Let your children’s imagination run wild in a magical playhouse – but perhaps not as wild as Lynda Hallinan’s own childhood misdemeanours!
playhut shenanigans and secrets
It was the scene of my first crime – underage drinking – followed by, no surprises, my first hangover. It was where I received my first truly atrocious haircut, administered surreptitiously by my big sister using my mother’s dressmaking scissors. (A few years later, I dealt a similar fate to my Sindy dolls.) In the same place, I learned how to look my parents in the eye and tell big fat porkies without flinching.
When my sister Brenda and I were toddlers, our father built us a playhouse on the front lawn. It had a vernacular aesthetic: a recycled corrugated iron roof, plywood walls and a front door painted the same clay-brown as our farmhouse verandah railings. It was small, even by modern apartment standards, and sparsely furnished, but we were pretty chuffed when Dad plumbed in a second-hand sink with taps attached to a toilet cistern water tank.
Every afternoon, while our parents were preoccupied milking our cows, Brenda and I made our own fun in the playhouse. We dubbed this sibling subterfuge “making mischief”. One time, we mashed peanuts with butter in a bid to make our own peanut butter. On another occasion, we were caught concocting witches’ potions from pills and lotions filched from the medicine cabinet. And then there was the time we hosted a legendary (for all the wrong reasons) preschoolers’ tea party.
Having borrowed Dad’s bottle of sherry, we tipped its contents into our plastic teapot and got thoroughly sloshed. “I’ve got a tummy headache,” I slurred to my parents as I staggered, sozzled, across the lawn while Brenda wandered about wonkily.
With the benefit of 40 years of hindsight, I hit up Mum about her parenting practices. “Weren’t you beside yourself with worry?” I asked. “Of course I was,” she said, though not enough to bother driving us to the doctor for a check-up.
When, left unattended once again, Brenda butchered my blonde tresses, Mum didn’t think to take me to the hairdresser for a tidier trim. She simply sat me on a chair in front of the playhouse, wrapped a towel around my shoulders and gave me a marginally better bowl cut.
As the kids tested the swing, flung open the shutters and helped me pot the geraniums, Lucas offered a grand design suggestion…
Lynda used a paint tin as the template for the circular roof tiles and threaded wooden beads onto the swing’s ropes.
The next time we nicked Mum’s scissors and snuck off to our playhouse, we were busted playing doctors and nurses. Our patient? A green felt penguin with a yellow beak and a white breast that belonged to my mother. It took her six weeks to stitch and stuff it in Hamilton’s maternity hospital, where, having lost her first child, Mum was prescribed complete bedrest in a bid to save her second. All that heartbreak and hope meant nothing to Brenda and me: we gave Mum’s little penguin a lobotomy, then disembowelled it for good measure.
Forty years on, she’s still smarting, because despite being caught in the act, we naturally denied all knowledge of the penguin’s untimely passing. And, to be fair, surely that’s the point of a children’s playhut? It’s a place to get up to no good… and fib about it to your folks.
According to research published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Law and
Human Behaviour, children begin to tell lies – usually to absolve themselves of guilt for misdemeanours – from the age of two, although it’s not until the age of three or four that they learn to tailor their untruths to appease their inquisitor, and seven or eight before they are wily enough to manufacture evidence in support of those lies.
My sons, Lucas, five, and Lachlan, three, can still be relied on to confess the truth under pressure. After being at their grandparents for the weekend while my husband and I painted and pimped up their new playhouse – a two-storeyed tower tucked between the rhododendrons, pin oaks and magnolias on the side of our driveway – we expected an honest appraisal.
“Do you like it?” I asked the boys. Lachie was joyous: “I don’t like it. I love it!” he said, thundering up the steps. Lucas, however, was confused. “Dad,” he bellowed from the secondstorey, “isn’t a treehouse supposed to be built up a tree, not beside it?”
As the kids tested the swing, flung open the shutters and helped me pot up drought-tolerant Really Red geraniums for their front deck, Lucas channelled Kevin McCloud to offer a grand design suggestion. “You know what would make this really awesome,” he said. “What?” I asked. “A plug so we can charge our iPads.”
“I’m sure Dad can sort that out for you,” I lied.
The red shutters came from Egypt via my local vintage shop.
Potential mischiefmakers Lachlan and Lucas check out their new play hut. The plywood and timber structure was pimped up with posh joinery, bright red geraniums and a matching swing.