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Living in a Playhouse

It's easy to think of the American Dream as something you could display on a Pinterest board, but I've found that mine is better represented by a certain Wells Fargo TV commercial. (Yes, really.)

I mean, to hell with Wells Fargo. You can get a better deal on a home loan from your local credit union. (That's what I did.) But mad props to the writer of this commercial, a gem within its genre of emotionally impactful, concise storytelling.

Thanks to moments like this sappy ad, I realize how invaluable it is to hold the keys to That House. Of course, it is a privilege to own the neighborhood "safe space" for children. Staying home and "doing nothing" has transformed into a meaningful service to my community.

And it's also wonderful for me that my daughter (still) loves staying home with Mama, where I know she is safe--and not tearing up someone else's house. It's convenient for me to not have to worry.

But let's be real. There is a reason the commercial describes That House verbally instead of showing us a picture. Because it's not always usually pretty. You, um, have to be there to appreciate it.

You can't really see, but that "camp lantern" is filled with a dozen or so live fireflies.

There's no way to gloss over the fact that having That House where all the neighborhood kids come to play means that you have toys and art supplies strewn everywhere, none of your walls or furniture ever look nice (and it's even more stressful if they do and you wish to keep them that way), and small people are screeching at you so persistently that it feels like having dementia and schizophrenia.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. There's always motivation to tidy up and rotate which toys are strewn about. It's a delight to see little eyes light up at a fresh, new scene of unicorn-puke-colored chaos.

At the same time, there's no pressure to keep house like Martha Stewart or a Frenchwoman who has subsidized, full-time daycare, because it's impossible. As they say in Rome, "If you can't, it means you don't have to." Allora!

When your child-free grownup friends come over to visit, your lifestyle becomes a living affirmation to them that they have made good choices for themselves. It's nice to help other people feel good about themselves.

Or sometimes they have a great time playing with your kid in a house full of toys, in the way that camping is fun for people who don't live in tents year-round.

And then the real magic happens when your fellow parent friends come over with their families. Most of the time, our friends' kids get along great with our kid. Our child-free friends probably can't believe this because they never get to see the evidence, but our daughter is a dream when she has little friends over who don't practically live here (thereby falling into the Goldilocks zone of newness/familiarity that elicits the smoothest social interaction). Instead of trying to command all the attention of our grownup friends, she's sharing her toys and playing imaginative games with people who are actually interested in those things.

There's nothing like hearing a deep sigh of relief from another parent who also feels like they have chronic schizodementia as our demons children join hands and run off into the basement or backyard together.

A sloppy woodpile makes an excellent playground.

It's also a relief and a joy to commiserate with other mommies about how we continue to have obsessive crushes on aging rockstars (what 30-something woman, with or without kids, doesn't, honestly?) and watch R-rated artsy films while our children are home, perhaps locking ourselves in the TV room "to fold laundry." I recently had a visit from a high school friend and his family, and his wife and I discovered that we had both seen Belle du Jour for the first time just that week. (Our husbands rolled their eyes and shook their heads with concern. Isn't that cute?) We were both pleasantly surprised that the film was much more psychologically interesting than we had expected. I mean, aren't most modern French art films terrible, especially when they are about women and sexuality? (How would we know, our husbands want to know?)

Be a dear and pour Mommy another drink.

Another benefit of living in a playhouse where you can entertain other families is that you never need a babysitter or a designated driver, and at the end of the night, you're just a few steps away from a bed to pass out in. (From exhaustion more than tipsiness. We don't party like we used to.)

I dream about one day painting my walls and buying a stylish sofa, and that's healthy. I'm sure it will cheer me up when I have to face the bittersweetness of my baby growing up.

Living in a playhouse isn't for everyone, but I am trying to embrace it. I would rather not pay someone else to provide daycare experiences to my daughter. (Been there, done that.) I don't want to get paid to do it either, because that means I have to be extra responsible. I wouldn't be able to give rando kids ice cream for lunch and send them home when they start to drive me nuts.

Sometimes it's boring. Sometimes it's obnoxious. Sometimes it's hard, hard work.

But there is something undeniably magical about owning That House, and I suspect I'll miss these long days and short years as soon as they're over.


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