This morning I wake up with womanly worries. Turns out the person I thought was bringing paper goods for the party of 60 to 80 people is bringing plastic forks. Good thing my woman brain woke up in the fives to worry about the party, checked the evite comments, and reread that one about the forks. Good thing my not so perfect woman gave up groceries as planned yesterday for more time with my daughter shopping for second hand clothes. Cute jeans and sweater for her, no food for us yesterday, still time this afternoon to buy the paper goods along with this week’s groceries for the day care and home, and the party miscellaneous, to put it all away, along with my kids, to gather the sports equipment, the folding table, trash bags, like a man, and to decorate the cakes, remember to put together a card, like a woman, squeezed around the Quaker Meeting I hope to attend this morning, like a person on my own, and before the party begins at 4.
My early morning woman brain also remembered my kids’ question at dinner on Friday, about when their passports expire. My daughter’s passport memory is her dad’s car full of stuff for the move to a new home, parked outside the Post Office where we all met up, both parents, all three kids in the same place at the same time, just as we were coming apart. I hadn’t remembered. When I checked this morning, I discovered the kids’ passports expire August 29, 2015, which means my daughter’s is valid for her trip to Australia and back with her grandma this winter. Which reminded me of another womanly thing, to find out whether she needs a special letter to travel out of the country as a minor without her parents, which she does. Again her dad and I will do our legal duty so my gal can do her trip. I write this all in a group e-mail to my ex, to his wife, to our kids, to his mom, as much so I don’t forget as to inform the others.
After that, I check my blog stats and find someone’s been reading a piece I wrote on Disney Princesses, and I wonder who it might be, realize that putting myself out there as a struggling feminist isn’t new, and is something I might need to write about now. It’s not just this one early morning that I wrestle the good woman/bad woman, single woman/should be partnered demons.
It should be no surprise to me that being a feminist, while it’s something I deep down am and know, isn’t always easy.
It would be nicer to have a man around, I tell myself when there is too much snow, when I’m hosting a party involving moving furniture and hauling trash, when the hedges are too tall, my lawn unkempt, when I’m too tired to make the dinner and do the dishes on my own, at tax time, when I apply for my son’s financial aid, when I pay the bills, when I look at the air conditioners in the windows as the temperatures are dropping, or the lack of them in the spring when things are heating up. I’d like a man to help me with those things, be a back up with his strong arms and spatial skills, superior earning power and math brain.
Turns out, often its just me, and while I can’t always do all those things alone, I can sometimes find help, from other women, children, and also men. Other times I discover even men can’t do the things I suspect I can’t do because I’m a woman or wish I had a man here to do for me. My guy can’t paint, due to his asthma. He’s not real fond of yard work, any more than I am, maybe less. My plumbing and carpentry and electrical skills are sub par for a traditional man, decent enough for the average woman. When I talk to my friend Michael about this he tells me even he has to learn by trial and error for many projects he tackles around the house. This makes me think it might be more an issue of orientation or expectation or confidence than a lack of innate training or upbringing as a male that keeps me from fixing a faucet or installing a new light, while imagining that he can do it all. Other times he pays folks to do the work he can’t do or won’t. I have to remind myself this is ok, as in my growing up, men and women did much more of the work around the house than we do now, hardly paying for a cleaner or a home repair if it was something they could do themselves. It’s not just that I’m a woman that’s keeping me from doing these manly things. It’s not doing manly things that makes me a strong woman.
Living as a single mom, unmarried at 47, after five years of living on my own and dating men who live far away, I often think my life would be easier if I did things in a more traditional feminine way, found a guy to marry me, to do the work I’m not doing, whether due to lack of time or expertise or preference or energy or money or just plain neglect. I think it would be easier to travel as a mate, to sign the taxes jointly, to have a shared bank account, to raise the kids with a partner in my home, even to have a man to wash my car, as though anyone in our house has ever done that, girl, boy, woman, man. It was the clue I got that my ex-husband was dating, the car washing thing. My then small gal questioned her dad for cleaning his car. What’s going on? she wondered. His first evidence of trying to impress another woman was there for her to see, and came to me as she told me about her day and I wondered, too, and then she revealed the dating, searing a hole in my heart, probably as much because he hadn’t cleaned the cars we owned together as because he was going on a date, and because I felt like I had turned my daughter into a spy. And probably because I wasn’t that Disney Princess. I didn’t win that race. I wasn’t the one rescued by the knight in shining armor who cleans the car and pays the bills and shovels the walk and cares for the kids. That time around, that’s not my fate, at least not in the way Disney lays it out for us lost souls looking for a myth or mate. (In reading this two days later I think to edit the sentence above about no one in our house ever cleaning the car. For two or three years after her dad and I split up, part of our summer vacation was devoted to cleaning the van, my daughter leading the way and doing much if the work, her grandma and I sometimes pitching in. Seems important to add that here. It was a fine gift which got us through those years with a van much cleaner than it would have been. )
The whole time I was married we wished for a wife, for someone to stay home and look after the kids while we both worked full time, to tidy the house that was often untidy, to vacuum and dust and shine, to buy the groceries and cook the meals we bought and cooked between us, often with some debate as to the fairness of our division. We wished for a woman to take some of the traditional roles so neither of us would have to, and so we wouldn’t have to fight about how we shared the work or didn’t. Now, in my post-marriage, five years of separation and divorce, I’ve become the man/woman, and he has a wife, who like me, works long hours and isn’t any more traditional than I was. We share paid cleaners, who often do our houses on the same day, one before the other, he does some groceries for their household, others he and his wife buy together, divisions I learn from my children as we discuss house chores over dinner Friday night, more spying, or learning from each other? I do shopping with my daughter for our home, and my sons do dishes and take out trash and my gal folds clothes, and everyone is cared for in the mish/mosh man/woman girl/boy way we’ve figured out in 2014, with a boyfriend thrown into my household every other weekend or so, and me not here most weekends the kids are with their dad. On those weekends the cat is in charge, here on her own to look after things, and my day care partner Liana looks after the trash and recycling my son and I do on our weeks here and I am a partner to my boyfriend in his home, which is run for a single man and hardly has a chore for me to do, folks paid to clean and do the yard and fix most things that need fixing. We get to play, to hear music, to eat out and take walks and visit friends and family and hike and swim. Where is the woman or the man in that, in the life nearly sans chores? In that life we took my van for repairs at the local Honda dealer many Mondays until on Mother’s Day weekend we bought my sporty new Impreza, boyfriend beside me talking with the sales guy, me stepping up to pay the bill, so I could hand off the mini-van to my son, starting adult life.
It’s a fine mess I’m in at 47, preparing for 48, in terms of being a feminist and holding it all together. I’d like for my kids to see me as the woman who can do it all, and then I wouldn’t. That would be a set up, for both the girl and boys. Near 10 last night, after watching New Girl with my gal, I texted my guy who is not here this weekend, to say good-night. He had fallen asleep early, texted back had I done my party chores? No, I was most certainly not done with my party chores, who did he think I was, Super Woman?
Turns out I am and I am not, Super Woman, that is. I do cook a nice meal most days and nights the kids are here. Yesterday we ate frittata for brunch, falafel and rice from a box, salad, and homemade tzatziki and tahini dip for dinner. I do the shop. I make sure my kids have clothes, that the critters move out of the compost bin (with help from a day care parent and Jen). I get stuff fixed when it needs fixing, mostly. I let the yard go, except when I don’t, and most times now when I do yard work it’s with my gal. I shovel snow. The kids and the man help. Sometimes friends help, too. Other times I pay. I pay and I pay and I pay for the things I can’t do as a woman, as a person, as a single working parent, as someone who would rather read and write and shop than pound a nail or scrape paint or trim the hedges in fancy shapes. I’m lazy sometimes, and tired, and I’m not a real great man, which for some reason is how I rate myself as a lousy feminist, sometimes, in my head when I can’t get past not wanting to shovel the snow.
And now it would be fine if I could go back to sleep for an hour, but I’m wound up and it might be a good morning for chores, even if I got too little sleep and the day is long and I have to be ready for the party at 4. We’ll see.