Monday, January 27, 2014

Working Out the Answers

Nothing fills me with quite the same level of discomfort as telling people what I do. 

And the answers are always different. 

Some days, I'm a novelist. Some days, a poet. On other days I'm a crafter, a small business woman, an entrepreneur. But the number one thing I am - it's a loaded title, groaning with gender norm nostalgia and modern feminist rejection, and it's a bit awkward to share. I never know what kind of reaction I'll get, because sometimes it's accepted, even lauded, and other times people turn their eyes away and I know they've formed some level of judgement because of one simple word. 

I've met women - strong, independent, professional women - who've told me that they'd love to do what I do. And I've met men who seemed delighted by the thought that they, too, could have someone to do the ironing. I've also met people my own age who are absolutely puzzled, like my situation is a problem to solve, a stopgap measure before life really begins. One compound word - a dozen different faces, a handful of assumptions, a glimmer of confusion. 

Housewife. Right now, I'm a housewife. 

When I was a teenager, it was my father who was the king of household pleasures - the cooking, the gardening, the opera on Saturdays and the martinis on Sundays. I remember him expressing how that was the life he really wanted, the life he actually enjoyed. And his romantic interpretation of the realities of scrubbing and dusting and scouring sounded quite pleasant. It seemed like the role of the homebound adult was to sit quietly in a garden with a good book, a stack of CDs, and an endless supply of coffee. Gosh, that sounded nice. Nice for my father, and nice for me, a kid who hated going to school and being anywhere but there, music and drinks and shaded peacefulness surrounded by mint and the smells of the city. 

Now, my father has a job he really loves, and while he still enjoys doing things around the house, I think there's less incentive to escape from any work-related unpleasantness. He has what we're all supposed to have, a career. And I - I'm no longer in high school, and everything inside my head is much better, and I had a career, and I sit on my porch with coffee and music and my writing. 

And I clean. I cook. I fold the laundry. Sometimes I think about that image that I had, that my father talked about, and sometimes it seems like that is my life, and other times I admit that there are a lot more toilet scrubbings than pleasant afternoons in a garden.

I'm not complaining, not at all. Toilet scrubbings and laundry foldings are a necessary part of life, and honestly, I love being able to do them without the mountain of fatigue and stress which accompanied my previous work in education. I do mourn, every once in a while, the loss of friends, coworkers, and kids - but I do not regret my current life. In fact, I am grateful for it. 

Very, very grateful. 

So when I say, even though I intensely appreciate my life, that there's some discomfort when I disclose my "job title," I think the discomfort is mostly mine. Every once in a while I feel like I need to justify what I'm going through - maybe that's because of how I ended up here. I don't know how to talk about being a housewife without excusing it in some way, and my excuse, as it were, is my experience with mental illness. I can't think about being a housewife without thinking because I couldn't continue to work. While I know that my role in the home is very important, I feel that sliver of discomfort when I can't explain to other people - or to myself - that this really is my life. 

But, aside from all of that, I think it's important to note the commonalities between my father's daydreams and my current situation. I've got music, all the time, and I've got cooking. I'm planning to garden in the spring and use fresh herbs in the kitchen. I'm researching projects that I can do around the house - not just painting or decorating, but cleaning gutters, changing locks, caulking siding, refinishing floors. Being a handy housewife sounds awesome, and it's that kind of anticipatory joy which links my housewifery with my father's afternoon musings. 

Recently, I was talking with a new acquaintance. He asked what kind of work my husband does, and a bit later he asked the same of me. And instead of opening with a list of all the "worthwhile" things I do - the writing, the craft shows - out popped an immediate and accurate answer: I'm a housewife.

And some day, just like my father, I might have a career that I love. I have no doubt that I will continue to find work or works which give me joy. But I have to come to terms with the fact that being a housewife is also something I love, I enjoy, and that there is no reason for me to shy away from answering a simple question about who I am and what I do. It doesn't matter what other people connote when they hear me talk about my life. 

I've been writing for an hour. Next up is unloading and reloading the dishwasher. Then, laundry. After that, organizing and packing away my craft materials until I need them next. And in my afternoon I'll be researching the proper way to strip, seal, and paint windows. 

I am a writer, a crafter, and a housewife. And all of those answers are just fine. 

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