A good friend and I are on the phone this morning recapping our holidays and the subject drifts from the good times had by all to the slight taint of rot on the underbelly of holidays. Naming it: Older generations, enforcing the patriarchal divide. My friend talks about her parents: a mother who tends to her son-in-law as if he were a prince, a father who just wants to shoot the shit with his daughter’s husband while my girlfriend cooks, cleans, changes diapers, and in short does everything she does during the week plus entertains a house full of company. But – this is Babydaddy’s vacation. “I mean, why don’t they just offer him a dowry for marrying off their daggy daughter?” she snaps.
I’m laughing as she says this, but in a pained way. It happens in my family as well. A couple days ago Ralph asked me if I would change Nels’ diaper and I told him I didn’t want to. This is often the first phase of a diaper-changing discussion my husband and I have, and usually Ralph ends up with the honor (damn, I wish I had someone to barter with the 9 hours a day during the week!). My mother rushed in and offered to change it. My intution informs me she was thinking Poor Ralph. Yes, God forbid he should change his own son’s diaper, get disgusted with the contents, and get it in his head to go find a younger, less demanding woman, leaving his heifer-like wife stranded. I can’t remember the last time my mother saved me from a dirty diaper because I shouldn’t have to do them in my “time off”. And I sure do change more than my husband does.
My father and brother only participate in this to the extent that in no way at all are they proactive about caring for the children. At least my mother knows these little ones are people, too; she is a sweet, understanding Grandma who works hard when my kids are guests in her home, yet defers to my authority as well. A perfect combo. And of course my father and brother are darlings to let us barge in, all four of us drinking a gallon of milk a day and monopolizing their laundry system, and disrupt their lives. But the men in the family are quite content to let the ladies “figure it all out” in terms of meals, childcare, bed and bath time. In fact when I first became a mother my father and brother acted terrified of my child. You’d thought it was a baby alligator I had birthed. I used to have to hold my baby out in midair for five minutes and cajole before they’d hold her. Even now, asking for five minutes or an hour of sit time is met with a grumpy silence and (usually) eventual mumbled acquiesence.
I love my family, and I love that they let us intrude. And I bear no resentment towards my husband over these issues. My husband knows how hard I work. He comes home to a (relatively) ordered house, dinner on the table, and clean, rested kids 5 days a week. I know how hard he works. He tends to the children at night, letting me rest. He puts the family above his job when it is necessary. He bears the brunt of having to decide when it is necessary, and having to decide when to discomfort me and the kids when he knows he needs to work late.
I don’t like to be told to sell myself out to keep a man. If I can live with the (temporary) loss of a career, the shabbiest clothes I’ve ever owned in my life, the “family car” floor covered in kid detritus and furnished with bad brakes, changing diapers on sticky public restroom floors, the total vacuum of adult interaction during my days, days of semi-starvation and bad coffee fueling my neverending chores, and piercing, screaming voices in my ear at only the most opportune public tantrum moments? – then he can live with goddamn dirty diapers on the weekends.