I had a good––even great––life. I had a profession I loved, I was respected by my peers. I even made good money! And then I did a stupid thing. I decided to end it.
I made this decision because I thought what I was going to achieve was just another challenge for myself. Yet another seemingly unattainable mountaintop for me to climb! I knew I could be anything, I had proved it to myself already. Now I was going to choose a different path, get off the politically correct and accepted ambitious goal models for modern women, leading to being the CEO of Google or IBM! I was going to climb off of the endless ladder of ambition toward becoming President of the University or winner of the Pulitzer Prize. No! I was going to stop being a New Millenium woman and I was going to become a . . . housewife!
On the first day in my new life, I woke up in a new house, in a new neighborhood, in a new country, and in a new post: fulltime Mom and house-bound spouse. My husband made this all possible because he had been awarded a scholarship to pursue his Ph. D. overseas. It has now been exactly one month since I entered this new life.
What the hell was I thinking???????
There are the rituals that I had foreseen. Sure there would be the Kingdom of the Never-Ending Laundry. The Realm of Dirty Dishes. The “helping” with homework “because I am home to help.” You know the list. You name it. And I have not just survived the tedium, I’ve conquered it and even the silver is polished! All in one short month!
Now, can I please go back to my real life??????
No! I am not a quitter! I can do this! My childhood memories of my own housewife mother prepared me very well. I had a pretty good idea of how hard it would be. And I have met and even exceeded my own expectations for myself. I have risen to the challenge. I have been to the mountaintop!
Well, wait a minute, that’s not true. I’m lying. I have almost conquered, I have almost met the challenge. I was prepared for everything except for one rather important part. The one piece of knowledge that I did not acquire as a child is about what it would be like to be a housewife is something that took me by utter surprise: I would have to learn how to eat humble pie every single day in my new life.
Nothing and nobody taught me how to be spoken to as if I were the house slave: “Why are the dishes still in the sink?”
How could I be prepared to be told I am a “bitch” by my son (and I with loads of laundry and someone waiting at the door, so too busy to slap his face).
I could not have imagined in advance that my normally sweet husband when in full swing with graduate term-paper deadlines would be almost out of his mind with demands. “Where are those notes you were supposed to take?” Uh, what notes? When did you ask me? Silence. Stomping off. No apologies.
There would be no time for caring for the now humble housewife by my husband because, dammit, his coursework was Important! And what was I? As one of my sons said with derision, “You don’t even earn any money!”
In addition to being assigned to the Kingdom of the Household tasks which I uncomplainingly did all day (and sometimes all night), I also squeezed in about 50-100 pages of cognitive development reading material for my husband’s courses, 30-40 pages of middle school social studies’ reading for my sons before they came home from their new schools. In total, I read six chapters each from four different textbooks. Later, in the evenings, after chauffeuring my three boys back home from their respective three different schools, I rotated shifts tutoring all three of them to do their homework. But this was still manageable for me. I am woman! I will succeed, except...
It was the bitter humble pie that caught me off guard.
My husband complained. My children complained. I kept quiet. On a day when I had not had a single adult conversation because I had spent the entire day doing the thousand pieces of paperwork required for an overseas move, they complained loudly of my faults in serving their needs. “Where did you put my textbook?” “Why is there no milk?” I kept quiet and ate humble pie. On another day when they complained even more loudly, I did not say that I had focused the entire afternoon studying the term paper topic for which my husband needed my help. I shut up. I was getting sick of humble pie, but I ate it.
One night, one son needed help with his homework, a subject in which I had a graduate degree and had taught at the college level. He said to me after I had shown him how to figure out the problem, “That’s stupid! Nobody does it like that! Your idea is stupid!” Yes, I agree I was failing in my duties of parental guidance because I let him speak to me this way, but my brain just refused to respond. All that humble pie was not just something I had to eat, it was doing something to me.
My husband suddenly, without warning, told me what I needed to complete for him “before tomorrow.” I found it difficult to focus. My mind wandered to other thoughts. But I kept quiet. I wrote out the notes on autopilot. What is happening to me?
Another day. It was an exceptionally cold one. I wore extra layers of clothes in order to save on electric and gas bills during the day when everyone else was out of the house. One of my sons took one look at me and said, “Gee! You look ugly nowadays. You dress funny.”
The other son chipped in, “That’s because she doesn’t work now. She stays at home all dayand does nothing. So she is allowed to look ugly.”
My husband continued giving instructions about what needed to be done. I nodded in silence, picked up a pen and paper, wrote down what I needed to do, and proceeded to go do it. I often did not eat dinner. I did not feel hungry. I never knew eating humble pie would make you lose your appetite for real food.
I remembered my own mother. So this is what she meant when she had told me back when I was a teen that I would one day have to learn how to eat humble pie. She must have eaten it herself daily.
I felt a tear well up. I'm sorry Mom, I had no idea.
Juliëtte van Bavel