Monday, February 23, 2009

Just a Housewife...Really

5 a.m.: I woke up to worry about bills...and decided to make a morning of it...left my warm bed and the comforts of Sarge's warm feet and the warm feather comforter...grabbed a cardigan (it's chilly in the house at 5 a.m.)...

Poor Hedgie will be out of school today, as she was feverish and fluish Sunday. That means I won't be able to leave the house, and whatever gets done will be household chores.

Lit a fire, made a strong strong pot of hot coffee, and here I sit by the very nice glow, writing a random post while trying to wake up and confront the checkbook.

For a long time now, with ebbing and flowing resolve, I've kept little notebooks full of lists for each day, to be checked off with a flourish as each task was accomplished. So my days are made up of these lists and checks. It's absolutely staggering, the tiny boring nervewracking and tedious details that go into running a household. Perhaps if my housewifely duties were all baking cookies and knitting socks, it would be a little more magical...

In the years before she was born, I was unbelievably busy with school and work. In my eighth month of pregnancy, I was working full-time as a researcher, taking classes, and teaching college. I spent my days running, pregnantly, breathlessly, from one thing to another. It wasn't so bad, really. Rewarding, even. But when Hedgehog was born, we decided to be a one-income household so that I could be home to raise her and just be around for her. Also get my doctorate, but that little dream appears to be in a 5-year holding pattern...so, here I am, caring for Hedgie, running the household, and keeping little notebooks full of checklists.

Anyway, it's on chilly, dark February mornings like these that I sometimes sit and take stock of where I came from and where I am. I'm actually pretty happy with my job. But I feel like I'm really of a dead breed, the housewife. The crises and delights are much more prosaic and self-referential than they would be, were I out in the workforce as I once was. The milestones and successes are not measured in tangible form--no one can congratulate me on a pay raise or tenure or promotion--and I speak a dead language, so I couldn't explain them anyway, sometimes not even to myself.

The other day, Hedgie and I were watching an episode of "Leave it to Beaver," and Hedgie asked me why June was vacuuming in high heels and a, by our standards, formal dress. I hardly knew where to begin. But the truth is, I'm really a 21st century June Cleaver, with a less-regimented household and bare feet and a dose of cynicism and self-irony. I wonder sometimes whether Hedgie thinks I'm just hanging around, waiting. And...am I?

24 comments:

Jimmy Bastard said...

No. You're doing something more important, and that's more beneficial than having a mammy with high heels, fresh lippy, and a 3 minute tan.

As she gets older and the magic of childhood wears off, she'll look back at the sacrifice that her parents made, and be proud.

It is worth the wait, don't you think?

Suzanne said...

I agree with Jimmy. He's a wise man. I have tears in my eyes. You're a good woman. A good mother. An amazing friend. I wouldn't trade you for anything and I know Heggie will cherish you all the days of her life. She'll remember your sacrifice. She will. She's a smart little cookie. She'll know.

I love you baby. I read your comment on my post and cracked up! I can't respond until the rest come in, but I'll tell you something funny...where does food end up? ON MY SHIRT!!! How could you not know that!!!???

I love you darling.

XO

Karen ^..^ said...

Look around you some time, at society, and all it's ills and then ask yourself how important is the work you are doing.

The downfall of our society, I beleive, is the fact that NO ONE makes the sacrifices to stay home and raise the children anymore.

Me? I have no choice. But two parent households? Live within your means, and it CAN be done. You are living proof.

When did people start feeling that THINGS were more important than raising good people???

I sacrifice THINGS every day, by rights I should be working 2 or 3 jobs to survive, but I make do on one, and do without, so I am with my kids more. No, I can't be with them full time, but I am with them as much as possible. And I do it alone.

Look around at the douche bag kids we are turning out, and pat yourself on the back for a job very well done.

My hat is off to you.

just bob said...

You've got the most important, and maybe the best, job in the world. You get to see the future evolve right before your eyes and have a chance to mold and influence it. What could be more important than that?

But you could wear high heels and pearls more often ;)

MJ said...

"Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver."

Leah said...

MJ and..."Ward, you were awfully hard on the Beaver last night!"...always a good one.

kylie said...

i have to come back when i have time but right now i'll just say you go girl!

your last post just dumbfounded me. i cant imagine that scene, not with you and yours and not with me and mine. just ....yeah

i did read out your post title for comic value which started an interesting discussion with the boys.....

have a great day

Cinnamon said...

I once asked a woman who had 2 sons doing really well at University what was her secret for turning out 2 such accomplished and loving sons.
She said...'I was always there when they got home from school...'

But make sure you get some time to be creative and stretch your amazing brain, some time just for you, away from being 'mum'. I go to work because have to, but also because it saves my sanity :) At the end of all those years of sacrifice, there still has to be you.

savannah said...

i was fortunate to stay at home with our four while they were growing up. it was a decision we made, very much like you & sarge, and never considered it as a sacrifice...it just was. anyway, now that i look back on everything and/or listening to the coconut krewe, we made the right choice! i wouldn't trade those days for anything. xoxoox

Skeeter said...

Hi Leah,

I think you're probably the modern day June Cleaver dear. When you get right down to it you're able to spend time with Hedgie, help her with school, keep a house and career and stable relationship and all the other things that equal performing miracles from time to time ... sounds like a barefoot June Cleaver to me. I think there are a whole lot of kids out there that would love to have a mom like you!

Best wishes,

Skeeter

kylie said...

leah,
i dont know if my comments will be relevant to you but this post touches a sore spot of mine. i have avoided talking about it for fear i'm being ungracious and all that yucky stuff but it wont stay in any more
i had 4 kids in four years. i love them with all my heart but it was hard work and if i complained or just made an expression of how difficult i found it some days i would be told to go to work, that i wasnt doing a good job anyway. i knew that my hubby found the responsibility of being sole provider onerous so i tried to be generous about it and i also picked up as much casual work as i could.
that was the beginning so by the time the girls went to school and there was a flexible job available for me i knew i had to take it.
my attempts to take the pressure off made no appreciable difference to anything. financially things were a little easier but we had always got by and i felt that my life had become a lot more difficult for little real benefit.

as time went on the flexible job became less flexible and my hours grew longer and i earned more but still wondered what the point was.

what i felt was my unfailing support never seemed to take the pressure off him and i felt that i was on a never ending treadmill.

i dont keep house as well as i would like. maybe thats because i'm just not a housekeeper but it would have been nice to have time to find out. i dont cook as well as i would like, i dont have time to bake anymore, i usually make it to the kids special events at school but i dislike the conflict it creates. i hate the idea that they know their special events create a problem for me.....

i hate the conflict. i hate it when i have to send a sick child to school and i hate it when i have to tell work i'm not going to be there. and on it goes

i may have hated being a housewife if i'd tried it, but it remains as my ideal. at the very least, i would have known that i was in control of what i gave my family in respect to time and attention. if i had done well, it would have been a source of pride, if i had done badly i would have no-one to blame but myself

enjoy your time with hedgie, you only get one chance. the rewards of being a housewife are intangible but they are nevertheless very real

i hope i make sense

k

Leah said...

Kylie: I deeply appreciate your comment. Women should say what they feel, especially on this topic, which always hits a nerve, which really relates to our self-definition, our guilt-feelings, our longings for other things, whatever they may be. I don't think your comment is in the least little bit ungracious. I actually don't know a single woman with children who is completely content in the role they've chosen for themselves (or the role that has perhaps been thrust upon them!!!)

I feel often guilty for staying home with just one child, a child who is now school age (although, I must say that the 5 and a half hours between drop-off and pick-up seem to fly by...) when my husband is toiling away in a really difficult job to support us. Add to that the guilt over my unfinished dissertation, a household that is not run with the gracious elegance of June Cleaver's despite the fact that I'm around all the freaking time...

When you were staying home and used to complain sometimes and were met with opprobrium and censure, well that is just so terribly unfair! My heart goes out to you. I think the one who goes to work while the other stays home often doesn't see the staying-home as work, or at least it seems like a bit of a working holiday. But in fact it's not, quite the opposite--I see it as akin to writing a dissertation--you must be both boss and worker bee at home, responsible for your own time management or lack thereof. Plus, it can be kind of isolating. A housewife needs an outlet for complaining!

When you went back to work, I assume you also kept most of the responsibility for housewifely duties and child care, right? Now you're doing both? Maybe I'm wrongly assuming, but from what I can see in large part with my lady friends who work, well, they're responsible for everything at home too, with very few exceptions! So you're a worker and a housewife.

I'm sorry about your regrets though. I'm living your ideal, but often feel as I said, tremendous guilt over it. And I wonder often whether I'm a good role model for Hedgie--my family prizes the working woman, the woman with a career, tremendously. And obviously, I'm not that woman. And part of my guilt comes from being content not to have a career! So, regrets all round!

Oh goodness, I have so much more to say on this topic. But I'll stop here. Again, thanks for commenting honestly.

xoxo

Leah said...

Jimmy: I truly hope that Hedgie feels that way, someday...thanks for your sweet comment!

I do try though for the fresh lippy...

Leah said...

Suzanne: thank you my dear, thank you. And as for your shirt, well, it doesn't all end up there, does it? lol and xo

Leah said...

Karen: I guess you're right--valuing material things over children...I see this even at Hedgie's school, which is home to very very rich, powerful, and in many cases famous parents. I see a number of children who suffer emotionally from misplaced values and a complete lack of interaction with their parents, parents who are off constantly doing "their thing" as if the children are some sort of property, or attractive accessory, to be palmed off every chance on nannies etc. etc. It's not from necessity, in most of those cases, but rather out of an unwillingness to make sacrifices, to live "smaller" in exchange for more time with the children. I guess more of a home life, well, that would be just too gritty, too dull, too real...if you know what I mean...

hugs to you too, kudos for your sacrifices. It's hard, isn't it.

xo

Leah said...

Just Bob: Thank you! That means a lot. And yes, I agree, more pearls and high heels! If just for my morale...

Leah said...

Cinnamon: It's a good point you make. I think my writing, such as it is, has become a "room of my own," a place for me to escape to, to dream in, and to find hope for my personal future, the one that is separate from my mothering role. In a funny way, keeping this online journal really jumpstarted that for me again. I wish I'd had it when Hedgie was really young, and I was floundering a bit.

Leah said...

Savannah: Nice to hear you've not regretted it! It's very reassuring. I actually see Sarge as, in some ways, having made the greater sacrifice. He's missed out on some of the good stuff by trudging off to work every blessed day...
xo

Leah said...

Skeeter: I shall try and embrace my title, Modern Day June Cleaver!

And you're right, it certainly does take small miracles from time to time, to keep it all together, doesn't it?

Mr. Shife said...

It is a tough call especially these days for one of the parents to give up their career and stay at home with the kids. I know you made the right decision and your daughter will and is benefiting from it. I am scared to death to join the housewife ranks but Mrs. Shife and I thought it was more important to be there for our kid and my career can be postponed for a few years because that baby is going to be way more important.

Leah said...

Mr. Shife: stay-at-home dad? You rock. It ain't easy, but I think it's good when all is said and done.

Lisa said...

Okay, I have been away for a bit, but I am here to tell you that you have one of the most reward jobs in the universe and I know that you are one of the best and most qualified women to hold it that I know. I am amazed by your convictions, and for one, proud that I know you adn call you my friend!

Megan said...

Darling Leah. How do you get so much into so few words? Amazing!

I have so much to say about this and so little time. So it will probably end up being a post in and of itself (some day, maybe).

But I do want to give you a big ol' virtual hug! Moms rule! Oh, and so do dads. I had a stay-home dad, myself...and I better go tell Shife that it worked out just fine for all concerned...

muralimanohar said...

When my kids were born, I couldn't do anything BUT raise them myself. Material possessions don't mean shit without us. As long as we are together, and have food and a roof, the rest is gravy.

I am so not domestic, sewing and cooking aside...June Cleaver would either cry or faint if she saw my house..but I am doing what is so right for me and my kids. Feminist progress be damned.