Playing House in the New Millennium

My 9 year-old daughter had a friend over the other day and they were playing in her bedroom with the door open. They had put on dress up clothes (one in a Can-Can dress and the other in a dress like Quasimodo’s Esmeralda, which kind of freaked me out since they were costumes from the same period and region, coincidentally). They applied play make-up in the way that little girls do (meaning they looked exactly like a Can-Can dancer and Esmeralda). Then they pulled out dolls and started to play.

Listening from the other room, while folding laundry, I got the gist of their play. They were both mommies and had quadruplets (obviously conceived via IVF since there was never any mention of a father), and they were both career women. One worked from home and one worked out of the home. That they decided right away, and then matched careers to both positions. After they had that settled, they superficially bickered a little over the pros and cons of each:

“You don’t have to get up early and leave the house if you work at home.”

“But, I do have to get up and get work done before the babies wake up.”


“You get to eat lunch out if you go to work in an office, and when you come home, your work is all done for the day.”

“But, I have to hurry to get all my work done at work before I leave, and then I have to drive all the way home in rush hour traffic. And you get to be with the babies all day.”

And so on. In the end, they were both satisfied that neither had a better job or working condition. For third graders, I was pretty impressed at the way they already viewed the world, as something malleable and negotiable. They knew there were options open to them, in marriage, family and career. And, they dressed however the hell they wanted.

When I was a little girl and played house, it was always so rigid and formulaic. One was the mom and one was the dad. Mom stayed home with the one (or two) babies, and dad went to work. Mom did laundry, cooked meals and played with the babies. Dad went around the corner and stood there until the little girl pretending to be him figured enough time had passed and she could go back to the “house” and announce she was home and have dinner served on play dishes. The kid who played dad certainly never identified a career choice or discussed options with the mom, nor did the kid pretend to do any sort of job after kissing the mom goodbye and clomping off to work. Dads were obviously very mysterious to us, and Moms were just housewives. Funny thing was, in my circle, none of our actual mothers were actual housewives. My dad was a CPA though, which was and still is pretty mysterious to me.

Listening to the little girls play in the next room, I realized that their liberation will benefit the boys, too. These little girls expect domestic partnership, friendship and balance when they grow up and have their own families. The needs of both spouses will be addressed, heard and nurtured. The children involved will be valued and cared for. I was rather proud to witness this snippet of casual (and certainly unbeknownst to them) feminism occurring in a random suburban Midwestern house on a random weekend.