so… what do you do?
bracing myself for the cold & beauty of Iceland (photo by my husband)
Eugh. That loaded question. I get that it’s a way to start conversation and find a commonality from which to converse, but still… eugh. Apart from the fact that what we do for work isn’t all that defines us, how does one answer when it’s not a simple “I’m an insert profession title”. And how does one answer when they care a little too much about what others think? Well, here’s my start on conquering this concern publicly. I feel we are non-judgemental friends here, aren’t we?
I have had a remarkably different life, achieved on a world scale and held some interesting jobs and titles that stemmed from that. I’m proud of my achievements but it’s a journey that can’t be shared in a quick sentence. It’s a story. Perhaps when my self-esteem is a little low, I launch into that story because I want them to know I too am successful, interesting and smart. Occasionally that type A in me rears her head when provoked. Sometimes I don’t actually feel the egotistical need to share my life story and I’m also aware that I don’t want to monopolise a casual conversation of pleasantries with it. Other times I prefer to keep my story for friends with whom I have a deeper relationship with. And. Sometimes I struggle to say the most relevant answer today. Not because my husband and I don’t treasure it, but because in society it is sometimes less valued, something to be justified, something to be thrown into a cycle with a whole lot of busy-ness, not pursued alone. Because sometimes when I’ve answered this way, the other person shuts down and assumes I have no interesting facets to me and then turns away. Because you can see that people don’t understand how you can be a housewife in your 30s if you don’t have (and don’t plan to have) kids. The best way to describe my role is…
I am a housewife.
There, I said it. My first role is to look after the health of our home and us. It wasn’t planned, it all happened quite organically, but it works for us. When we met, I told my husband that I wasn’t much of a cleaning, cooking, domestic type of girl. Ha, we laugh at that now! We are happier and healthier because of my shift to a traditional role. At the start of 2007 I resigned from a stressful management position. I have never sobbed with my whole body like I did during the year on that job. I had never hated my phone until that year. I had never had panic attacks on the way to work until that year. While it was an achievement that looked good on paper, it was killing me, and the extra money stopped being any kind of compensation. Worse still, some nights I had to close my eyes while talking to my husband because of the pain and fatigue. Uh huh, I want to spend that precious resource of my fading vision on looking at the faces I love, not draining them in a lonely, stressful job.
Since then I have done the very occasional freelance and voluntary work but my priority has been the health and happiness of our household. If something starts to affect that, it goes. I don’t think we truly knew the greatness and simplicity we were allowing to come into our lives when we took that step. The immediate benefits were clear in less pain in my eyes and much less stress. I can now see the other gifts we gave ourselves – my time and energy to devote to our health, our life, our relationship, our families. And his time too. A colleague once asked my husband how he is able to produce such quality work. My husband replied that a big part was the support of a wife at home. Wow, how is that for a validation of the value of my traditional role? I am also incredibly lucky that he reinforces the importance of rest and never makes me feel bad for those times where I can’t live up to my own expectations due to my health needs.
So, what do I do? I cook, clean, declutter, wash and iron, digitise, run errands. I go to the farmers markets. I create words and photographs. I make sure birthdays are not forgotten. I support my husband in his work. I give love. I give time. I prioritise. I walk and cuddle with my dog. I research for our adventures both locally and abroad. I listen, assist and discuss family matters such as my aging grandparents. I help others with their projects and dreams. I share my photos of gatherings with loved ones and make them smile at the memories and the people. I digitise my family’s keepsakes for sharing and safekeeping. I figure stuff out about life. I am a teammate to my husband. I face this whole going blind thing with a smile, sometimes through tears and sometimes with setbacks. I manage my conditions as best I can in order to be healthy. In looking after myself, I have more to give others. In short, I guess you could say, I attempt to create joy for myself and others around me.
The child who dreamt she would wear a power suit and make lots of money, to the girl who succeeded on a world scale in a very untraditional role, to sampling the management life, has now grown into a woman who creates value with domestic duties. We live in a time where you can take any path in life, traditional or not, and that is cause for celebration and freedom. But sometimes I think there’s too much focus on being on all paths simultaneously – to be everything to everyone – to the detriment of many things and people. In our efforts to be a progressive society it seems that being traditional is now frowned upon – how sad. I’ve been on both paths and am rich in experiences and personal growth for it. I have a lot of respect for the high-flying successful women, but let us always remind each other of the deep-seated beauty and value of caring, loving, feeding, creating, listening and nurturing in this increasingly fast paced, short-attention-spanned, machinated, status-driven world.
p.s. Juanita wrote about her thoughts last year too.