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.”

1 comment:

Kim said...

Thanks for reminding me it was a choice! I seem to forget that and find myself wondering how I got here...conquering Clothes Mountain ... slow and steady, one wash rag at a time.