Remember the house corner in first year Infants?
A corner of the classroom which was divided from the rest of the classroom with a partition to give the third wall. Open at the front and filled with infant sized furniture, equipment and dolls?
My memory is of watching others play there, mainly girls putting dolls to bed, pretending to wash up and sending the boys who wanted to play with them on shopping errands for bread and milk. They focused on fussing around with the baby, changing its clothes, showing it off and taking it for walks and in the interaction between those they had agreed to play house with.
Playing in the house was synonymous with pairing up, either with another girl or boy and sometimes with two couples. As a result occasionally there would be some kind of muffled scuffling and whispering at the back of the corner behind the little curtain that cordened off another part of it or a fully fledged fight with prams being upset and doll’s arms pulled out of their sockets. It was always soon broken up by a teacher and that house play session was brought abruptly to a close.
Even at the young age, I went to school at four years and a month, I could see that others approached couple dynamics from a different starting point to me. The girls in the school house were the boss. They regularly teamed up with another girl and a willing boy and issued orders and instructions about what was going to happen and how the play was going to be structured and enjoyed. This was at odds with my experience since in my house my dad was the boss, it seemed the natural state of things and I wondered at how they thought they were up to this job. My dad clearly didn’t think my mum was and my mum agreed with him, deferring to him always and never making a decision without checking it with him first. I adored my father and with him as my male role model I knew with absolute certainty that I did not want any of the boys at school to boss me around although I was equally absolutely certain that I didn’t want to play with any of the ones who could be bossed by me either. It left me in a kind of hinterland though, uncertain of where I stood with regard to coupledom, and uneasy with the role that seemed to be assigned to me for the future but unable to fathom a way to gain the easy assurance of capability those house playing mummies seemed to have so effortlessly.
I didn’t play in the house corner often although I wanted to. It wasn’t the the dolls or the boys or the house play with others, the interplay of narratives and creation of a shared reality that I saw played out each day that I longed for as I watched from the library corner. I wanted access to the house, the ironing board and the tiny china. My palms itched to sort, to straighten, to clean and bring order to the slightly grubby well used space. I wanted to make the house at peace with its disordered self, with the half opened packets of child sized cereal and sweets left strewn around the shelves and with the garishly painted papier mache fruit in a fruit bowl on its side in the baby’s cot. I wanted to make the house shine. I wanted the house.
Thinking about this makes me realise what an impact having to leave my house had on me almost two years ago. It was truly my first love, my creature, my adored thing. Also that my ex husband was not a boy to play house with. He didn’t understand the desire, the need to make a house shine. It was not a good pairing.
The house that I live in now is spacious, well-worn and a little neglected. It has and always had the potential to be wonderful but with my previous housemate it felt more like lodging. I was surrounded by his furniture and equipment, he dominated the space, feeling entitled to live in it exactly as he wanted but it was not where his heart lay as he was working out time to retirement and relocation to his real house and real life. His moving on has meant that I am fully inhabiting the house with a housemate who is equally passionate about creating a home. We discuss projects and he gets out his toolbox. He is a willing participant in plans for improvement and beautiful space creation. His rules, whilst not being mine are close enough for jazz. He knows how to play house.
That truly makes me happy. I am finally playing house.