Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Job description, please?

Here's a thought...How many of us stay at home mums, housewives have ever heard or been given the advice that part of our role is to make ourselves presentable for our husband's return at the end of the work day? It's never an oppressive or forced suggestion but it's presented in perhaps the same way as the age old wisdom of never going to bed on a cross word.
I do like to look good for my husband - I love to get ready for a day together or a night out but I somehow object to this notion that ten minutes before he walks in the door I should rush and slap on some makeup, brush my hair. Now, it's not that I don't do that (for the most part) but I don't want a voice in my head telling me I should or making me feel inadequate in my role if I don't.
You see, there are days when I have worked hard, very hard. I always joke about my lack of housewifery but I'm down there on my knees with the best of them. I will get that fluff from around the toilet, I will clean those skirting boards and I will even move the furniture instead of vacuuming around it! Along with making dinner, playing with Olive, getting her outside for some fresh air in the often chilly weather, getting the groceries in, and so on and so forth! Sometimes, just sometimes i don't want to paint my face and this impression that it was all in a day's work and I'm still perky and gorgeous. I want to say yes, it's all in a day's work but I'm a bit stinky and ragged and I'm looking forward to a shower this evening.
I would never 'expect' my husband to check his hair, straighten his tie and be wearing his suit jacket when he returns for work. He usually looks tired and dishevelled. I take this as a sign that it has been another day of 'work'. Shouldn't our appearance suggest the same? That we too have worked hard? I'm not saying that we need to be in our pj's, people, but if my top has the odd stain on it, what's the problem? Is there a problem?
Aren't we by perpetuating this stereotype somehow undoing years of feminism? Or am i just taking a few wise words too much to heart? Should we also be waiting with a smoking jacket and a martini?
What I'm saying is that we stay at home mums/homemakers/whateveryouwanttocallus work hard and work even harder to somehow prove that we work that hard...still with me? That we don't just watch soap operas and nap all day. So, why at the end of the day should I somehow find an extra ten minutes from nowhere to get ready...for...for what?
When both my husband and I were working outside of the home we often didn't know who would make it home first. We would both come in, take off our coats, kick off our shoes and walk to the bedroom and the first thing we would do would be to pull on "more comfortable clothing." Sometimes, I would work out after work and come in a sweaty beast...
For those stay at home dads, do you gel your hair and brush your teeth before your wife comes through the door?
Where did this advice come from? Is it so that the working husband wants to return to his stay at home wife at the end of the day...and is impressed and comforted that she looks just as good as the women he sees at work? Didn't Paul Newman say "Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?" In which case, what about the wives that work that return to the home shattered with panda eyes where their mascara has been rubbed after a day hard at work...?
Now, I'm not saying there is anything WRONG with this but I just question that this advice is being still passed down. Is it outdated? Or, is it just words that work from women who know? Is this actually how marriages survive?
I'm just wondering...any thoughts...?

Friday, October 23, 2009

If You Go Down To The Woods Today...

When I was 11 years old I saw my first penis. It was from a distance but it was very much alive. I was at the park with my best friend where we had planned to meet our boyfriends who were essentially friends that happened to be boys. You know, in between games of tag we would hold hands and talk about WWF. Knowing that it was a little risque we had decided to go into the wooded area, slightly off the beaten path, to build up the courage to exchange our first kiss. After about 20 minutes of giddiness my best friend and I agreed to let the boys kiss us after the count of 3. Just as we were about to pucker up we heard someone coming. Even though we were doing nothing wrong we knew we weren't supposed to be there. I mean, this wasn't something we would be sharing around the family table that evening. A man came into view with a dog. We shushed each other and hoped the brush around us would cover us enough to be out of his view. Thinking he would pass, I remember that holding my boyfriend's hand was making my heart beat faster than the sight of this man. He didn't pass. In fact, he decided to tie up his dog to a nearby tree. He then began to remove his clothing. We couldn't believe it! We were looking at each other, giggling that this man was oblivious to our presence. The man, a graying figure in his 40s had arrived wearing slacks and a shirt. He now stood 10 feet away from us stark naked. I then remember feeling embarrassed not for myself but for the man. We began whispering through our giggles that we should leave but I said that I didn't want him to see us and feel awkward. I thought we should wait it out. Perhaps he needed to pee...naked? The man then reached down and pulled out of his pants pocket some suntan lotion. OK, so it was summer...however, we were in England...and it was overcast. In fact, my mum had made me wear a thin, navy blue anorak because the sky had been threatening rain. Not to mention that we were in a darkened, wooded area. Not really an opportune tanning spot.
Of course, you can guess what was coming (!) and where that lotion was applied. We were no longer laughing. In fact, we were very much four 11 year old children. We looked at each other, again counted to 3 and then up and ran. We ran and ran and kept running, didn't look back, and went straight through the park back onto the road, in the sunlight. Ahh, the safe sunlight. We didn't talk until we had stopped running and calmed ourselves into a brisk walk. At first we wondered whether to go straight to the police, to immediately tell our parents, what should we do...? The further we walked, the funnier it became. We wondered if in fact he hadn't seen us. It became more dreamlike, more exciting. We decided that it should become our secret and we gave it a codeword of 007 - because it felt like something out of a Bond movie. That logic makes no sense now but we thought we were brilliant.
Of course, when we returned to school after the summer we told anyone that would listen. We were legends!
We didn't however tell our parents. Nor did we didn't tell the police. Why? Because that would have involved explaining why we were sitting in the woods and that was more scary to us than the threat of a predator. Ahh, how a child's mind works...

This morning I awoke to the story of Somer Thompson.
Her 10-year-old sister told police that Somer had gotten into a fight with another girl at school earlier in the day. The sister said she brought up the fight while she and her brother walked Somer home from school, and that Somer ran off from them, apparently upset. According to the police report the sister said she lost sight of Somer in a group of other kids leaving the school. Her body was found in a landfill yesterday.

Her incredibly strong mother was interviewed this morning and when asked what she would say to other parents she talked of two things.
1) To teach your child about 'stranger danger'.
2) To take an extra two seconds to tell your child you love them because you never know what the day will hold.

Now, my daughter is 8 months old and her whereabouts is still in my hands. I can talk to her about being cautious around new people and not to assume that any stranger is safe. I can teach her to stay on the beaten path. That there are wicked people everywhere and sadly, not always strangers.
However, remembering that experience reminded me that as a child I would feel everything first. Emotion would totally overrun thought. I was actually more concerned about that stranger feeling embarrassed rather than thinking about my own danger. I can tell you that I knew of "stranger danger" but it didn't occur to me that this (at first) 'normal' looking stranger, that could have passed for a teacher, that didn't pull up in a car asking for directions, that wasn't offering me sweets, was in fact a "dangerous stranger" Stupid? Perhaps. Naive? Maybe. Childlike. Yes.

Whatever the details, whatever took Somer off the beaten path we may never know.
Today, however, I'm going to heed the words of a mother that does know and take two extra seconds to love on my little and big ones. To honor those parents with empty arms tonight.

Rest in peace, little one.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Dog-Eared Handbook

We all know that having children changes you. You only have to look at the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament to see that. Before you have children you have all these 'ideas' of what you will and won't do. How your child will behave. Good luck with that. Good. Luck. However, we do have a handbook. Contrary to the mutterings that all us new parents throw at one another, we do all have a handbook. Now, we can either rip out the pages or highlight and underline but rest assured the book we have is one of the first gifts our parents ever gave us. Whether we use it or not, every child rearing theory we spout or choose to rebuke comes from that book which was in turn given to our parents from their parents and so on and so forth. Yes, we amend it as we go along - or at least we hope to. I suppose the trick is to spot what didn't work and not keep that in the book that you pass down. Simple, right? Well it would be except your partner has a book too and that is where parenting becomes really fun. What you took as normal is suddenly questionable. "What? You mean your father wouldn't come in and kick off his clothes and expect his meal on the table?"
You husband was spanked as a child. If he misbehaved it would be reported to his father who would later explain why such behaviour was wrong and a spanking would ensue. On the other hand, when I was told off I would likely be clipped round the ear or given a smack bottom as I scuttled out of the room. Hearing these differences, I was aghast that my husband was spanked in such a controlled fashion. He in turn didn't like that I was disciplined out of anger. Conflict? No. Why? Because we had this conversation pre-Olive when we also said that we would let our child cry herself to sleep, we wouldn't feed on demand, and we would 'happily' discipline our child. Our imaginary child. That pretend baby that you plan everything for before you actually meet, nay, conceive her. You know, before you realise that the sight and sight of your baby crying makes you want to pull your eyes out and use them as ear plugs, if only to take your mind off the pain of your heart breaking. I am nowhere near the parent I planned to be. Yesterday, i tried to be firm with Olivia when she kept undoing her diaper. I gave a firm "no" and her eyes welled up - I kissed her 17 times until i felt forgiven. I'm officially useless...
I know, i know, we are new parents. I'll get tougher in time. Soon, i'll graduate to the front seat of the car once more and stop dating the back of my husband's head. In the meantime, whilst figuring our way and condensing our parent's handbooks to form our own, my husband and I are united in our admiration of another family. We happily defer to a handbook advocating love, laughter and sweaters with leather patches.
Yes, we want to be Cliff and Claire Huxtable and if that means training Olivia to come down the stairs miming gospel we'll do it.
Here is a snippet from the Huxtable handbook- from a chapter perhaps entitled "Cliff's Tough Love".
Now, this is how you parent...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Where The Wild Things Were

Last week when undressing to take a shower I looked down at my body. The final ten lbs laughed at me. My gigantic breasts looked like a pair of Cocker Spaniel ears. I had random strands of leg hair that I had missed around my ankle and knees that must date back to the 80s. With only some scissors and nail clippers at my disposal a tummy tuck and breast reduction seemed extreme. I could however, tackle, and I use that word loosely, the proof of evolution that was also featuring heavily in my reflection. Armed with the scissors I set to "tidy" and "prune". I decided I had been 'between styles' for too long.
Ladies, within just a few moments I felt and looked beautiful. I stood on the scales afterwards just to feel the difference.
All good, right? Well...all would be good except here I am recovering from the plague that is bouncing around. All that remains is a cough...just an annoying, dry bark. A non-productive cough - i think that is how Robitussin would classify it. (Incidentally, few things can be worse than a head cold when you have a teething baby to look after... In my delirium and desperation I actually blew my nose with a diaper at one point to save dribbling on Olive's body when I was changing her).
I I have a cough. Okay. Fine. Except now I don't just cough...I cough and I dribble. Cough. Dribble. You see, ladies, I have discovered the purpose of pubic hair. For those of us who were slack at doing our kegel exercises ( I was reluctant to use the word slack anywhere in this blog but...) pubic hair is the last line of defense when us new mums laugh, sneeze or cough! Guard it wisely. From one woman to another - don't go for style over substance!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

But can she bake a cake?

My name is Paula and I am an alcoholic.
OK, so I'm not - I'm actually a housewife but i feel more qualified to be at the former meeting. Don't get me wrong, i don't have bottles of vodka stuffed inside my knicker drawer - I'm just wholly unqualified to be a housewife yet this is my job. I recently had to fill out a form that asked my occupation. Hm. I went back and forth. Do you write what you trained to be/want to be/ or how you actually spend your day? When in New York and asked I used to answer "actress" only if I had recently 'done' something or just booked a job. Why? It is so depressing to hear the disappointment in their voices when they ask you what have i seen you in/what are you in at the moment? Much easier to just lie and tell them that I'm a receptionist- not much scope for conversation there. Oh yes, i can work the shredder....
So...i ummed and i ahhed and then wrote, HOUSEWIFE. Then next to it I wrote, STAY AT HOME MUM. And then I did a little arrow and wrote above it , (slightly larger)- CURRENTLY.
First of all, stay at home mum is the most ridiculous term i have ever heard in my life. SAHM conjures up an image of some sort of shut in. It sounds like we have our curtains closed and we just wander from room to room rocking our child singing about babies falling in cradles. I realise that the term is used as an alternative to mothers that go out to work but can we come up with a less depressing term? Do I need to up my meds? Seriously, can we be known as going in and out of the house mum or sometimes i stay in but often i go out mum....just something. It's enough to make a girl put on her wedding dress and sit in cobwebs.
And then, housewife...well, that just terrifies me. If we were playing mallets mallet - it would go something like: Housewife. Cooking. Cleaning. Ironing, Laundry. Baking. Vomit. OK, so maybe not the last one, but that word would work in my word association game. It's just that I trained to be an actress, people. I'm not lazy but I'm not sure i fit in this club. I don't watch the Food channel and have never bought an ornament in my life. I'm frankly embarrassed at my skills. The other day, my sister in law gave me a knitted piece of material that had the shape of Oregon imprinted into it. Brilliant, i thought. That was enough for me. Turns out it had purpose. It is for cleaning dishes - she informed me...Thank you, Amy (is that a hint?) Sadly, I have put it on the credenza - it's too nice to wash up with. Then, last week my mother just came to stay and before i had finished my morning cup of coffee she asked what we were having for dinner tonight. Early dementia? Do you mean breakfast, i asked? No, she laughed. Dinner. What meat should we get out of the freezer? Good Lord~ that would never cross my mind. My mother, sisters, sisters in law, mother in law and friend Rachel (from my days as a go out to work person) are brilliant people! Imagine knowing what you are having for dinner before noon?

In an effort to earn my keep, I baked my first cake yesterday. was for my husband's birthday as a gift from Olive, I'm not going to be buying Tori Spelling jewelry off the HSN anytime soon. Well...I almost broke a sweat looking for a cake mix. I felt lost in an aisle of vanilla extract, flour and Tupperware. BUT...turns out...piece of cake...wah, wah, wahhhh...
Alright, so it wasn't a chocolate, swiss, embroidered, butterfly, dark forest torte but it did the trick. It was chocolate and edible.
I decided to see my cake and raise myself some housework. I changed the sheets, cooked a marvelous birthday dinner, went grocery shopping and cleaned all the rooms in my 4 room apartment. I also managed to stimulate my daughter to the point of hysteria. I didn't get to take a shower or brush my teeth until noon and olive did cry when i hoovered around her but wowzers, what a day. Now, that felt like the good old days of going to work except...I felt strangely unfulfilled. I suppose I just want to know from other stay at home or go out occasionally this something you get pleasure from? Will it grow on me? Do some people enjoy doing this each day? This is not a slight on people that do more a sad realization that perhaps I don't.

One thing that I am discovering on this crazy ride is that similar to the breastfeeding issue there is a line in the sand drawn between mothers that work out of the house and those that work in the home. Before i continue, let me issue the following disclaimers...I realize that it is a tremendous privilege and gift to have the opportunity to be at home with my daughter. I have huge admiration for mothers wherever they work. Many women do not have a choice. However, with friends sat in both camps I have noticed that there is veiled defense when it comes to this topic. The women that go to work feel attacked for not being good mothers and the stay at home mothers feel the need to prove their role as valid in this day and age. Defensive comments such as, "I would get bored doing that all day" are met with "Why have children if you are not going to raise them?" I suppose the proof of the pudding (you see, one cake and I'm talking shop) is in the children becoming balanced, happy beings. I'm not curing cancer with this blog but I have been surprised at the dichotomy of views that i have encountered. Ultimately, the biggest realization in life as you become an adult is that ALL families are equally dysfunctional no matter who is at home. Right? Before you question that statement - just have a think about your family or the one you married into...there's always one, people...always...

I also wonder what do we 'shut in mums' think of Martha Stewart: the ultimate working housewife?

At the moment I have a foot in both camps and while finances will likely send me over the line and back to work - (i know how to work a shredder, right?) I have discovered that being a mother is my greatest, most cherished role but being a housewife is much like being a wetnurse for me. Messy and sadly i'm not very good at it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dog eat Dog...

The other day a woman with a dog passed Olive and I as we were out on a walk. The dog bounded over and began to lick her hand and mount her stroller. I looked over at the owner who only seemed to care for her dog's safety. "Good girl" she her dog. She came closer to her unleashed pet, peered in at Olive but didn't offer anymore than a stroke to her dog's flea ridden mop. She and I were a foot away. I smiled and moved the stroller a little. She ignored me and looked at the mutt. The dog jumped up again and licked Olivia's hands some more. Now, who wants a stinky dog's mouth on your daughter's hands when her fingers live in her mouth and the dog's tongue lives in it's butt?
The sour faced woman commented "That baby needs a dog. "
I smiled. She didn't.
The women continued, "May i suggest the humane society?"

Now...can you imagine if I walked up to the dog and allowed Olivia to pinch it and pull at it's fur? Then perhaps suggested "That dog needs a child. May I suggest the orphanage?"
Now, i'm not a dog person (since our dog was run over by the lie) but that would be weird, right?