The Internet is a strange and wonderful place. Today I reconnected with my best friend from Junior High, to whom I haven’t spoken in more than 30 years. We were thick as thieves, we were alike as two peas in a pod, we were – well, we were probably terrible when we were together, both of us sarcastic with sharp tongues and sharper wits. He was a year younger than I and, as often happens, we drifted apart when I hit high school.
It’s always so awkward for me, meeting up again with someone who knew me when I was a teenager or a young woman. I was one of Those Girls, whip-smart and competent, cute (but didn’t know it) and capable, someone who was obviously Going Places. Where I was going, it turned out, was to fulfill my cherished dream of being a housewife and a mother – something you absolutely DID NOT ADMIT in those days – or on any day since about 1963.
True-life example: when Joy was in first grade her school librarian asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and Joy chirped, “A housewife!” The librarian snorted, “No, you don’t!” – even though I was standing right there. Being a housewife is no longer something to which girls are encouraged to aspire, nor in which women are encouraged to take pride – people think it’s something you fall into because you’re too lazy to make any better choices.
“You have SIX kids? Wow.” That’s usually the first thing people say, and frankly I don’t blame them. It’s not like we’re members of an organized religion that encourages large families, and the Duggars beat us to the TV contract - we just love kids. It’s not an, “Oh, how exciting!” wow, either; it’s a wow that assumes we’re either welfare cheats or too stupid to use birth control correctly. Maybe I should change my Facebook status permanently to, “That’s right – I dropped out of college, had a bunch of kids and stay home all day. Oh, and I got fat, too. By the way, your tax dollars are supporting my extravagant lifestyle! Have a nice day!”
And yet – our children are (or are becoming) intelligent, compassionate, responsible adults who can take care of themselves. We had to choose between a six million dollar mansion and six kids; we chose the kids and have never looked back. We chose family campouts over trips to Europe, Back-to-School Nights over candlelit dinners and new bikes over new cars. Thing is, we are pretty sure that WE got the better end of those bargains.
I get hugs around my neck instead of diamonds. I don’t put out corporate fires, but I am there to give comfort and advice when someone has a lousy day slinging coffee or gets a C on a German test. The closest we will probably ever get to having a convertible was that time when the headliner in the minivan came off, but the boys sing barbershop harmony when we’re all in the car. None of this is anything I can brag about at my 35th high school reunion . . .
. . . but I am very proud that I am just a housewife.
I was 29 when I had my first child, and knew I was ready to be a mom. Although I wasn't exactly sure how we would spend the next 20 years, both John and I were ready to make the innocent children we brought into life our first priority.
I was pretty sure that I wanted to be a mother at home the first few years, and quit my job when I was six months pregnant. Both John and I were certain we could survive with only one parent working (John was both a full-time engineer with a public utility as well as a naval reservist). But I also knew that if need be, I could return to work.
This decision was faced with a certain rudeness and derision in 1981. People worried that I'd get bored staying home with kids (try explaining boredom to a woman with a baby in a NICU or a 10 month old in an ambulance with status epilepticus. I pray that all mothers enjoy at least a bit of boredom in the early years - it sure beats the alternative drama and hysteria I faced early on.
There was also an overabundance of materialism to go with that narcissism. I was teased about my used station wagon (so and so has a BMW, etc) my tract home in Gresham, and the minutiae of daily life with pre-schoolers and a husband who traveled (how do I keep my brain active?). I usually chose to ignore it.
Some of my friends and family were insensitive enough to say this in front of my children and/or their own children! Imagine the psychological battery a young soul experiences when told that their parents found the boredom of parenting them insurmountable! I still believe that the seeds we planted in the 70's and 80's grew to the monster we experience now in the form of lack of empathy towards children and each other.
When people ask me to describe myself, I still say I'm a mother first, then I list my other callings (wife, sister, etc). What I want to stress is that always, family relations came first. Eventually, I remember that I have other talents, but family management is always first.
I still see my relationship with my children as a critical role, even though they are adults and completely independent. If, and when, I'm fortunate enough to be a grammy, I hope these little ones know that I find them exciting, stimulating, adorable and entirely worth while.
I'm pretty sure they know I'll never cure cancer or bring peace to the Middle East. But, sadly, no one else has either. Meanwhile, I have the comfort of knowing I raised two lovely children to adulthood.