A few years ago if I had a time machine and could have travelled forward to motherhood, I would have still made the decision to become a mother. As much as I found the first year of my daughter’s life extremely challenging, I wish I had become a mother sooner and hope that I still have another chance later. I definitely cannot same the same for marriage. I have to say that I am not the sort of person who enjoys being a wife, in fact I loathe it. I guess it is important in my case to distinguish between being married and being a wife. I like being married. I like being part of a team. I like walking along the journey of life accompanied. I just hate being a wife. More specifically, I hate doing wifey things.
Now let’s lay the facts out straight here. I do not work. I am a housewife and mother. I have one daughter who is two and a half and if all goes well, practically, financially and potty-trainingly then in a few short months she will be going to playschool a couple of days a week. She sleeps through the night most nights and for those she doesn’t there is always Calpol – just joking. What I am trying to illustrate here is that I am not one of those women who has 2.5 children under the age of 3, a full time job, an also working husband, and a social life. My time is taken up by one child, one house and one husband. I live a quiet, perhaps boring life that consists of looking after those three things whilst trying to carve out a little time for myself to write, read and stare idly into space. So I know that I have it really easy, even if our life isn’t perfect, it is as stressful as I make it. That means that as long as I do not concern myself with worldly affairs, such as paying rent, terrorist bombs going off in our capital or the depreciation of the renminbi, then I live a relatively peaceful, blessed life. I am not caught in a stressful, sleep deprived, trying-to-have-it-all-existence like so many other mothers and wives that I know. So what is my problem?
As stated, I hate the act of being a wife. Not the act of preforming the tasks which fall under the traditional division of labour, but the fact that I am expected to be their chief sole doer. I grew up in a traditional household where my mother worked, looked after her two children, supported her husband and ran her house. I married into a very traditional culture much like the one I witnessed growing up, yet my husband will help me out if needed. He will make dinner, change a diaper, or take the garbage out which is unheard of in his culture – as he often reminds me, but he works to support the family and the deal is: he does the full-time work for the family outside and I do it inside. As far as deals go, it is not a bad one. He drives a cab and so during the tourist season works all hours without a break. Even in winter he works and will get up in the middle of the night to do a job. It is comparable to being up all night with a baby or toddler and probably more sleep disturbing because he has to get dressed, speed drink a coffee, go outside and stay alert driving people here and there. At least with a kid you can fall asleep on the couch with your boob out and wake up hours later wondering why you are half naked with a sleeping baby in your lap – it’s the warmer, less disturbing option for sure. So my problem is not about the division of labour being uneven or unfair. It is not about my husband never lifting a finger in the house or expecting me to wait on him hand and foot, although he can make ridiculous requests such as ‘Can you find me the cheese?’ when he is standing in front of the fridge and I am outside chopping wood, but that is another topic. It is not even about my not enjoying cooking, cleaning and child rearing because I actually do enjoy all of those things. I even go further, by making crafts with the baby, knitting her a blanket and teaching myself how to sew. I can happily put on the domestic goddess hat for my family, it suits me just fine, but I want to take it off once and awhile and perhaps this is the specific problem.
Sometimes, I do not feel like doing all of the things that I am required to do. Sometimes, I just want a day off and I cannot have one. I sometimes think that I left all of this jazz a little too late. I got used to being a single, working girl who only had herself to look after. The single girl could eat an avocado and a Guinness for dinner follow by 10 cigarettes and it was nobody’s business but now it is. She has two people who are dependent on her for three nutriuous meals a day. They are dependent on her for a clean and cosy house. They are dependent on her for love and attention. Their dependency doesn’t wane. It is not like when she used to go into work totally unmotivated or hung over and just blagged her way through the next 8 hours knowing that she would make up her work the next day. Her work cannot be put off until the next day; it is necessary and constant.
I often miss that girl just like I often miss the city where she lived. My imperfect, crazy, magical London Town, which I mention because I think that perhaps it is another player in this drama going on in my head. London is a fast-paced, exciting place and when you are living a London life style it permeates every cell of your being. The only way to survive it is to have as sanctuary wherein to retreat. I used to work a full day in the office, sometimes working very long hours, and then stop off at the grocery store where I would pick up some food for dinner and get the crowded Tube home. I might be out of the house for 15 hours a day and when I went up the walk to the house, put the key in the lock and opened the door, all of the frenetic energy of London and my life seemed to seep out of my weary pores. The house was my place. It was a safe haven where I could relax and only do the minimal tasks required to keep me clothed, fed and rested. In short, the house for me was a place where I relaxed and not where I worked. Now that formula has been turned on its head and I cannot seem to fully adjust to it.
My husband’s mother came to stay with us for a few days recently so that we could pick olives – a well-paying endeavor in the winter time here. The four of us, including my daughter woke up early, ate a breakfast which I prepared and then set off for 7 hours of manual work. Upon returning home, I would prepare a small snack, clear up the morning dishes, prepare and cook dinner, clean up the dinner dishes, prepare tea and dessert, clean up those dishes, do some urgent housework, get the baby bathed and to bed and then collapse, all while my husband and his mother lounged on separate couches resting their tired bones. Now, part of this arrangement is cultural. The daughter-in-law is expected to do all of the work, be it in her home or her parents’, or her parents-in-law’s. Part of it however, is what my husband called, when we later had a tiff over the whole arrangement, ‘my new life’. I complained to him that I was their worker and slave for those few days and I wasn’t best pleased. He barked back at me to get over it, that this was it: my new life; my new reality. I wanted to get married, I wanted to be a mother so I needed to accept that my old life was over. I got what I wanted. I reluctantly have to agree. I know it is true. My past life is over. When I fill out a form that asks for my occupation I state ‘Housewife’; whether I identify with it or not it is has been put in writing numerous times. The house is no longer my place to release the pressures of the day, it is the place where I navigate those pressures and do the work that I ultimately asked to do.
I guess, I am projecting my inability to integrate into my new world onto the role of wifehood instead of that of motherhood because it is just easier. I can’t point my finger at my toddler and insist that she help me wash the dishes. I cannot try to convince her that being a two and a half-year-old is just as difficult as being a stay-at-home mother. I cannot tell her to find her own cheese. I cannot because that would be absurd, but with my husband it isn’t, so I do. Tonight after a long domestic day, I put my daughter in the bath and popped my head out of the bathroom to ask my husband a question. I looked at the TV and laughed. “Why are you still watching Strawberry Shortcake?”, I asked him. He looked back at me with a dazed expression and mumbled, “I was just going to change it.” Change it. He changed the channel to football and I have to admit I swallowed some tears because in that moment, I realised that he doesn’t necessarily enjoy an evening of watching Strawberry Shortcake, when he would rather be watching football. He doesn’t necessarily enjoy getting up in the middle of a cold night and venturing out in his cab to ferry around a bunch of drunk people when he would rather still be sleeping in a warm bed. He doesn’t necessarily enjoy many aspects of his new life but he enjoys it enough to know that he doesn’t need to change any part of it except how he exists in it and that is the lesson here. I am not the single girl in London, living off avocados, stout and smokes, working a 12 hour day and lapping up the energy of an exciting city. I am a housewife and mother, trying not to let her daughter eat ketchup potato chips for dinner, making a midnight coffee for her husband and living in the country. I am a married women realising that the only thing she really needs to change is not her life, not being a wife, but her new self.