Saturday, September 24, 2016

How I'm Paid as a Housewife

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Churchill's Secret, a made-for-TV movie about the late British Prime Minister's recovery from a series of strokes in 1953. Ramola Garai plays Churchill's plucky nurse. She delays her emigration to Australia to marry her sweetheart to care for Churchill. According to the movie, she loves her job and is having some angst at moving to Australia to become 'just a wife.' (Do we know Millie Appleyard was feeling this way? Or is this some feminist spin injected into the life story of a woman about whom, really, we probably know very little?)

Last year, I finally got around to watching the last couple of seasons of Foyle's War. You know, the ones that tragically did not include Sgt. Milner. Less eye-candy, for sure, but still a great show and worth watching. In these, the character Sam(antha) is now married, and at the end is expecting a child. As per the dictates of 1950's culture, Sam has to leave her job to be home full-time with her baby. She's not too happy about it, and makes some pretty disparaging comments about the horror of being 'stuck at home changing nappies all day.'

My firstborn is in a World War II phase. He's like his mother--he gets a topic in his mind and reads voraciously about it until his obsession is spent or he has read through all the books on it in the library, whichever comes first. So we're reading a lot about World War II, and invariably, the Rosie the Riveter chapters tell glowing stories of women thrust into the workforce during the war, and their GREAT, SEETHING DISAPPOINTMENT at having to go back home after the it was over. I mean, really, according to every book, every single woman absolutely *LOVED* her factory job and was severely disappointed at having to chain herself to her kitchen when the men came home. You can almost hear the 'clink' of the prison gates as she shuts her front door.

From all this, we can only presume one thing: housework is inherently dreary, oppressive and demeaning. You can't possibly be 'fulfilled' doing housework. No way.

But I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I'm 'just a housewife.' I'm 'just a wife,' 'just a mother.' And I love it. I thank God everyday that I can be home, and I have pretty much no desire to go back to work. I actually like cooking. I don't mind working in the yard. I get a little thrill when I can use up all the leftovers without anything spoiling. I get jazzed when I find a good deal on raspberries or chicken (I got a whole chicken for free once. For real!) I like making crazy birthday cakes for my kids. I feel immensely satisfied when a room is tidy, or I tuck my kids into beds that smell like clean sheets dried on the clothesline, or when order has been restored to the chaos that is the LEGO corner or our upstairs playroom. (That doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's nice.) I like teaching my kids to vacuum and dust even though it's easier to do it myself.
Yup, that's me. Except I'm in yoga pants.

I like doing letter worksheets with my five year old. I like reading World War II books with my eight year old. I like tying them into their train and pumpkin aprons and baking cookies, talking about fractions and macro-nutrients and yumminess as we pour things into a bowl.

I like paying bills and saving money and strategizing how we can pay off our mortgage early.

I couldn't do all these things if I worked outside the home. I'm just not that productive. And I don't think people should feel like they have to do all these things and work outside the home. Yes, some need doing (laundry), others are just for fun (birthday cakes.) There are only 24 hours in the day. Something has to give.

When people ask me 'what I do,' I tell them 'I'm at home.' No one has ever been snarky or rude about it. People are always very nice and polite, but the conversation usually stops there. There's typically a rather awkward silence. People just don't usually know how to engage me in conversation once I admit I'm not splitting the atom. Feeling the awkwardness, I usually end up saying things like, 'I do volunteer work.' Which is true. 'I help out at the kids' school.' Also true. 'My husband works crazy hours and travels a lot, so I don't even know how we would manage if I had a job.' 'I'm very involved with my church.' 'I have a child with special needs.' True, true and true. But it's as if I feel I have to justify being home. As if keeping house is not enough. Because although people are very nice and polite, I feel like they're thinking.... what does she do all day?

Sometimes I think I'm probably just projecting. That people aren't really thinking that. And they probably aren't. They probably aren't thinking about me at all. They're probably making their grocery lists in their minds. Or thinking about a work deadline. Or maybe they are thinking, how on earth do I relate to this dinosaur from the 1950's? How do I make conversation with someone who washes dishes and does laundry all day? Her house must be so clean.

Well, it's not. Right now the upstairs toilet is kind of nasty, but I'm procrastinating by writing on my blog. I lose my patience and my temper and my keys. And I'm certainly not the world's greatest mother. I lost my temper in a kind of epic way last week, and begged my firstborn's forgiveness with tears in my eyes. And he gave it so freely.... that I cried even more.

Whatever any family decides to do with paid work and housework is up to them and it's none of my--or anyone else's--business. But we have elevated paid work above the unpaid. Whether someone works a paid job all day or not, those household chores need doing. Whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it, it needs doing, and it blesses people when it's done. Just because you didn't receive a check for the doing, doesn't mean it isn't worth something. Betty Friedan told us we couldn't be fulfilled without paid work, and as a society, we believed her. The irony is that I now hear feminists complain that 'care-giving,' which is usually done by women, is undervalued. Ummm, yes. It is. And who started that, I wonder?

Yet no work is unpaid, not really. Last night, as my boys and I were supping on chips, salsa and olives after flag-football practice, my firstborn said, "Mommy, this is my refuge." I looked at him for a moment with alarm. He's not usually the introspective, mushy type, so I wondered.... Why does he need refuge? Did someone bully him on the school bus?!

"What do you mean?" I replied. He said, "You told me once that our home is my refuge. That no matter what happens in the world, this is where I can come for peace and rest, and it is."

And that was payment, larger than any check I could ever be given.

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