By Kim McGinty
I can only assume by my husband’s expression what he must’ve been thinking of my overly pissed response to his, “I can’t walk the dogs this morning.” Like a LED message board it read: “What’s her problem? She’s not doing anything. I have a job, deadlines.” And how can I blame him? Slouched over my laptop shopping desks for our daughter’s room, still in my unflattering yet oh-so-cozy leopard print PJs, a cup of cold coffee beside me and the crust still glued to my eyes—hardly a picture of productivity. To emphasize my displeasure and how unattractive I can be first thing in the morning, I stomped off to brush teeth and dress, shirking his goodbye kiss. That’ll teach him.
It was my second inconvenience before 8 a.m. The first, driving our son to middle school after he repeatedly begged, “Please, Mom, I’m gonna be late!” By his fifteenth plea I had to agree, yup, he’s going to be late, and I hadn’t been home ten minutes when my husband let the dog-walking bomb fall. A simple misstep on a tripwire in the ultimate scheme of things. But as a homemaker, it’s the little things that generally account for our arsenal of grievances.
You might wonder, what’s to complain about? Staying home is a luxury. We get to be our own boss, no stressful commute…undeniable perks. Yet it’s also a job that promises no grading system (or honor roll bumper sticker), zero promotions, raises, bonuses or public awards. So naturally, our bellyaches are a result of kudos deprivation.
My mother cooked most nights. By grade school my dad had trained my siblings and me to interject at some point during our meal, “Thanks for dinner, Mommy, it’s really good.” Ok, it was borderline Eddie Haskell-ish, but at least 70% of the time we meant it. So I never understood her deadpan, “You’re welcome,” often directed at my dad. It’s called positive re-enforcement, whether or not my mom bought it. It’s used in schools, parenting, with work subordinates and prison inmates.
My two kids aren’t nearly so well trained. Our typical meal goes like this:
“This chicken is disgusting.”
“That’s because it’s beef.”
“What did you do to these noodles? They taste like Play-Doh.”
“I made them same as I always do.”
“Is this gluten free? Please stop making everything gluten free!”
That please was nice.
And lastly, “Can I be done?” Not “excused” but “done,” like eating my food is equivalent to memorizing times tables or pulling weeds.
By adult standards I’m a decent cook—I just don’t get to be in adult company very often. My husband shapes surfboards on the side. Surfing is his passion, so even if no one bestows praises at his day job (which they do, along with the occasional bonus or raise), everybody loves a new board. His customers gush appreciatively, come bearing gifts of cigars and post photos of their new addition, like a birth announcement, on Facebook and Instagram so everyone can ooh and aah. My husband, in turn, is fulfilled.
I, too, work on the side, after hours and even during vacation, but it looks a lot like what I do for my day job. Nobody claps me on the shoulder and says, “This sink is so awesome, it’s almost too clean to spit in.” Or, “Gee, I love wearing shirts that don’t smell like day-old cheeseburgers. Speaking of, can I take you to lunch?” Or, “The houseplants are so alive! You’re a wiz with a watering can.” I’ll never hear, “How do you manage to keep the walls and mirrors practically spotless no matter how much I rub my swampy hands and feet all over them?” Or, “What a treat to always find clean bowls for cereal. Thanks, Mom.”
More like, “What’s in this bowl?” examining a microscopic black speck. As if to say, how could I let this happen? Am I too blind to see the disgusting, unidentifiable things still clinging to this bowl? Way to go, Mom. And, “There’s hardly any milk left. Why didn’t you buy milk?!” Because when I mentioned stopping at the store while shuttling you to Jupiter and back, it was met with such anguished groans—”Mom, please, no!” Anything but the store! So now there’s just enough for half a bowl of cereal, which also happens to be housing a family of threatening black specks.
A solution might be to cease cleaning. Go on strike. The ideal outcome—a family so repulsed they’ll learn to pick up after themselves and in the process discover how much they’ve undervalued my contribution to their comfort, health and well-being. But no, it appears I’ve been blessed with a family who can live indefinitely in clutter and filth. If I’m absent more than a day, dirty dishes accumulate, globs of green toothpaste turn to cement, hand prints become cave art and stinky things in the fridge just create kitchen conversation.
In my life before kids, I enjoyed dog walks—it felt less of a chore. One dog along the beach twice a day. It was during one such walk I overheard a boy, surfboard tucked beneath scrawny arm, say to another, “My mom doesn’t do shit.” I felt immediately defensive and tempted to ask, “Who drove you here?” My guess was his mom was a homemaker who, like many, did everything—or she could’ve been a meth head that twitched on the couch all day.
Either way, remembering makes me wonder, if my own kids were asked what I do, how would they answer? Hopefully with better perception than the one whose mom may or may not be a homemaker or skin-picking meth head (although I often feel cranky, agitated, moody and paranoid). Yet my doubts beg the question, are homemakers inadvertently setting a bad example? Dad drives off with urgency and purpose to catch the commuter while mom…what…crafts wine corks into trivets?
One of my favorite books in 5th grade was Erma Bombeck’s If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? Which I bought primarily because I loved cherries. But then it surprised me how funny and entertaining the gripes of a suburban homemaker could be. Now I can empathize. After a morning of exhaustive research, I order my daughter the perfect desk. She’ll love it. Or she’ll say, “This isn’t the desk I wanted!” At which point I’ll just laugh.
The dogs overflow with gratitude the moment they hear the jingle of leashes, demonstrating through sharp nose jabs and smears of slobber how fabulous they think I am (requiring more cleaning on my part, but I’m so hungry for the props I acquiesce). Another eight years and my job as homemaker will be obsolete, bringing forth a serious shortage of grievances, I suppose.
What then, Erma? What then?
About Kim McGinty
Kim McGinty is a Santa Cruz, California based writer and mom of two. When not inspired to write, she spends her days with other artistic endeavors, surfing, surviving the tweens, teens and an endless amount of dog hair. Her work can also be found on Scarymommy/Clubmid, BLUNTmoms and Mamalode.