One of the reasons I left Facebook this last summer – one of about a half-dozen not-that-big-a-deal yet cumulatively significant factors – was the depressing reflection of modern married live vis-a-vis housework and gender-substantiated parenting roles. Case in point, status messages like: “My husband is doing the dishes tonight, I’m the LUCKIEST WOMAN ALIVE!!1!” Oh how I wish I was joking and oh how I wish this was just a singular event. But I’m not, and it wasn’t, and although my friends and acquaintances are free to their relationships I wanted to experience Facebook as lighthearted entertainment, not teeth-gnashing reminders of realities I occasionally need a break from. Facebook had to go, and I don’t miss it – and yes, since you ask, I’ve found another social media service by which to fritter away my time.
So, me. I grew up in a household where really, to keep a dude you (Lady) did the chores. Both things were equally important: having a man, that is, and doing the work around the house to make sure he stayed happy.* Oh and by the way, I have heard every excuse in the book as to why in general, heterosexually-partnered men do roughly half the work at home of their female counterparts** (unless the female is employed out of the home and the male is not, the one exclusion): from the (supposedly) individualized “Oh but t-hee!, he just likes it messy and I like it clean!” (heard this one many times) to evo-psychology drivel: you know, Guys are meant to hunt mammoths and Laydeez weave baskets. So if you have some of those arguments, please don’t bother. Heard ’em all.
If I sound a little harpy-like now and then (I do!) please know that although my logical mind knows fairness in the home makes sense and should be strived for – and I am fortunate to have a partner who believes the same – in some way my emotional sense is still reeling from the training I received growing up (see above) and the crushing amounts of depressing bullshit perpetuated ad nauseam in the world around me. And I’m still kind of pissed, and kind of looking around like, Am I taking crazy pills? Why should we give a dude a lot of praise for doing his own damn laundry?
In a way I lucked out I didn’t marry an entitled little prince when it comes to chores, housework, and parenting; but also it wasn’t just luck, of course. Some deep part of my nature loves work, and loves keeping house – taking care of myself and my own – and bridles at the thought that I should shoulder this burden alone. When Ralph and I began dating we had separate apartments and neither of us were particularly neat, tidy, nor even cooked or cleaned much at all (this has changed, very much, obviously). We dated for three and a half years before marrying; and he and I may have thought we would work well together but in a very real way we were so untested for just how much work we would find in growing (and feeding! Jeebus!) a family. You know that idea that you and your Intended are supposed to sit and chat and discuss hopes, dreams, the future, and all the values you each have and make sure in every way you are completely and totally compatible? Yeah, whatever. Good luck with that, because at least in my life I’ve had so many things thrown at me I just had no way of predicting, and I’m not sure my husband fared better in that foresight.
Over the years I’ve observed my husband is drawn to family life innately. There is no other way to describe it. I mean, he regularly goes above and beyond to do everything he can for us to the point of feeling guilt when he’s away – yes, even at worky-work (I’m not going to go into the great length I could in describing the many comments, praises, and “Superdad” monikers he’s received over the years). This isn’t his journal, so I can’t (or won’t) speak for him; I will only say it took me a while to figure out he didn’t long for freedom from the oppressive reality of family life. At first I thought his compulsion to be home and Parenting and Husbanding hearkened back to the days of early parenthood, when I was completely overwhelmed by my newborn and really, really needed his involvement. I’d be like, If you say you’re going to be home a 4:45, it better not be 4:47 motherfucker, and I really meant it. This lasted some time and was not easy on either of us (although it was, oddly, very joyful and exhilarating; I honestly think breastfeeding hormones made me a kind of Superwoman). One benefit of our lifestyle is I remember the years with infants as being entirely resentment-free on my part; I was proud of my husband’s work and grateful I’d required his invovlement and thus didn’t, you know, secretly hate his ass in any way.
I’ve discovered though, that as motherhood became a learned skill, Ralph’s devotion did not decrease. Inasmuch as I’ve found myself able, willing, and more or less happy to cope in the home (“with some complaints”) including tons of time with my own children – Hello! Homeschooling here! – my husband’s sense of responsibility is strong enough that it seems hardly related to me and my difficulties or successes whatsoever. It’s a touchy thing, because it’s not my place to talk him out of his feelings, and I don’t want to be the kind of spouse who caretakes my partner’s every emotional need. That said, I have tried to help him more of late than I did for years – help him, I suppose, in shedding his guilt when he can’t be here, or can’t do his best, or do five things at once. Because honestly, I may be tired and underslept and never get quite get enough Me-Time and every other thing but really, it’s okay that he’s human, or has a job, or wants to do something of his own.
So today it took a lot of encouragement to get him out the door to record some music. He was making up for my inefficiencies: I was tired from the twin strains of entertaining company and sleeping poorly (sadly, the second element made me rather lousy at the first, although I did my best) and dragging in a way worse than I can remember for past years. This morning he mentioned four separate times he could just forget recording today, and stay home, and hang out with the kids, and all that, so I could rest. I wasn’t having it. A few minutes later he posited he could take a kid with him to record (which has, truthfully, yielded some awesomeness before). And I kept ushering him away: it was fine, yeah, I was tired, and I wanted to rest a bit, but it would be a good thing for him to go. And go he finally did.
I did my best at trying with a bit of cleaning and sewing and cooking and in between I rested and watched a couple films (Mamet’s The Edge – which I enjoyed – and Heist, which I found a bit dull). Nels fell asleep at my feet, huddled oddly under a blanket on the floor and blissfully giving me a break from his Nels-ness. Sophie cuddled me on the couch and the first movie made an impression on her; throughout the rest of the day she would chant – in a tiny, but fierce voice – “What one man can do, another can do!” and “I’m going to kill the bear! I’m going to kill the bear!” And we made it through okay.
Ralph came home a few hours later with his “new” studio set up (a generous donation from a friend), a third song recorded (coincidentally, this year’s numerical song 2000), and his spirits a bit higher than before; and we all survived just fine, and the day slowly sort of settled like a falling leaf in the gentle autumn breeze, and here we are, just the four of us, like so many nights before and I earnestly hope so many more.
And I’m grateful for the family; for a husband who, I guess for lack of a better phrase, knows his place. Ha.
* And provided sex, and dieted to look your best: all messages my mother taught me through her actions.
** Gay couples, incidentally, have more egalitarian division of work in their household; don’t think it hasn’t occured to me that if, God forbid, really I mean God forbid, I should end up an early widow I’m not going to be dipping generously from the female dating pool.