loved playing House so much that I hid it well past the approved age when one should admit they play House. In fact, I’m pretty sure I smoked my first two cigarettes under the bleachers at a Montrose High School football game when I was the visiting homeschooled sixth grader who went home to play House later that evening.
It’s kind of weird to be living the life I played for so long. And to think that I considered patting a doll to sleep, hauling my purse to the store and saying “Oh, honey” a lot pretty much covered being a mom. I certainly left out the hard parts. And, by doing so, left out the most beautiful.
There are lots of days when I still feel like I’m playing house. Moments where—don’t blink!—everything lines up and we are that family I pretended to be. Kids going to ballet and babies smiling in photos and “Hi honey, I’m home” blurted from the laundry room and “Hey everybody, I’m going to the store!” uttered from the kitchen and all those things I thought would make me a grown-up played out just like I planned. Paying with coupons and giving my kids baths and cutting fresh herbs and kissing my husband before he walks out the door and having in-laws and planning birthday parties and checking the mail to find things that prove I’m a real life mom who’s playing real life House—like voter’s registration forms and mattress sales and bills from the pediatric dentist.
But here we are and life is so much more complicated and beautiful and richer and challenging and rewarding and gut-wrenching than I could have ever imagined it would be when I was swaddling that doll daughter named Lexi or pretending to make an appointment for her parent teacher conference or even writing dream baby names down in notebooks after I kissed House goodbye and at least balanced my someday life with realistic efforts like college classes and a part time job that didn’t involve babysitting.
We went out to eat last night, and it went very unlike the episodes I played out in old House days. We forgot the big U.S. vs. Portugal World Cup game was going on and consequently drove up to a few parking lots, ran in to check booth availability and left defeated. We ended up finding a fun sports bar, dragged the kids in and smiled through the first thirty minutes because we were so awesome at playing House. Reality kicked in and by the end of the night we were consoling toddlers rattled by all the noisy cheering, cleaning cracker crumbs from the booth and laughing at how much work a night out ended up entailing.
We came home with leftover boxes and transferred sleeping babies still in their clothes to cribs and beds.
I never worried about the dolls I carried while playing House as a kid. I never prayed for them or contemplated my choices about them. I never kissed the bridges of their noses or whispered in their ear about how much I loved them after they were asleep. I never cried over my House family.
Tonight, I put three kids to sleep, saying separate prayers for each. I listened to them breathe for a minute, watched their chest rise up and down, whispered things in their ears. I straightened all my week’s priorities out and finally retreated to my desk. Above it, the B & K metal letters are a little knocked off their nails so that they’re crooked. But they’re hanging in there, and there’s a sturdy wall behind them.
This is what a game of real House looks like. Many exhausted, ironic, beautiful moments
I like real House.
Watching her proudly do her own hair every day.
The new obsession in our home: mice cat toys
I mean, the little dinner table and the real cheese. The mice are playing House!
Afternoon sunlight through dirty windows and the Dora watering can.
This week, I’m over at eHow talking about Sanity-Saving Ways to Survive the Witching Hour. Dude. Every day: “Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little crazy and one mess away from snapping, I actually let myself snap–appropriately. Kid of like a ‘controlled burn’ that forest rangers initiate to keep the whole forest from going up in flames.”