…I like my husband a little more. =)
I can remember three separate occasions on which I’ve cried openly in front of my father since learning the shame inherent in crying openly.
The first was the night my mother left us. I was fifteen, and he sat beside me in my bedroom while I sobbed into my pillow, hiding my face because I was so embarrassed and confused. He stroked my hair, patted my back, and asked me if I wanted to go to my grandmother’s house for the night. I told him no. I never told him it was because I didn’t want to be the second woman to leave him that day.
The second was the night before I went to jail. I was twenty-one, and he drove me from his house, where I’d gone to visit one last time, to my mother’s house, where I would spend the night before I had to turn myself in the next morning. He told me that we all had to face consequences and that everything would work itself out. It was only thirty days I had to spend away, but that night in the glow of the dash lights it felt like thirty years. I faced the window and pressed my lips together tight, but the pitch of my voice gave me away. I told him I was crying because I didn’t want to go to jail. I didn’t tell him that it was really because I was so embarrassed for having let him down, and disappointed in myself for having to leave him.
The third was tonight, when you cut him off in the middle of his sentence. He was telling me about his own memories of being my age. The sun had just gone down and the overwhelming humidity of the day had finally broken and I was rocking in my rocking chair and listening to him and thinking how unusual – but how thoroughly nice – it was to have him visit and tell stories and just be with me. I know you don’t know this, because you didn’t take the time to stop and wait for my attention. You burst through the screen door with that wild, pissed off look I’ve gotten so familiar with, and you didn’t yell, but you hissed, “I can take this anymore. They’re both fucking crying and I don’t know what to do.” Then you stormed back inside to sulk and pout. I’ll bet I know another thing you didn’t know. I’ll bet you didn’t know that I’d been listening on the monitor and they’d been crying for under two full minutes.
Tonight is the last night I cry in front of my father over you. Tonight, I’m going to let you deal with them the way you let me deal with them for the first three weeks of their lives: all alone. All those nights that I dealt with two howling newborns completely independently because my husband “needed his sleep for work.” All those nights, frustrated and bewildered and completely forbidden to call you downstairs from your air conditioned bedroom to help me, or just to console me while I attempted to console them. I had no idea what to do with them. I had no idea what to do with myself all those mornings afterward, when I’d had no sleep and my breasts ached and bled from my failure at breastfeeding, which mirrored what I considered my horrible failure at motherhood, and when no one was coming to relieve me of any of it – not for a shower, not to go to the bathroom, not to sit quietly in another room or have a bite to eat – for hours. And I figured it out because you gave me no other option. And I’m a god damned good mother for it now, so it’s time you became a god damned good father.
I’ll be back tomorrow. Until then, it’s up to you to figure it out. If I can do it, so can you.
“Dear” Mike’s Cat:
Please be advised that up to this point I have been exceedingly forgiving of your poor attitude and refusal to be a player on Team Geer. It is now four o’clock in the morning and, although you have let me sleep an extra two hours this morning, I feel compelled to inform you that my position on the Humane Society is rapidly swinging to a dangerous end of the spectrum. What once sounded cruel and heartless is now sownding more and more like the appropriate response to your terroristic behavior.
Please allow me to explain something to you: I sleep poorly to begin with. I have a beach ball strapped to my abdomen. I am a stomach sleeper. It is not fun to wake up realizing that I’ve rolled onto my beach ball and that the human beings inside my beach ball are probably being deprived of oxygen. Therefore, when I happen to have a good night, and find myself still dreaming at two, three, or four in the morning, I would like it to stay that way. I would not like to wake up to the sound of your deep-throated howling.
At what could you possibly feel frustrated? The dynamics of my entire househould were thrown into upheval the moment you entered. Everything, everything, in this house revolves around you, oh feline queen of all that is dramatic. Verily, verily, you are without a doubt, the most blatant example of everything about a cat that makes people not like cats. You are the reason that I – who love cats dearly – can understand why some people don’t.
You scratch my walls. You scratch my couch. You scratch my cats. The only things you don’t scratch are me and my husband which, it is my belief, is true only due to the fact that you are just smart enough to realize that, were you to scratch one of the bipedal creatures you consider your staff, you would find yourself (to borrow and adapt a phrase from one of the greatest skits of all time) in a burlap sack down by the river.
You refuse to allow any of the other cats in the house, who all got along reasonably well before your arrival, near you. You sit behind the futon in the living room or in front of the mirror in the dining room, dolling out the stink eye as if you are somehow better than everyone else. You have an attitude about you that reeks of condescension. Were you human, you would take the form of an emo teenager. You would probably cut yourself superficially, not due to a legitimate psychological issue with which I would be able to empathize, but due to your own patholocial narcissism, which would merely annoy me.
We are about to have twin human babies in this house. I would like them to eventually sleep through the night. In order to do that, they will need you to cease this outrageous rending of the peace and quiet of the household. I have hitherto been, in my opinion, exceedingly forgiving of the many faults I find in your personality – even with new and greater faults emerging almost daily. My patience and forgiveness were tested most recently, almost to their breaking point, three weeks ago when you ate an entire tray full of vegetable seedlings, I can only assume, as an act of willful defiance. A statement that you have no regard for the rules of good behavior that ought to dictate the behavior of even the most antisocial feline. Believe me when I say that I understand feline personality, and I embrace it. Sometimes I wish I could emulate the casual aloofness that your kind is so well known for and exemplify it in my own lifestyle. But you, Cat, are proving unmanageable.
Surely you must know that when humans lose too much sleep they tend to become cranky. You must also be aware, regardless of the fact that you act foolish, that our possession of opposable thumbs puts us at a distinct advantage over you. Were you to have evolved with an ability to manipulate your surroundings sufficiently it might be us renting rooms from you. Sadly for you, this is not the case. My soft heart is calcifying daily, and at a more and more rapid speed. You are in dangerous territory and I feel compelled to warn you what awaits if you persist in this truly senseless behavior.
Instead of lounging in front of a wall heater, striking fear into my walls, couch, and other cats, you may find yourself crouched at the door of a steel cage with your litterbox located only inches from your food bowl. Instead of striking fear into the hearts of the other cats that surround you – now crowded around you rather than hovering nervously a few feet away – you will be the object of all of their hatred, both righteous and displaced. You will still howl nightly, but rather than being greeted by your father or myself coming down the stairs to placate you, you will find yourself howling yourself hoarse until morning, when someone will come to feed you kibble that is far, far below the standard you’ve come to expect. And no one – please believe me when I say this – no one is going to adopt you. Ever.
I urge you to modify your behavior to bring yourself within the scope of acceptability. I can only take so much.
The Woman Who’s Running This Show
Author’s Note: This really needs some heavy editing, but I felt compelled to publicly declare the conflict and then attempt more rest. Line edits will come later.
I am having a bad morning. Arguments with the domestic partner. A cat – his cat – who’s eaten the seedlings I was lovingly nursing to life, that I might feed our small family homegrown peas, zucchini, cucumbers, spinach, and red peppers this summer. Now the oil-and-water combination of guilt at having told him he was being a “prick” and indignation at the knowledge that he, perhaps, wasn’t being a full-on prick, but that he was acting like a giant, hairy man-baby. Progesterone. Progesterone flooding my brain like rum, but so so much less fun. Making me unsure whether my indignation is on solid ground. Whether I’m actually indignant at all. Or maybe just pregnant. Prowling a blog written by a girl I went to high school with who, like all the girls I went to high school with, seems to have her shit so much more together than I do. Her blog led me to this. And I wanted to share it. It made me think of my OB.
I have to sign a waiver stating that I want my tubes tied after I deliver our twins. That I understand that it’s permanent. That I really, really want it done. Then I have to wait 30 days. If I were to go into labor prior to my 30 days being up – an entirely possible scenario, given that twins often come early and I’m into my 8th month – my OB would be legally obligated to leave my tubes intact. My insurance will be cut off almost immediately upon delivery, because my husband makes too much money for me to have medicaid if I’m not a surrogate for a uterine parasite or two. I will not be allowed, then to have my tubes tied.
Except that my OB is fabulous and understands that it’s “absurd” for him to treat me based on the moral position of the State of Pennsylvania rather than on my own wishes. Hearing that from him was a truly empowering experience. I’ve never, ever had a doctor make me feel as though what I wanted was priority one. I’m pretty sure none of them up to this point could even have told me my own name without consulting my chart. In fact, the fat shit practitioner I’ve blogged about previously has actually called me by the wrong name – and had the wrong patient chart pulled up at the beginning of our meeting – twice now. So…my confidence in doctors is shaky at best.
But doctors like this one, like mine, give me the warm fuzzies. As a woman, I find the idea that any doctor would feel any different both discouraging and frightening.
I recently realized that my husband has no real expectations of me aside from those anyone would have of another human being with whom he might share his home. Well, it was my home before it was ours, but…You know. The typical expectations we have of anyone we live with. Contribute to the household. Don’t poop on the floor. Don’t murder me while I sleep. Those types of things.
Then I got fired for being pregnant. I know. I keep harping on it. But it’s what happened and the company knows it and I’m not going to pretend here – the one place I ought to be able to say exactly what I think – that it was anything else. So here I sit. No longer contributing financially to the household. Still not pooping on the floor. No immediate plans to murder my husband in his sleep.
And I can’t help but think of the cultural archetype of the smiling fifties housewife, gleefully vacuuming the floors in heels and concocting dinners of butter and meat with giddy abandon. Is this the truth of the matter? Were American housewives of the era really that chipper? The ones on amphetamines, perhaps. Kidding. My understanding of the social history of the time, which is based on history classes I took in college not dealing explicitly with women’s history, is that the swinging of the pendulum back to a focus on family and stay-at-home wives and mothers was a function of the end of WWII. The period of time from 1945 to the official start of “The Fifties” marked a period of social change. Where women were encouraged during the war to contribute to America’s success by taking jobs that men left behind as they enlisted or were drafted into the military, postwar American women were portrayed as more fulfilled by domestic endeavors.
So I’ve been trying to learn a little more about how much of our popular understanding of the 1950’s housewife as an oppressed and rather pathetic creature is authentic and how much of it is an insinuation perpetuated by television, magazine articles and other media. One of the things that comes up most persistently when one runs a Google search on terms such as “1950’s Housewife” is this. I referenced that particular instance of the article because it sends people straight to Snopes, which I think is one of the best websites ever. Anything that seems wrong or off to me immediately gets “snoped.” Snopes says that the article is, “an exaggeration with a point.” While no one has found the source of the list (leading most to believe that it was written long after the fifties had given way to modernity), it seems to be a sort of amalgam of the worst parts of a woman’s existence – its point being to give us a more cheerful outlook on the current state of things by comparing it to the worst of the past.
But it really doesn’t help me. You see, while I spend the next two months cooking my twins, I find myself at home all day with nothing to really do aside from be a housewife. I cook dinners. I clean. Sometimes. I watch Toddlers and Tiaras and vomit. The two are strongly causally related. I start drafts of blogs. Sometimes, like this morning, I finish them. And I’m wondering whether I could hack it as a housewife in the fifties. Trouble is that I can’t find any real references to what being a housewife in the fifties was actually like.
Jen (but never Jenn) had this idea before me, as have many women. She did a Fifties Housewife Experiment and, for her reference material, she used household guides, magazines, cookbooks and home economics texts from the era. She also used (and as a result, hipped me to) videos from the Prelinger Archives that were meant for women of the era. In her experiment, she tried to recreate the schedule, social life and work load that a housewife would have in the fifties. She also attempted to stay as true to the era as possible while still remaining within the bounds of reason. And, in the end, she took a lot of heat for it.
Lauren Bans, in an article for Slate, said of the results of the experiment, “Though I suspect “pretending” for two weeks probably makes days of cleaning and cooking easier than when it’s the immutable reality of your life.” This was my first thought when I first began forming the idea of doing a similar experiment in my mind – long before stumbling on Jen Byck’s blog. And, to be fair, Bans also opened her article by stating, “Looks like someone wants a book deal!” I won’t lie. That was also at the forefront of my mind. So…transparency. But to be honest I have to wonder what Bans wanted from Byck. I’ll be honest, I’ve not read through all the entries regarding Byck’s experiment and I’ve only casually glanced over her “results,” but it seems to me that one would have to read such an experiment as unscientific. I’m not sure whether Byck failed to explicitly state that the experiment was not up to snuff in terms of the rigors of science – worthy of peer review and replication – but any reasonable person should understand that to be the case after just reading the introduction. And the experiment I thought of doing – one similar in most ways to Byck’s – would be the same.
The majority of complaints Byck received on her work seemed to center on the argument between those who feel that the fifties housewife was oppressed and forlorn versus those who feel that there may be something to the lifestyle that may have been – and may be now – beneficial to a marriage. The disconnect between the two is obviously (to me, at least) the issue of Free Will. Choice. Something that women in the fifties seemed to have precious little of.
The problem with women’s roles in postwar America was that they were enforced. Expectations of women and wives were that they would marry, keep a house and bear children. Those who didn’t risked being ostracized as social lepers. Spinsters. No one wanted to wind up a spinster. According to the US Census, the median age of marriage for women in 1940 was 21.5. By 1950, the age was 20.3, and that age didn’t rise significantly until 1980, when it rose to 22. Perhaps now we feel that social pressure to behave in a certain way is less of a factor in our behavior. Perhaps it is. I really don’t know. But what one needs to understand about that period in American history is that it was a time when one did not want to veer too far from the prescribed path. Social damnation was a very real and very formidable fate.
We were trying “communists” and The Monsters (were) Due on Maple Street. I know, that particular episode premiered in 1960, but it was about this time in the fifties, when the chill of suspicion infused everything. It seems to me that the plight of the American housewife was that she really didn’t have a lot of choice. Women in the forties had had a moment of independence. They’d had jobs. They’d had freedoms. They’d been able to make it independent of a man and a marriage. It was as if women had been allowed out of the pasture and were now being rounded back up as their fellas came home from war. Patted on the shoulder and told “good job, girls, now kindly make us a sammich.” Not literally, but one can see how the changing role of women seemed to be taking a step backward. Many women were fine with it. Many were led to believe they were fine with it because they bought into the American ideal of the Affluent Society – appliances and conveniences and the facade of security. Social pressure can be an incredibly powerful motivator. I’m not saying that all women were oppressed or not oppressed. I think it depends on the woman.
The same social pressure exists today. Do you know how many of the girls I graduated with wanted to become housewives after high school? None. That I knew of. If any of us did we certainly didn’t talk about it. It wasn’t even discussed as an option, although classes were offered in both Foods and Parenting. I took both. Because I didn’t want to take another class I’d have to study for. After working and going to school, though, I always kind of thought fondly of what it would be like to just be in charge of a home. My aunt was my model for what a stay-at-home-wife looked like. Trouble was that my uncle had a swanky ass job and they could afford all the luxury they liked without her bringing home a check. And that was the thing in the fifties. The austerity of wartime was over and everyone was being pressured to buy, buy, buy! And it was possible, at that time, to live with reasonable comfort on one income. Such is not the case today. The only reason we’re going to be okay is because The Company (cue lightening bolts and frowny faces) “laid me off due to lack of work.” Read that as “you may collect unemployment.” Also, pregnant women in my state are generally universally eligible for Medicaid through delivery. And keep your mouths shut, folks. I’ve worked and payed into the system since I was sixteen and I have ten weeks of my pregnancy left. I’m not one of “those people” who sits on her duff from graduation on claiming all sorts of maladies that prevent her from working just to collect “your money.”
Back to the direction I meant for that paragraph to go in. The same social pressure exists today, but in reverse. We women are told that we should desire careers and lives outside of our homes. And here’s my argument: We should be allowed to desire whatever we want. I’ve spent time at college. I have interests other than my husband and his interests. I feel happy and fulfilled catching up on my housework, working on my writing, cooking actual meals instead of depending on that Ginger Kid Wendy for all of my sustenance. I’m enjoying being a wife and making a home. I’m chosing to be a homemaker, in a way. I am applying for work, as per the requirement set forth by the Department of Labor and Industry, but I’m fully aware that any interview I walk into is doomed by the size of my belly – triple Sneetch at this point. I don’t expect to be working until after I deliver, and I’m okay with that. And the hardcore feminists are, I’m sure, looking down their noses at me from their big, you know, executive desks or whatever and either pitying or mocking me. But I’m doing what I’m doing fully aware that, at least after delivery, I have every option to be doing something else. I have the Free Will that the fifties housewife didn’t have. And that makes it okay.
Hmm…but maybe I could trade just a little bit of my Free Will for some of their amphetamines….