Playing House – by Jamie

When I was a child, I fondly remember playing “house” with a good girl friend of mine. She always took on the role of the mommy, and I was the little girl. I don’t recall what situations we acted out while pretending to be a family, but I do know that this was one of our favorite games to play. Sometimes, another little girl in the neighborhood with whom we occasionally played—but didn’t completely adore—would show up uninvited during our role-playing, and we grudgingly included her. While my friend and I happily continued our game in my bedroom, our not-so-bright neighbor sat out in the hallway with a pile of crayons and coloring books that we’d supplied her with to occupy her time. When anyone else in my house questioned us about why this girl was sitting out in the hallway while we were playing, we responded matter-of-factly, “She’s the daddy—she’s at work!”

Decades later, my own daughter, Jayda, is obsessed with “being the mommy,” while she forces other adults—mostly me, but sometimes my father or mother—into playing the role of the baby. Sometimes this is a pleasure, like when she has me, as her baby, take a nap while she rubs my back, or when she insists I have to “rest” while she reads a book to me. But the pleasure is short-lived because she generally also wants to stuff a binky in my mouth, or have me “’tend” to suck on her doll’s bottle. And when I complain, she eggs me on with instructions to “cry, baby, cry!” She also demands that I cry when she’s leaving me, and enjoys it when I beg her to stay with me and cuddle.

When I’m not playing baby on the couch or in bed, Jayda likes to take me shopping with her; this entails holding my hand while she totes several pocketbooks and bags filled with her toys all around the house and barks out a list of things we need to buy. On other occasions, I’m forced to walk with her to another room, where she leaves me “at school” while she “goes to work.” When I complain about going to school, she assures me that my teachers are nice and that I’ll have fun with my friends. It all sounds very familiar.

I’ve always found it remarkable how much information my child retains, and how careful I have to be about the things I say and do in front of Jayda, or the promises that I make to her, because she remembers everything. And when Jayda pretends to be a mommy, I see her keen skills of observation at play more clearly than ever. Most everything she knows about being a mommy, she’s learned from me. And for what it’s worth, she’s a very loving, affectionate, comforting mommy when I test her and complain or cry. But she’s also a busy mommy, and a reminder to me that sometimes I need to slow down.

For instance, the other day, while Jayda was in her “mommy-mode,” and laden with bags strewn over each of her arms, I told her it was time for dinner. She responded, “Not yet. I’m going somewhere!” When I queried “where?” she spewed out a laundry list of destinations that sounded very similar to my own day’s activities: “I have to go to CVS and the fruit store and the store where I get protein bars, and then I have to get gas, go to the bank, and go to the gym.” When I laughed and said “Is that all?”, she quickly added “I also have to meet my friend at the playground.” Well, thankfully, at least this little mommy is letting herself have some fun!