When I was a little girl, I pretended to be a grown up.
I gathered my beloved books and played library, carefully taping cut pieces of notebook paper in the backs of my Nancy Drews,their yellow spines lined up in perfect order. The Trixie Beldens were on the next shelf, soft-back cream covered tales that I knew I would suggest to any of my preteen visitors needing books to satisfy. And though I had outgrown them, the picture books were there, too.
I ran across one of my old picture books about ME and my pet giraffe a few months back as we were reorganizing our books, and yes, there was still a piece of notebook paper taped inside just waiting for library visitors to check out this.
I may have had some original books in my childhood library, too.
Riffs off of Nancy’s adventures, a horse loving heroine named Jamilyn, and a some cobbled together poetry inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses.
I believed being a librarian would be one of the most wonderful jobs in the world. Surrounding myself with books guide souls towards exciting stories and characters to fall in love with seemed rewarding.
While awaiting visitors to my library, I perused my Nancy Drew Cookbook and imagined the meals I would create. I marked my favorite recipes with little slips of paper, imagining how wonderful a meal – with candles (and wine) would be!
I played house, as many young girls do.
My blonde Baby Tender Love sat propped up in one of the chairs at my little table and the Newborn Baby Tender Love was sleeping in the cradle. And no, I wasn’t allowed to have the anatomically correct Baby Brother Tender Love, though my friend Angela did.
Yes, I was curious. Yes, I peeked. Yes, my mother freaked out when she found out.
I had tea parties, sneaking food from the kitchen into my bedroom and serving my babies elaborate pizzas, topping Bologna crusts with bits of sliced pickle and torn pieces of Kraft Cheese Slices.
My imaginary husband was at work, and while he was away, I made crocheted ropes and made sure our babies wore pretty clothes.
My Barbies played house, too.
Yes, I had Super Star Barbie. Want to know what she did? Hung out at her house and drove to the grocery store in her old Convertible so she could make dinner for Ken. Wearing, of course, a glamorous evening gown.
Sometimes she sang on her stage, but she mostly liked trying on pretty clothes, including a full trousseau of lingerie. And, of course, sitting on the couch (or going to bed) with Ken in their Three Story Town House with the elevator.
I turned forty-eight this past week, and when I look back at the pretend games I played forty years ago and the traces of desires around adulthood, it’s fascinating how smart she was. The desires of that uninhabited little girl centered on those books – reading them, writing them, cataloging. And she always found pleasure in the aspects of housekeeping and being a wife.
Things society was telling us that we shouldn’t settle for…
I grew up in the era of Women Being Able To Do It All. There was Helen Reddy singing I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar. And the old Enjoli commercial seductively serenading us about the woman who can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never EVER let you forget your a man…
Our task was to go out in the world and Making Our Mark.
I went to college and got a degree in journalism, spending several years working in broadcast TV, including a stint at ABC News.
I had babies and juggled their care with various administrative management jobs. I was a Career Woman, wearing suits with shoulder pads and serviceable bras and pantyhose (with control tops). I struggled for balance and was never romanced the way Ken wooed Barbie.
I left behind my imaginings of being a grown up in the big world, because never did I dream of playing office politics, dealing with PTA Moms and Daycare, or commuting to work by plane.
I made plans for perfect trips to Disney World, hoping it would fill the hole of longing I felt to be creative.
“When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families’ tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable.”
— Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life)
My children are now grown and creating their own lives. I am no longer wearing suits though I do wrestle with pantyhose on special occasions. Those serviceable bras are long gone, replaced with lacy renditions Barbie would be tickled pink to wear.
And instead of striving to be the Enjoli Woman, my life has become simpler, channeling the dreams of that little girl.
I surround myself with books and spend my days writing. I have my own book, written by me, on my library shelf. I am also surrounded by the words of others, here in this space, and that makes me immensely happy and satisfies me in ways TV News never did.
Though I haven’t eaten bologna in more than a decade, I continue to experiment with food and I even love grocery shopping. I feel loved, cherished, and romanced. Like my little girl self, many of my activities center on my role of keeper of my home, and that makes me joyful.
No, you never could have convinced that twenty-eight year old young mother that keeping house and creating a sanctuary would far out-satisfy her than those shoulder-padded suits. She thought she was so smart, but poor thing was trying too hard to find contentment in a role she never fantasized about.
Little girls don’t dream about traffic jams or failed marriages or careers that aren’t quite fulfilling.
They dream of using their creativity in satisfying ways. They dream of writing books and following their passions. And, yes, they dream of keeping house.
We may not always have our answers to what will allow us to follow our intuition towards a creative life, but I believe that deep down we know.
Some of us dream of big careers or being famous. And some of us dream of books and keeping house.
Though I’ve grown wiser through age and experience, I can’t help but see that I was pretty clear what I needed to live a happy and creative life when I was a little girl.
It just took me forty years to remember how wise she was.
About the Author: Debra Smouse
Debra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.