taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Housewifery is a lost art. Darning socks, mending clothes, drying out the sink, and all the hundreds of other little things that my mother did, and her mother did, are simply beyond me and most of my friends. Most of us can manage dishes, childcare, straightening--but the thousands of tiny details get lost.

My mother, for instance, used to sew all my halloween costumes. The process began in August and wasn't done until a week before the big day, and it involved going to the fabric store, picking out a pattern and a fabric, endless fittings and getting stuck by staightpins (accidental? I think not!) and the final moment, the big reveal... trying on the costume for Dad, who would clap his hands around his scotch. Now, could I even do that if I tried, if I wanted to? No way. We go to Party City and pick out an outfit and that's it.

Mom also used to vaccuum every day, hem my uniform skirts, cook massive meals every night (complete with candles at the table), help me study for exams, kept the fridge spotless, mopped the floors, did all the laundry, and went out on weekends with my Dad. I might add that through most of those years, she also owned a thriving business and/or worked full time. How the hell did she do it? Did she have some arcane knowledge that she never communicated to me? Or did she maybe just give me such a sense of entitlement that I think I shouldn't have to do all that stuff?

Now, I cook dinners. I always have, even when I'm working. (I don't eat the dinners--yuck, once I've cooked them, I'm done.) I do most of the laundry, the yardwork, and straighten the house. I don't clean--I hire someone to do that--and I don't do major home repairs, although I do paint walls. But my house is never the tight ship that my mother's was, and I don't know why.

I've worked most of these years, it's true. But even now that I'm home, I can't make the place as perfect as my mother always did. My children's hair is messy, I'm not terribly put-together myself, the basement is a pigsty, and the garden is barely making it. Food rots in the fridge. The beds get changed twice a month. The baby gets a bath three times a week, which is how often I can remember to bathe her.

My mom wanted me to achieve in a realm beyond the domestic; she wanted something more exciting for me. And she wanted me to make enough money to outsource my domestic duties. And where do I find myself? Trying, unsuccessfully, to emulate her version of perfection.

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