I’m sitting at a tiny island of order in a sea of chaos, as our apartment churns its way to unpacked, and one day over the rainbow, tidy. Last night’s dinner dishes are breeding on the counter, dirty laundry hunches in the corner, and belongings without a place to belong have me hiding in the bedroom, still in my pajamas.
You see, yesterday was Housewife Day. Today is supposed to be Sarah Day. The day I write, pray, read, walk, garden, paint my nails and enjoy a moment or two of serenity. But I fear serenity has left the building.
I remember well the feeling I had just a few years ago, watching a good friend go through the daily routine of shopping, cooking, laundry, dishes, vacuuming, organizing. I was exhausted just thinking about it. And growing up, I never dreamed of white aprons and perfect cupcakes.
My favourite idea about marriage was that my husband would be the homebody, taking care of the details, while I travelled the world and paid the bills. He’d have to be a good cook, at the very least. The kind of quiet man who would read and wash the dishes.
If someone looked at our marriage, (as someone did recently, calling me down for its seemingly patriarchal and 1950s gender roles), they’d probably yawn and move on. Nothing new to see here.
My husband buys shelving, drives standard, takes out the garbage, connects the cables. I cook, shop for groceries, clean the house, and decorate.
But what lies beneath these activities is far more complex, something that my own scoffing former self wouldn’t be able to see clearly.
Our domestic dance has more to do with our personalities, our strengths and weaknesses, our shared desires, than a template of togetherness that roots itself in a pre-feminist world.
The irony of the situation is that I’m good at all of the things I ascribed to housewives negatively.
I am trained as a cook, know how to plan a menu and a kitchen, and love feeding my husband. Nourishing him, surprising him, giving him the lastest taste of a successful experiment is fun, and it allows me the joy of giving something good to him, as I often feel that he is far more adept at helping me than I him.
I also delight in organizing things, keeping a haven of rest away from the mad world. This involves finding places for beautiful things in our home and maintaining them, as well as taking care of laundry, dishes and other things left out of place.
My husband is also adept at keeping things aligned, but in a different sphere. Mathematically and technically inclined, he has the patience to properly install a picture or a shelf, where I would just bang holes in the wall at random. He knows how to connect the right cables, and fix the bugs because he has a degree in Computer Engineering. He takes out the garbage because it’s on his way out the door, and he graciously drives me around in our truck because I’m still learning the intricacies of a gearshift.
I don’t mind having another Housewife Day today, because I remember that when I was working full-time while my husband was laid off, he cleaned the bathroom, cooked wonderful dinners, swept and vacuumed, folded laundry. I remember that he braves wet weather and heavy traffic to work and pick me up when I need him. And I know that if I don’t feel like make dinner tonight, he will.
We do these things for one another because we can. As the great writer Sherman Alexie writes, “He loved her, of course, but better than that, he chose her, day after day. Choice: that was the thing.”
Believe me, I used to test out the grudge thing. I’d let the dishes pile up until SOMEONE, not me, finally washed them. I’d let things slide around the house just to see how far out of control things would get before someone else cared. But that always backfired because my sweet man is eminently comfortable with more mess than I am. So while he moved freely around our dishevelled space, I fretted, grumbled and wasn’t any more at ease than when I was pushing myself to keep everything clean. I am not keeping this place together for his sake, or because he expects it of me, which he doesn’t, but for my own sanity. Even this morning, as my husband encouraged me to have a day off, and that we would clean together when he got home, I was already planning my chores.
The classic narrative of being trapped in domestic bliss, then, is just a veneer. I’m choosing to be here. Putting my shoulder into this thing called marriage, and having an equal partner to push right alongside.
And if that means today I want to wear an apron, and handle a broom, then I will do so gladly.