Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Last American Housewife

“Just whistle while you work (whistle) Put on that grin and start right into whistle loud and long. Just hum a merry tune (hum) Just do your best and take a rest and sing your self a song. When there's too much to do don't let it bother you, forget your troubles, try to be just like a cheerful chick-a-dee… And as you sweep the room imagine that the broom is someone that you love and soon you'll find you're dancing to the tune.
-Snow White

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”
-Mae West

Before Disney went PC and gave young girls of America smart plucky role models like Mulan, Belle and Pocahontas there was a generation of us that were raised to believe that scrubbing floors and cooking for dwarfs would one day get us the prince and the castle. Snow White and Cinderella taught us that housecleaning and the ability to communicate with domestically trained forest animals was just a necessary stepping stone to princess-hood.
The biggest disappointment of my adult life was not that I didn’t find Prince Charming, I did, but talking a deer into doing the dishes has been a much more of a challenge.

I am one of the few, the proud, the unemployable. A member of a diminishing band of women who forged into the new millennium with Law degrees and doctorates in hand but no wages earned, no 401k saved and a decreased IQ of 40 points post baby. We eschewed the hard earned rights our sister’s of the 70’s worked for to attain equal rights to become mothers, drive carpool and play tennis. We are dependent upon our husbands or partners for insurance, food, clothing and the wine pick up on the way home from work. As newlyweds, life was good; we had double incomes and titles by day and donned aprons or negligees to play house at night, which inevitably led to stretch jeans with cotton belly panels and our current state of mom-hood. We are, the Last American Housewives.

We turned our backs on the corporate world and all of its trappings. The expense account and corporate jet seem as ethereal as the fairy tales we read to our kids at bed time. Water cooler conversations consist of listening to your toddler babble through oatmeal while you finish off everyone’s leftover O.J. from breakfast. Coffee breaks are trying to balance a Starbucks latte while pushing your infant seat laden grocery cart one-handed down the beer aisle. The power lunch is neither, unless your idea of haute cuisine is eating with your fourth grader in the elementary school cafeteria or a Lean Cuisine before carpool line.

And yet here we are. We chose this didn’t we? We struggled to make the car payments and send Billy to camp on one income. We shopped at Target for those trendy little items that might pass for the pricey boutique pieces that we may have once been able to afford. We shortened vacations, put off much needed house renovations and bought our make up at Walgreen’s, all so we could hear from our ten year old, “Mama, I wish you worked like all the other mothers?”  

If I had a corporate boss overseeing my domestic duties I would be fired on the spot. The last hot family meal was a Sonic grilled cheese, we missed last week’s soccer game because I printed off another team’s schedule, and I missed yesterday’s science fair field trip trying to finish this column. I haven’t made it to the grocery in days so we’re down to debating whether the last sip of milk left in the fridge should go to my son’s cereal or my husband’s coffee. I have renamed an area of our house full of unfolded or unwashed items – “Clothes Mountain.” Like some Zen Koan, the morning mantra in our house is “Where are my socks!” I respond, “You will find what you seek in Clothes Mountain, young grasshopper.”

But the nice thing about a profession in domesticity is job security; no one wants your position. So feel free to walk out on the job from time to time with the confidence that you are irreplaceable. And if you do feel the need to clean I’ve taken the liberty of changing Snow White’s lyrics a little. Feel free to whistle while you work.

“When there’s just too much to do
Don’t let it bother you,
Just sit right down and have a round
‘till you don’t feel so blue.
Or hand your kids the broom be sure to leave the room,
then turn your little i-pod up so you won’t hear them fume.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Monkeys R Us

Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.”
-Charles Darwin

Where most families practice serial pet ownership with dogs, cats and the occasional hamster, my mother’s family had monkeys. It sounds exotic now, but it was fairly common in Florida where my grandmother grew up. Her sister took in a monkey said to have been a stowaway found on the banana boats docking in Sarasota. My grandmother most likely thought a poodle paled in comparison and brought back her own monkey with her to North Mississippi where she had since set up house. This was the 1950’s and 60’s when worrying about the consequences of trafficking a wild tropical animal to Tupelo was as ludicrous as worrying about your daily pack of Virginia Slims and happy hour Martini during pregnancy.

By the time I was born they were on monkey number three, and most of the more infamous monkey incidents had already taken place. But I do have a faint memory of my grandmother’s back yard; a large expanse of green that always seemed impossible to traverse. My mother says that when I was a toddler, learning to walk, the monkey would follow me and wait until I struggled victoriously to a vertical position then grab the back of my diaper and jerk me down to the ground. I thanked her for this information and said my future therapist would appreciate it also.

The family cat faired much worse. He became the object of unrequited monkey love which no restraining order could have put asunder. The cat had quickly learned that the normal evasive feline moves used in dog pursuits were not effective against a primate with a prehensile tail. If the cat went into a full throttle run the monkey caught up with it in three bounds, if the cat climbed a tree the monkey was already swinging to the top branch waiting to greet him. So the cat did what any self-respecting descendent of the majestic Tiger would do, it slowly tried to slink away without the monkey seeing him. The monkey would blithely let the cat tiptoe a few steps to freedom, then grab the end of the cat’s tail like a rope and reel him in to a crusher bear hug. There the defeated cat would hang limp until it was released for the game to start over all over again. It was all very Pepe le Peu.

When the monkey got bored with the cat there was always human entertainment to be had. One holiday he fished my grandfather’s dentures out of the glass on his bedside and ran up a tree where the family gathered to coax the monkey down so my grandfather could eat his Thanksgiving dinner. When an old friend looked up my grandparents for a visit, the monkey got two eggs from the refrigerator ran up the back of his chair and cracked them on his head. The man screamed so loud that the otherwise potty trained monkey lost all bowel function on the spot. We now own dogs.

Copyright Mimi Holland Lilly 2007