In The Home
I’ve been In The Home now for over 25 years. I am doing well. I’ve always done well in a circumstance of my choosing. Being shoehorned, pressured, conned, confined, manipulated, tricked, or ultimatem-ed into any situation not of my choosing does not meet with a happy end. The prognosis is never good. Regrets, and more than a few, are the reward for anyone and everyone involved in forcing me to be where I do not want to be.
The phrase, “Wild horses couldn’t make me stay,” is not fully apt because at that point, I am the wild horse!
Thus, I can speak from In The Home as a place of placid sentiment and a position of inner strength.
When I first made the decision to promote myself to motherhood by leaving a professional office job that had begun to mimic the work of an office mommy, I made it very clear to my colleagues that I do not return to a former phase in my life. I may mentally cycle back to retrieve whatever bits and pieces of my psyche have remained behind (one cannot always be the most thorough of packers when hauling out of a place). But I do not ever go back to stay. There is a physiological component of me that will not abide for long a previous residence or dwelling place for my being.
This watershed decision to be In The Home did not feel to me like a watershed of my life. I’d already undertaken several such momentous decisions, even momentous years, wherein I shed the skin of my past to move on to a future that was quite foreboding and unknown; but the future was also equally open to me to create the known that could become my life.
At that time I did not realize that I was undertaking a rebel act! I did not perceive that I was to become the Prairie Woman, out on the frontier of homemaking in the late 1980s. Above all, I did not anticipate the level of hostility that I was to receive from an awful lot of women, or, more accurately, a lot of awful women.
Most of the time, I was the subject and the object of mocking statements from females and of quiet affirmation and admiration from males. The situation made me very uncomfortable. I’d spent enough years having many things in common with men; I wanted to share having things in common with women. This nirvana was not to be.
One suburbanite-mother, with her typical inelegance, tried to let me down easy. She summarized the reality: “If you had something to trade with me, then maybe we could be friends. But you have nothing that I want.”
So then “female friendship” was a matter of bartering. And I had nothing that she wanted! Frankly, this user had no use for me. How meaningful that “relationship” would have been! Now there’s a bedrock of compassion and sincerity! Thank you very much for the unintentional honesty of your “rejection!”
The female friendship-that-never-got-off-the-ground wasn’t always the fault of the would-be woman-friend. Once, a slob of a husband crowed to his wife, who believed that she and I were friends-for-life, about what a fantastic Mom I was, thereby not so vaguely implying what a dud of a Mom she was. I scratched that erstwhile friendship off the list!
In other arenas, I was the odd-woman out. It did not matter what the scenario was; I did not fit in. There was the toddler play-group that I singlehandedly formed. Dear Husband laughingly conjectured that the worst that could happen was that the suburban moms would re-form their own group, leaving me in the dust. Suburban dust has a unique odor not unlike scented kitty litter.
Among the “housewives” (a term I quite agree with Betty Friedan is suspect since it silently implies the office wife, a creature who does indeed exist) – I was an outlier, or even a liar (!) – simply because I said that I was a writer who wished to become a novelist. Among the office-working mothers, however, I was deemed persona non grata.
I was perfectly accepting of the decisions of these mothers to stay in the workplace. They were the “stay-at-work moms,” whereas I was the “work-at-home mom.” But those women looked down upon me with visible discomfort and not a small amount of derision.
My attitude was, and is, that, short of mayhem and murder, a woman ought to do whatever makes her happy. These condescending females highly doubted that I, or any woman, could be happy In The Home. I began to highly doubt that these women understood the meaning of happiness.
These females (and there were dozens of Them), looked upon me as a traitor to The Cause, although I am still not sure just what The Cause was: Living out a fantasy that would never come true? Proving a woman could be a man? Evening the score for perceived wrongs and injustices committed against these females when they were girls?
I still do not know the source of their animosity toward me. Why was I – or my choice – so threatening to them? I was happy with my decision. Were they not happy with theirs? Were they not content to make just their own choice? Did they need to make mine for me as well?
I said not one word that was derogatory toward these women, but they had nothing but criticism for me and my decision to do as I pleased with my life. There was more than a little hypocrisy going into the caustic mix of:
“Well, that choice may be fine for you, but I would never make such a choice. What ever would I possibly do in the home?” “What a waste of an education and years of climbing the ladder.” “That’s an easy choice for you: in your line of work, there’s no sacrifice. But I have a profession.”
In point of fact, education, true education is never wasted. And I never climbed any ladder. My private sector jobs constituted a hard-working series of horizontal flights from one cesspool to another. Those sheer acts of survival were, at heart, valiant efforts to protect my heart, my writing, my soul, and my self. I worked my way down in the federal government from Washington, D.C. to Sacramento; when I finally achieved some professional recognition, I was vastly overqualified for the position.
And I’d like to think that my “line of work” is a profession but, in truth, it is more than a mere occupation or career, a vocation, job, or craft. My “line of work” is a calling, one for which I have sacrificed things that only the heart can count. That female may have claimed a profession but she did not possess a heart to count the things that matter; she calculated her treasures with an internal cash register.
Regarding “professions,” I believe that individuals are, for the most part, interchangeable out there in the office world. The profession of doctoring, which requires nurturing abilities as well as scientific skills and the art of healing, is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the only profession where a true professional is not replaceable. A good doctor can save your life; a good report-generator can save only time, time that is likely to be squandered by everyone else.
While working on a technical writing contract, I mentioned my unpleasant conundrum to a male engineering colleague. He told me that I must be doing something right, to get so many women riled up on both the work front and the home front!
I did not feel that way. I felt (and thought) that if a woman cannot look at this other woman who made a choice that was right for herself, even though it was quite against-the-tide; and all that the woman could do was to fashion catty and cutting remarks that went against-the-grain of this other woman and against dignity, decency, and civility, then she – not I – this other woman, had the problem.
And there were a lot of women with a lot of problems! They truly ran the gamut!
Almost at every turn, I encountered them. Hordes of women in the suburbs, running around, yes, like chickens with their heads cut off, without a clue as to what they were doing! One PTA mother-official went on a tear one night over how precisely was the School District going to warehouse These Children!!
A vision of Nurse Ratched played out before my very eyes!
It was always interesting for me to note that since I went to these public meetings with my leather-zip Franklin Planner (the one made from the same leather as a Rawlings baseball mitt) and wore a dress or skirt and attractive blouse, the school officials thought that I’d come to the meeting from “work.” One principal even took a few moments at a meeting to verbally applaud my dedication to my child!
From that point on, I was dead meat. It was not long before the suburban mothers formed cliques to exclude me. I would say that I felt like I was in high school again but I paid very little attention to cliques in high school or at any phase of my life. If any group were to decide to include me, I, like Groucho Marx, would highly question the thinking of the group!
The thinking, however, wasn’t really there among this amorphous group of suburban mothers. There were more than enough of them raising an entirely new generation of suburban brats, the spoiled Dylans and Emilies who, the last time I saw them, were carrying a lunch box.
Within the last few years they re-appeared in full force to demand all sorts of “freebies” from the taxpayer, in much the same manner in which they had thrown a tantrum to get whatever they wanted (everything from Gummy Bears to that 12th Barbie Doll to the heavily-accessorized and neon-accoutremented Acura-RSX) from their malleable parents.
I spent ten years, an eternal decade, dealing with those children in women’s bodies, the suburban soft-soap divas, playing out their insipid personal soap operas that I tried strenuously not to see. Admittedly, I lost my temper a time or two at the tackiness of it all and the New Jersey in me came out.
One memorable encounter took place during my initiation to the California form of suburbia in Our First House. The California suburb is a tract-home development of an artificial neighborhood that tends to attract artificial people who believe they know one another, for real, and with depth.
A next-door-Neighboress in her early twenties was outraged over my refusal to let her Russian blue cat overtake my garage, complete with every call from nature known to felines. She called me “just a housewife.”
I replied, “And what are you? A baloney-slicer.”
This female was employed in the deli of the local grocery store. I then added that the rat’s nest on her head that she called a ponytail looked like the state of my garage due to her cat. I did hold my tongue from correcting her derogatory use of the term, housewife, and refrained from stating that I was a “homemaker,” whereas she was a “home-wrecker,” and of her own house!
I know that it was beneath my dignity to pull womanly rank on an immature girl who held obvious contempt for “older women” (and I wasn’t much over thirty at the time). She and her compliant husband, however, were the filthy bane of that “neighborhood.” After repeated warnings from me over their violations of public safety and hygiene, all of which had crossed over several fence lines, I called the city officials to deal with the smelly messes.
Several weeks later, this obnoxious couple put “their” house up for sale and Daddy helped them to move, probably to the next house they also couldn’t afford, an even bigger one!
The other females in that “neighborhood” then came out of hiding. I felt like Gary Cooper (Will Kane) in “High Noon,” tossing his tin star down to the ground.
I guess that inevitability was inevitable, way back there in the suburbs, the clash of cultures between me and the Herd: me with the culture, the Herd without one, save for the disposable culture that American media promote as vital to the masses.
The Herd appeared mindless but its females certainly knew quite well how to insult me, belittle me, and mock me and my choices, even my children. My second suburban house brought me into proximity with a rather pompous mother-of-two (she was married but I did not consider her a wife). When word reached her that I was home-schooling my son, she walked up to me and spat out what a male friend later told me was The Two-fer:
“Oh, now you can make your son a social misfit, just like yourself.”
I could have asked, “What’s it to you?” But by that point in time I wasn’t replying to snide comments. I wasn’t replying to anything. I used my energy to pack my bags and leave the suburbs. It went without saying, but I say it now: I, lone she-wolf writer, was not part of their she-wolf pack!
Female-on-female oppression is not new. It dates back to antiquity. Perhaps what is new (although Carrie Nation and her hatchet come to mind) is the lather some women get themselves into over being “oppressed” by males.
Such women invariably and inevitably look in the wrong place and go in the wrong direction for answers and the truth. When it comes to seeking out reality, some females take a divining rod for insight and turn it into a flat-edged shovel to dig themselves into a hole. They then look up out of their hole and blame others for putting them there.
Grace Kelly once declared, “Women's natural role is to be a pillar of the family.” It’s hard to be a pillar of anything when you’ve deep-sixed yourself in pity, complaints, and castigation of other women.
I’ve waited a long time while In The Home to have my say about the women who made a career out of mocking me. I chose to ignore as best I could their willful ignorance and vicious tongues, their vile pettiness and inhumane treatment of the humans who share their sex. Since taking flight from my gilded cage in the suburbs to my humble haven in the country, I have discovered that simplicity brings serenity. I have also discovered those women of the past, once again, in their older versions in the foothills. I grant them a few choice words.
There is something wrong with a seventy-year-old woman and mother of four who cannot sit calmly in her parlor at the close of the day and look out of her window at the roses and be thankful for the window, the roses, the setting sun, the couch upon which she sits, and the house which shelters her. This unquiet spirit prefers to grumble and complain about everything that happens outside of that house. This perverse behavior did not coincide with old age. This woman was a mean old lady at twenty, demanding that the world around her bend to her will rather than the other way around.
She presently ridicules with bitterness the female
who chooses to be In The House, jeering, “Have They let her out yet?” The bitterness is felt far more about the
life she’s lived than about the life of any other woman.
There is something very wrong with a woman of any age who looks at another woman only to compete with her, to try to tear her down behind her back, to whisper lies about her when she is not around, and then to act like her smiling friend to her face.
There is something horribly wrong with a female who looks at a male and sees only what she can get from him and what he will do for her.
And there is something tragically wrong with any woman who treats younger women as rivals and enemies, who views her daughter as the problem in her life, and who believes that the youth of this child is the reason why she, the adult, feels old.
Deflecting unwanted attention from herself, she will point to so many other distractions that can grab that attention and hold it for a while. This female soon will pout and feel ignored. She must regain the spotlight. And so she does, in a greedy, grabby hoarding way that utterly defeats her.
There are winners in life and there are losers. I refuse to believe that any one person is born a winner or a loser. Maybe it’s the gambler in me that knows every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser. I therefore chose to believe that, as a result of the choices that we make, we create a great deal of what we become, even with all of that genetic material that either helps us or hurts us or, more likely, does a bit of each.
The place where a winning woman plants herself thrives and grows. The place where a losing woman plants herself soon becomes shriveled and starved for lack of a true self, a genuine person she can hold each night ‘neath the covers.
That truth is a bitter pill to swallow. For many years, I’ve refused to swallow the bitter pill that rightly belonged to another woman. I was promptly called to task for it and condemned, silently as well as shrilly, for not accepting a task that was not mine to fulfill.
Therein lies the true battle of the sexes – the losing female who pits herself against the winning female. Fundamentally, however, the losing female is at war with herself. Males are merely onlookers to this internal civil war that plays itself out on the battlefield of humanity.
It is a costly war. The losing female pays an awful price, but the dearest price is paid by children: the littlest redeemers who, having too much to redeem, cannot remain children for very long. Role reversal, or rebellion against role reversal, is a rough way for any child to grow up. The hard road-up has been going on for generations and generations, but there are some family traditions that really need to be broken!
Quietly, men wonder when too many women are going to shut up, grow up, and stop hurting themselves.
Pondering that mystery, which is one of the few mysteries that self-loathing women can maintain, is something that I continue to have in common with men. Unlike them, however, I have an answer, or at least a prognosis: not anytime soon, perhaps never.
I know that never is a very long time, but that type of female can make any amount of time feel like forever!