Friday, May 23, 2008

I Want a Wife

Everybody wants a wife to help coordinate all the events of the last two weeks of school. I literally can't keep up, and I don't have a heavy work schedule of my own this spring! Early this morning I was having one of those dreams where you keep trying to do something--I was trying to start off a class with a quiz, and I had a good question to ask them, but I couldn't find it because the desk was covered with books and papers and folders put there by Walker's soccer coach. As I continued to look for the question or the book, so I could look up whatever I was teaching and come up with a new question, one of my kids came in looking pained, holding a full vomit bowl, and saying we needed to go home right now. It doesn't take a genius dream interpreter to figure that one out, now does it?

When I teach Judy Syfers Brady's article "I Want a Wife," I usually ask the students to point out some of the dated parts, since the article appeared (in Ms Magazine) in 1971. Maybe it's just the small midwestern college where I've been teaching, but there aren't enough dated parts to satisfy me! Almost everyone agrees that "I want a wife who will wash the children's clothes and keep them mended" is dated, at least the mending part. Two-career families have to give up some things, and mending (not to mention darning socks) is a thing of the past.

Just to be provocative, I often ask if this section is dated:

I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it. I want a wife who cooks the meals, a wife who is a good cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery shopping, prepare the meals, serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying. I want a wife who will care for me when I am sick and sympathize with my pain and loss of time from school. I want a wife to go along when our family takes a vacation so that someone can continue to care for me and my children when I need a rest and change of scene.

The discussion is usually lively, because in some families, much of this is dated, while in other families, not so much...ironing and mending the clothes seem to be the basic points of agreement; nobody does much of that anymore. But organizing the household so the husband can find things? Few of my students think that one is dated! And being a wife on vacation? So far I haven't met anyone who can seriously claim, after discussion, that the oldest female in a family gets the same kind of vacation as everyone else. If nothing else, she's the tour director. The thing my family missed most when I was out of the picture after knee replacement was my scheduling function. I tell them where they're supposed to be, and when. Now I take them there, but right after surgery, they were relying on me just for the information. The three days I was in the hospital, they didn't eat lunch for one reason or another. It wasn't that they didn't have food to fix, or that they couldn't have gone through a drive-through (they had money). They just didn't plan for it, and by the time they got around to it, it was almost suppertime.

There's plenty that's dated about Brady's exaggerated grad student scenario ending ("a wife who will type my papers for me" pretty much dates back to my husband's mother, in my own family). The "wife who understands that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to monogamy" doesn't seem particular to one sex anymore, at least not in my experience. But "I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one" rings all too true. I have a female friend whose husband really did want her to "take the children and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free."

Male or female, if you are the wife in your family, take a page from my mother's book (a 70's feminist like Judy Syfers Brady) and tell someone who wants you to bake for a bake sale that you'll give them the money you'd have spent making something, plus extra for the time you'd have had to spend. Or take a page from my own book. When I go on vacation, I will not go to the grocery store or even the takeout restaurant. Even though this sometimes leads to unnecessary expense (someone else goes and splits it with other families in a way that doesn't reflect what we actually consume, or they pick out stuff that takes too long to make and therefore doesn't get used), it's worth it, because when and what we eat is not taking up room in my brain.

But right now, my kids have only four more days of packed lunches and packed after-school schedules. As their summer vacation begins, it will be a pleasure to be able to have dinner together, occasionally--it won't feel like a chore until it becomes a more regular thing again.


FreshHell said...

Actually, I do mend clothes. I have stitched up holes in socks and patched holes in jeans. I hem pants (and unhem them). I fix seam rips and tears. Etc. I don't mind doing it because I can do it while I watch tv. I would, though, like a wife of my own, particularly when I go on vacation so it is actually a vacation.

Anonymous said...

I gave up on packed lunches for the rest of the school year--I got tired of reminding Doug that he needed to read the menu and ask Maggie if she wanted to buy (we let her buy a couple of times a week if it was something that she wanted). I don't believe I should have to ask him to fix a lunch for Mag--especially since I'm technically the bread-winner--though that's not even the point.

When we moved into this neighborhood, it was as if we time traveled to Father Knows Best. There are many families here where the mom takes care of the whole house and the children, and the father mows the lawn. Even my college-educated friend has an incredibly strict division of labor based on gender roles. Except for occasionally, she doesn't seem to mind at all.

For his part, Doug does way more vacuuming than I do, and laundry. He also does a good job (most of the time) in cleaning up the kitchen (as long as it doesn't involve wiping the counters--no, I don't know why).

And I only have the one child--I can't imagine doing this for two or more.

You'll have to excuse me; I have to go mow the backyard now.