Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Five-thirty Monday thru Friday. Always open.

The part of my day that I must honestly say I approach with dread, will be upon me within a half-hour. It is the time when the man comes home.

Don’t mistake me and assume that I am complaining about my husband, his arrival, or being with him. That isn’t the case. What I dread is the transition time. I have trouble adjusting. I’m an outwardly easygoing, ready-for-anything, roll-with-the-changes-REO-speedwagon kind of person. Nothing fazes me to the casual observer. I’ve worked long and hard on cultivating that ability of mine to appear to the outside world as one who is never surprised. But inwardly? Transitions are tough for me.

My days, on the days I don’t work at the general store, are bisected by that approximately 5:30-ish E.T.A. When my husband pulls up in the gravel driveway adjacent our little gray-green, brown-roofed bungalow; steps out of the maroon 1988 Honda Civic that is our umbilical cord to the outside world in this small town non-public-transportating place where we live; and enters our dwelling place sporting dirt-laden clothing from his day at the nursery and expectation as to what tonight’s dinner might bring. As often as not lately, my uninspired answer is “pick which can of soup you want to open and heat it.”

Sometimes, when he gets home, I am morose, dejected. Full of remorse at books that went uncracked, writing that stagnated in my brain and fell into cerebral cracks where they may not be rescued for many moons. If ever. Dusting that went undusted. Clothes to be ironed, mounded in heaps all over the bedroom floor, a rocky wrinkled landscape testifying to sheer domestic failure.

During a recent conversation about family, children, in-laws and marital expectations, I wailed, “I don’t feel like a wife.” Which brought down the house with uninterpretable laughter from his mouth, his mind. “What makes you think you’re supposed to be...a wife??”

“What do you mean by THAT?”

“I don’t know.” More laughter.

I think he meant, he didn’t understand what it was that I was lamenting, lacking at, feeling that I’d failed at or wasn’t trying hard enough to be.

When I was growing up, my mom did everything. EVERYTHING. That there was to be done to ensure that our household (apartmenthold) ran smoothly. ALL of the washing, ALL of the cooking, ALL of the ironing. ALL of the vacuuming and toilet-scrubbing and mending and dishwashing. (Although, she never really dusted. Our house was always dusty. Other Filipinos out there? Did you experience this as well? Or was my mom “special” in her lack of attention to wiping up dust motes?)

My father participated in domestic duties not one iota, save for a handful of culinary items that he relished preparing. These included Korean moonshine, chop chae, kalbee, and the Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings, every year. He never did dishes, never washed, folded or ironed his own clothes. Half the time his dishes, after eating in front of the TV set, never even made it to the kitchen. I was usually the one to find and pick them up. My mother basically enslaved herself, and willingly, to the care and feeding and cleaning of the living space of him and their two children.

My Filipino grandma thought my sister and I were spoiled brats. My mom did nothing different to please Nanay when she came from the Philippines to live with us. I remember time and time again, Mom telling me gravely, “You leave these things to me. You have homework. You concentrate on your studies. You practice your piano. You have to think of your future.” All this time, she was working 40 hours a week and more as a registered nurse. Most of the time I was growing up, she was an E.R. nurse. The workload she carried was in sharp contrast to that of the bulk of the moms of the kids with whom I attended school. Mainly Irish-American homemakers who, yes, cared for broods of 8 to a dozen kids in most cases, but who didn’t work outside the home for a living. And, whose kids were fully expected to pitch in at home.

Flash forward to today. Me, at age 35. One year younger than my mom was when she birthed me. No kids, no full time job, and a husband who works 40 hours and more a week. And completely pathetic, decrepit, even, at the most basic of household tasks.

Today I did a modicum of cleaning. Laundry, mostly M’s dirt-encrusted work clothes. Vacuuming but no sweeping because I am averse to push a broom. Some trash removal, some sorting of small piles of crap into one large pile. It looks better in here, and I didn’t die in the process like you would think I would expect to, the way that I avoid chores of all kinds. Spoiled brat, I feel my Nanay looking down on me with disapproving eyes. I do feel badly, I do feel ashamed, I do also know that I will never change.

I will try harder on some days, and my house is for the most part, presentable. But I will never change. I don’t want to make the sacrifices that my mom did. That she still does. I don’t want to give up my time for reading and for writing, to immerse myself in scrubbing walls and toilet bowls and removing dust bunnies. Not any more than I have to.

I am lucky right now. I realize this from the pit of my being. One day, maybe I will be a mother. It’s not out of the question. And one day, maybe I will work a great deal more than I do now. And not have this luxury. Of time, open and unfolding in front of me, day after day. To do with it as I see fit. As only I dictate.

The car door has slammed. The man is home. I savor the last few sips of my margarita. I hope he doesn’t mind that there’s no more tequila.

[cross-posted at cocokat in slumberland.]

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