Nearly a year ago I left my job. I thought, ‘This is my chance to reinvent myself.’ It might have helped to know what I wanted to become or how I might get there. Instead, I hoped my new self might appear to me miraculously, in much the same way the image of Jesus appears in unexpected places. I recently heard on the news that an image of Jesus appeared in a moldy bathroom in Texas. No such thing has ever happened to me, although I stare at the computer like it might contain the secret to life.
I did learn some things about myself, and one of the most important is this: I am not a happy homemaker. If I thought my year at home would transform me into a contented housewife who spends her afternoons in the kitchen, looking up ambitious recipes in large tomes called ‘The Joy of Cooking’, I was seriously way off the mark.
Undoubtedly, I had the best intentions. I was going to learn to make Mexican food the way my mother does; I was going to clean up the house, and declutter and paint my bedroom; I was going to take an online course on social media and brush up on things like twitter, which were meant to make me more employable; I was going to bake cakes and cookies and learn to make lasagne, which I can never get right. I did none of these.
The furthest I got with the Mexican cooking is asking my mother how she makes beans in the crock pot overnight. The kids, frankly, eat whatever I can scrounge from the kitchen in about 15 minutes. Every evening I open the refrigerator door and half expect/half hope that something will occur to me if I stare at the food long enough.
My cleaning has got no further than picking food off the floor when I see it. I occasionally take the vacuum out of its resting place in the closet, but only if I am threatened with a visit from someone from ‘The Outside’. Dusting is laughable. I wipe at surfaces in the bathroom with the nearest thing to hand, normally a piece of wet tissue paper. I barely bother with chemicals.
Do I feel guilty about my lack of Domestic Goddess skills? Sometimes. I wish I could be a bit more interested in the home, but I think I’d rather go back to work and have a good excuse for the clothes that pile up in the bedroom and, irritatingly, need me to put them back in drawers and closets.
A crash course in psychology
Because I’m an American woman, I like to analyze things to death. So this is my theory, with no scientific proof to back it up: women in the 1950s aspired to be happy homemakers. This was very much their job and where they exercised control of their lives. They learned skills that helped them be good at it, such as cooking and sewing. I’m not saying all women were happy doing this, but it was many a woman’s ambition to be fulfilled in the home.
I was born in the 1970s. The women’s liberation movement had come and gone. The feminists burned bras and looked on breastfeeding as an evil chore. Convenient baby bottles, better formula and diapers had been invented. Women started to look beyond the home.
I was taught by my parents that education was my ticket to better things. I’d have more choices and opportunities; I would take control of my destiny. Education would save me from my mother’s fate of toiling in the house, or so I naively thought when I was a teenager. I spurned anything my mother tried to teach me in the kitchen. Why learn to cook? I was going to earn money and go out to eat. I would pay a housekeeper to clean the toilets and do the endless dusting.
Not surprisingly, this didn’t quite happen as I envisioned. I did get the education and graduated from college with two degrees. I learned the lines to epic poems such as Beowulf and studied Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. No one taught me how to sew a button or make a basic white sauce.
I fell in love, got married and, over time, unwittingly ended up responsible for what we eat at the dinner table and how the house looks. I didn’t connect the dots early on and see where it was headed. In a nutshell, I feel kind of unprepared for the job of domestic wife and mother, and there isn’t enough money to employ someone else to do the many overwhelming chores that mysteriously multiply as I get older.
I’m kind of learning on the job and making loads of mistakes. I fear I’ve become the lazy employee, who sits all day in the office looking busy but accomplishing little. I get defensive when people ask me what I do all day. As if keeping two children from scratching each other like feral cats, and looking vaguely presentable and human-like isn’t enough.
My friend Martha
I thumb through my mother’s copy of Martha Stewart Living magazine, waiting for inspiration to strike. There are beautiful pictures, tantalizing drinks and food, with dinner tables set in bold, primary colors. There are tips for summer barbecues – a feature helpfully suggests placing wine (red/white/rose) in different-colored buckets. Update your outside table with pretty ferns. There’s a list of things to give a hostess, in case you worry about this sort of thing. A letter to the magazine asks what material to use when making pillows that will remain outside. The writer from North Carolina probably doesn’t find sewing in a straight line as challenging as I found geometry.
It’s a simple truth: I’m not great in the home. It could be that I’ve been living with my mother for nearly a year and have regressed to the state of teenager. Or, as I’ve come to realize, I’m not a Martha Stewart clone, nor do I aspire to be. Being a mother and homemaker is a tough, tough job. Which is why I’m now a firm believer that it’d probably be easier to go back to work in an office and let the house continue to look much like it does already. Maybe one day I’ll even be able to afford a cleaner.