Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The modern woman... my way.

Forewarning: This one's gonna ramble a bit, folks, and it might offend some of you.  Lotta thoughts churning in this lady's head today, not all of them ... shall we say... politically correct.

I was raised in a household that managed to conform simultaneously to "the American Dream" and principles of family that would do many a right-wing fundamentalist proud.  My father is a doctor, and in the 80s and 90s that still meant you had a fair stab at wealth even in general practice.  We were wealthy.  Oh, I don't mean that my brother and I had everything we wanted, far from it, but we certainly had everything we needed and a goodly supply of extras.  There was always room in the budget for treats, trips to the movies, new clothes for school or special occasions, restaurants, a family vacation most summers to places like Disney or Kings Island or Mammoth Cave, and we almost always went to summer camp.  Our house was huge, four people could manage to go the whole day without bothering each other if they put a little effort into it.  At one point there was even talk of buying horses, though to my great disappointment that one never did materialize!

There was no need for my mother to work, and until my parents divorced (and really not for several years afterwards) I never noticed her stressing about money.  Her job was to stay home and raise babies, and to keep a home that reflected well on her husband when company called.  Her creativity was channeled into activities such as cooking, gardening, and sewing (and she was incredible at that one, folks, you should see some of my childhood dresses).   Her social circle consisted by and large of ladies from our church, who complimented her children and encouraged her to sing in the choir.  My mother was the quintessential Christian wife and mother.  Domestic, demure, and disciplined.  And she was GOOD at it, people.  She gloried in a room well cleaned, a formal dress made on her own machine, a holiday dinner laid out with style and grace.

I am not that person.  I am a messy.  I am quite content to let the laundry pile until it has to get done or nobody will have clean socks tomorrow.  I prefer a home that is comfortably cluttered to one that looks like it belongs in a magazine.  I like to sew and crochet and cross-stitch, but only insofar as they are hobbies that make me happy.  A few of my pieces have gone to friends and family as gifts, but honestly the thought of turning that skill into a home business makes my stomach churn with the nausea that accompanies turning fun into work.  I keep a garden when I can, but it tends to stay small and manageable, as opposed to my mother's quarter-acre spread that grew everything from asparagus and turnips to medicinal herbs and flowers for dried arrangements.  I sing because it makes me happy, because it lulls my son to sleep, and because I do intend to eventually use it on stage again.

I am not a soul given to excellence in the domestic arena.  Neither am I particularly suited to the other extreme, the feminist ideal of career and self-sufficiency.  I'm just somewhere in the middle, with talents and skills that cover quite an impressive range of possibilities, but often leave me at loose ends unless considerable forethought and planning become involved.

Did I have childhood dreams of Broadway and the Sydney Opera?  Sure, what performance-oriented child doesn't fantasize about thousands of adoring fans.   If you knew me growing up, then you probably wonder what happened to the girl determined to sing in Carnegie Hall and travel around the world.  What you might not realize is that those words were more often than not planted ideas from people I admired, or loved, or feared.  That I dove into the stage because it put me in a world where I had dozens of people telling me "Yes, you can!" and how to get better, instead of a very small circle of people who had little to say beyond a laundry list of my faults.  I professed a desire for a career in performance because preparing for it got me out of that house.  But I got older and got wiser and actually got a taste of that world, and over time I realized that the extremes of sacrifice required by such a life were far and away beyond what I was willing to commit, especially as I started thinking about the family I wanted to have.

I wanted a husband who would be the primary earner.  I wanted to have several children and be that mom with a car-load of munchkins all talking too loud and stealing each other's happy meal toys and generally raising a ruckus.  I also wanted to live somewhere with an active theatrical community so I could stretch those muscles now and again.  I decided at some point that I was looking for a husband who would be willing to support me and our children, and that once said children were all school-age, also be alright with my taking on musical or theatrical work, or maybe (*legasp*) more of a "real job", just because I enjoy it.  I wanted backyard barbecues and cousins and friends and a royal mess that everybody pitches in to clean up when the party's winding down.

More power to the ladies who hold independence above all.  To those who find ways to raise children and have a career they're passionate about.  To those who spend their lives advancing the cause of women's equality.   To them and more I say Thank you!  Thank you for providing me with the freedom, as an educated woman with every opportunity, to decide that I want a little Ozzie & Harriet.

I've gotten flak from both sides of the fence, mind you.  I have friends on one side that barely speak to me anymore because they're convinced I've utterly wasted my life and my talents.  That by not going straight from college to New York or Europe or God knows where and pounding the pavement until I Got That Big Break, I have somehow failed.  That I had an obligation to them, to society, or to God to Make Good because I'm soooooo talented, and I've wasted it all by doing nothing for the last six years.  And now, well.  Now I've got a kid, and that, dear reader, is the end.  My life is over.  The world will forever be deprived of all that I might have been and done because I have been lost down the rabbit hole of The Traditional Family.

On the other end are the folks that think I'm finally starting to "get it".  People that watched me grow up and tsk'd when I danced in church, that still think "a woman's place" (don't even get me started on that phrase) is in the home, in the kitchen, submissive and largely silent.  They still criticize my handling of daily affairs and suggest that I'm far too pampered, having my mother in law here to do all the "hard work".  (Seriously, she's 70.  She handles cooking dinner and does the dishes because she wants to, otherwise she'd have nothing to do.)  No few are astonished when my husband tells them that I handle the family budget and decide when we have money to do special things.  Some raise raise a critical brow when I ask them not to suggest that my 8 month old might benefit from being left to cry himself to sleep, or launch into prophecies of doom and damnation and juvenile detention facilities when I let it slip that I don't plan to EVER strike my children for any reason.  The folks that figure I was blessed with a beautiful voice and a creative mind so that I could use them to Advance God's Kingdom, that I had an obligation to God, to the Church, to my Family to be some freakish reincarnation of my mother. And now, well.  Now I've got a kid, and that, dear reader, is the beginning.  I'll straighten my head out and fall in line, now, right?

Neither end seems to grasp that I do what I do because this is what I want to do.

Thankfully, the population of each extreme is slim, and to the lot I say this; You're both wrong.  I am not, nor was I ever, obligated to do anything or be anyone.  My mother did her job and raised me with full knowledge of my potential.  (Good gravy, what a loaded word, potential.)  I fulfilled her expectation that I go to college and got a degree before I got married.  I didn't do nothing for six years.  I spent a fair chunk working, a goodly amount enjoying being young and married, and no small span figuring out who I am and what *I* want out of life.  My only obligations are those I choose to accept.  Being a wife and an equal partner.  Raising a child.  Being me.

For now, what I want is to get us out of debt (we're making progress!), to take care of my son and my husband, and to work towards a healthier and less stressful life for all of us.  My future plans consist of a few more babies, homeschooling (because I still think our kids will be bored silly in a regular school), and making time to sing and write and draw and garden because I love doing it.  And if somewhere along the way, an opportunity to audition for AGT or snag a regular evening at a microphone or turn my crocheted lace into a viable line of income happens to present itself, then I'll happily jump on board.

For now... this is my life... and I like it.

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