After ironing nine shirts and cooking five chicken breasts and vacuuming two carpeted rooms, I stopped mid-Swiffer and thought, “Wow, I’m so thankful.” What am I thankful for: housework? Absolutely not. I’m grateful that I have a partner who notices my work. Yes, I said work: it’s a job that lacks a paycheck or a boss who says, “Good job,” but it is, nevertheless, work.
I was reminded of my current position while Swiffering and reliving a conversation I had with a stranger at Starbucks. A thirty-something woman saw me grading and asked if I was a teacher. “Yes,” I replied, telling her I taught two classes at a community college. “How nice that you only have to work part-time,” she added. I felt so many things at that moment, mostly the story of my Sisters who not only didn’t work “part-time” but were also “only” housewives. Most of those women had children, a slight validation that they were actually not sitting at home scratching their arses, but as a childless women in her mid-forties who “only” teaches a few classes at a college, I feel I am constantly—if only in my mind—trying to validate my position.
Recently, I was speaking to a family member who is having a tough time with three children, a husband out of work, and a job that is not stable. Darn, my life is easy in comparison. But it is still my life and I too work hard, but much of our society still believes a woman at home is an easy job—add to that image one with no children, then she is probably a going to the gym, to the manicurist, and spending “her husband’s” money.
A male colleague (who teaches one class) told me he gave up his full-time position a few years ago, so he can stay at home and take care of his family. When he drops off his little girl at daycare for a few hours for some outside stimulation (for his daughter’s, not his), many mothers say, “What a great dad!” Really? He is just being a dad. I can’t remember a time when a mother dropped off her child and people said, “What a great mother!” He tells me this and other interesting stories of being a stay-at-home spouse. His wife is always exhausted, her high-stress executive job sucking out her smiles. But when she comes home, he has a warm dinner waiting for her, the house is clean, and the children have done their homework and are playing outside—not inside with video games. He tells me she goes into her cave for about an hour; she likes to walk on her bedroom treadmill after sitting all day, take a shower, and then she emerges a new woman.
Yes, we have progressed from the 50s and 60s and even from the turn of this past century, but we are not there yet. As a woman, I still have to validate how I spend my hours; otherwise my life seems too easy. It is easy in comparison with 98% of the women of this world. I have food on my table; coffee in my cup. I am neither abused nor mistreated. I have rights. I don’t have to walk five miles every day for clean water; I don’t have to take care of a sick parent or a child with an illness; I can buy a pretty dress when I want, but I do drive a car that is from 1997. I make mostly wise choices: a little in the bank, a nice dinner in return. I am not struggling by any means, but I also hear comments like the aforementioned Starbucks woman quite often.
How tough it must have been to be a housewife of previous decades, and how much better it must have been if she had a partner who appreciated her. I am blessed with the latter. My husband loves my cooking, so he doesn’t just eat. He salivates, grunts, and between bites, exclaims, “Wow! This is AMAZING!” He thanks me for taking care of our three dogs. He notices the little things: the bed that’s made with the stuffed animals in naughty positions; the five shirts I iron weekly; the shower that sparkles; he even notices the orange scent of the Pledge, “Wow, Amore, the house smells amazing! What is it?”
Okay, I won the husband lottery, but that’s not the point. I also thank him for how hard he works. Up at 6.a.m., he takes the dogs for a walk and returns after a demanding-but-interesting job that brings him home at 9 p.m. most nights. So we both work hard and we both work “full-time.” The only difference is that he brings home most of the bacon. I am a part-time teacher, a part-time housewife, a part-time soon-to-be novelist. I’m a feminist, a cook, a cleaner, grocery-shopper, a dog lover, a poop-picker upper, a once-a-week-yoga girl, a twice-a-week-gym girl, a one-hour-a-day phone call daughter; a love goddess; and—above all—a supportive wife. Happy wife, happy life. (That’s what my stay-at-home-father friend told me.) I’m a die-hard romantic and when my partner is happy, so am I.
We take care of each other and for that I am grateful. But his position in this society is still far more validated than mine.
“So it must be really relaxing to just stay at home three days a week!” the woman repeats.
“Yes,” I smile.
It is. It’s a good life. But there is more to it.