I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Honestly, until my ovaries demanded children, I never thought of myself as being a mom at all. Or a wife. I wanted to be a physician. There are days when I long to go back and kick 20-year-old Lisa in the freaking teeth for making the choices she made, but oh well.
I don’t regret my husband or children at all. At. All. I don’t. I only wish I’d realized, when I opted the three of them into my life, that I was simultaneously saying ‘no’ to a lot of other things. I foolishly bought the shit we tell our kids, even more forcefully, today, “Honey, you CAN do WHATEVER you put your mind to.”
Actually, you can’t. You need to make choices along the way, and each choice has a trickle-down effect, making other choices obsolete.
I’m big into feminism. I’m also big into parenting, as a concept. Although it is undoubtedly the right choice for gads of other people, I could not imagine putting my kids in day care or hiring a nanny. To me, each tiny choice I make for my kid comes from a lot of research, a lot of soul searching, and a heavy perusal of our values. The very language I use when I speak to my kids is laden with values and deliberate decisions. I can’t imagine farming it out. (This post is not about daycare vs. stay at home parenting. We are both right.)
So I expected that either I or my husband would stay home with the kids. He had a good job when the kids came along. I didn’t. He won the right to work, and I won the right to stay home. This post will not be a discussion about who does more work, because anyone who has ever stayed home with two kids, 18 months apart, will tell you who does more work. Come Sunday night, a little light comes back into his eyes, as he imagines dealing only with 30 kids in a classroom instead of two kids in a shower.
I have tried, desperately (and, I now believe, in vain) to instil in my family the idea that having a vagina doesn’t mean you do laundry and having a penis does not mean you do the grilling. Every chance I get, I flip that shit. I’m all, “Hey, looks like we need to start a load of whites.” And then I hold my breath, because he doesn’t know how to do a load of whites.
Yesterday I drew up a big list of chores that needed doing, divided them in half and assigned each kid a list. They then randomly chose a parent to team up with. It so happened the girls were on one team and the boys on the other. The tasks were, purposefully, mixed. The boys cleaned out the fridge; the girls cleaned the air conditioner filters. Etc.
This morning, I went to use up the leftover pumpkin to make pumpkin muffins and, to my absolute horror, there’s no freaking pumpkin in the fridge. I storm into our room, wake up my still-sleeping husband, and bark, “Where’s the FUCKING PUMPKIN? WE LIVE IN HONG KONG–THERE IS ALMOST NEVER PUMPKIN. YOU CANNOT HAVE THROWN OUT THE PUMPKIN.” He did. He thought it was soup. Side note: he also threw out the double batch of cauliflower chowder that I made the day before.
My point is–he threw it out because he doesn’t really know enough about it to give a shit about it. He doesn’t know what it looks like, what one does with it, how long it lasts in the fridge, how hard it is to buy in the store. The reality is that he is at work for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. When he’s home, he’s fully present, but I can’t honestly expect him to have an equal interest in pumpkin, the same as he can’t expect me to really care about whatever he does all day.
I can’t hold him accountable for the pumpkin.
Or the whites. Or the grocery shopping. Or the homeschooling.
And I can’t keep getting angry because he doesn’t know these things. The same as I made choices that made other choices obsolete, so did he. When he chose to take on an administrative role at his school, he unwittingly also chose to not ever give a shit about canned pumpkin. Because that’s how this thing works.
As we get older, I find myself doing more and more of the ‘female’ tasks at home, just to keep the freaking circus running.
Boom. I’ve fallen into a gender stereotype, despite all of my hard work in avoiding it. I made that choice nine years ago, without realizing that I’d made that choice.
The truth is: you can’t have it all. It seems we need to find a new way of embracing that. My challenge now is to teach my kids that having a vagina doesn’t mean you have to learn about pumpkin, but that somebody probably should.