From cowboys and indians to SaddleClub to Barbies to spies, the areas of childhood amusement in which I had much expertise varied greatly. However, none of these games were ever played enough to even approach the amount of energy invested in one particular game, play house.
Residing in the country, there was only one other child my age living nearby, with the exception of my sister, but sisters aren’t friends that you’re lucky to live with; they’re just there. Up until late middle school, entering high school, barely a summer passed without the neighborhood girl, also known as our ‘half-sister’, swimming, inventing, planning, and playing at our house. Of course, we occasionally ventured to hers, but parental supervision, required at the time, was more easily attained at our house than hers.
Three was a good number for games – three girls in SaddleClub, three spies, three in a game of battleship, three indians – but three was the best number when it came to playing house. It must have been once a week we broke out our ‘Mom’ or ‘teen’ voice, roles equally remote and pined for. Occasionally, one of us would consent to be the baby, but the most commonly played form of house consisted of three teenaged girls living in a dorm or a home. Mother and Father were dead, missing, international spies, or always at work – it depended on how morbid we felt each day – and, a consistent theme throughout all acts, some sort of annoying pest always had to be warded off (this came in the form of younger siblings). The resulting game was general in its format, acting out a life, although once we had become addicted to Harry Potter (all three of us receiving our hand-crafted letters) magic somehow became a part of everyday playing house.
At first, at our youngest, playing house consisted of boundaries made of blankets, leaves, or benches; it depended on the season and the amount of space inside the actual house we were allowed to roam. The events were what was expected of any household: the neighborhood girl marrying an invisible man, my sister having triplets that all looked like Care Bears, and I fell deathly ill – until the marriage or births because then there was no doctor to care for me. Just like any household, we were always running around leaving half-finished tasks uncompleted and forgetting children in the bathroom or accidentally losing them under the couch. Also like any other household, chores were a must, though singing while attempting to finish them was our own special addition. We gained great pleasure from sweeping the deck off; neatly folding blankets; and organizing anything and everything under the sun. Nonetheless, when it came time to clean up, those very same blankets become unmanageable oceans of cloth and the toys really did look better all strewed across the floor.
Eventually, playing house became more central to the garden during the summer and fall and our playhouse during the winter. No joke, we played house in our playhouse. The most amusing part is that at least one of us was cleaning the playhouse each time we relaxed within. To organize, to rearrange, to sweep, even, when we were ambitious one day, to wash the floors, these were the tasks attempted while we played house. Every now and then, one of the three would complain that no playing was actually being done, it was just work. The other two, or sometimes one, would hush them. After all, something this fun couldn’t be work.
As for the other seasons, gardening became very important in order to play house, though perhaps ‘gardening’ isn’t the word for it. The word ‘gardener’ inspires visions of a hard-working, warring with dirt, boot-laden person, a far cry from the swimsuit-wearing, mud-loving, barefoot ankle-biters that wound their way around the weeds and skipped straight to the cherry tomatoes and sweet peas, washed only by spit of course. Creating ‘meals’ of dusted fruits and poorly skinned vegetables, snipping the tips of peas for no other reason than for the sake of doing it, scraping empty corn cobs together (and actually eating the subsequent dust), these were the tasks we took it upon ourselves to complete with the more happiness than could be imagined.
The last few times we played house were different yet again. Firstly, my family had acquired a new camper. Secondly, we were too mature to ask each other if we could ‘play house’. Loathing work, itching for some fun, I gathered up my mother’s cleaning supplies and began a top-to-bottom cleansing of the camper. My sister joined me and, to my surprise, so did the neighbor girl. After insistently imploring for minutes on end that she did not want to swim and was content to clean, I promised the neighbor girl that thirty minutes cleaning would be followed by time in the pool. An hour later, I’m apologizing profusely as we continue to organize, scrub, and disinfect the insides of the beast. It turns out nobody really wanted to go swimming, a past-time that had branded us fish. Instead, we wanted to have the time of our lives . . . cleaning the camper?
Last summer, right before winter, my mother politely asked me to just lightly clean the layer of dust encroaching on the camper before we stored it away for the winter. My response? Well, let’s just say that Mom knew that I camped in it happier than I cleaned it.
When did that happen? Why are the chores so much less enjoyable? When did the tasks I so happily completed become the arduous burdens they are today? I ponder this as I contently fold the laundry; long for enough time to clean my room; and complain about the required homework I’ve been given.
Am I even sure anything changed?