His jeans wear thin and fray, the pockets faded in the shape of his cell phone and carbon order pad. He replaces his boots each year. The uniform is completed by a lumber company tee, always dirty on the right shoulder where he carries all manner of building materials from two-by-fours to bundled shingles to sheetrock, and an old camo cap, a pen behind the ear. This is basically the appearance of the man three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. Even on his days off, the boots stay on. He’s a working man. He’s a company man. He’s a stick-it-out-through-the-thick-and-thin man.
And now, at the age of forty-two, he is learning how to slip out of this persona. For the sake of the family he is slipping into whites and khakis, eschewing the camo cap so the world can see his dimpled smile. He’s translating his time coming up in scallop shanties to high-wheeling parties with raw bars on ice and oysters, oysters, oysters on the heavenly half-shell. Last night he threw off the jeans, showered, put on the khakis and was out the door before his little boy could say “Boo!” He was back home near midnight. Then this morning, another shower (yes, he slept with all the oyster juice in his pores so he wouldn’t wake the baby with our old plumbing and thin walls), a fresh pair of jeans, a clean tee, feet back in the old boots, and back out the door.
So frequently is his working father in and out of the door, doors have come to be synonymous with “Dada.” There are a couple of random closed doors down at the playground: one to a dormant information booth, the other apparently leading to some storage behind the bandstand. Cayce pulls on the handles of these locked doors calling for “Daddy.” Of course, in addition to the doors that Daddy leaves and returns by, there is the door to his man cave, his decompression zone, where he watches Deadliest Catch and sneaks cigs, his home away from home. Daddy always seems to be behind one of these doors or another.
I launder Daddy’s clothes, iron the shirt and khakis so everything is ready for him come changing time between jobs. I stay home with our child, chase him around the playground, keep him plied with snacks, dress him, hold him and bath him, change him and nurse him. I keep track of the laundry, the dishes, getting groceries in the house and dinner on. I don’t always do it well, but I do my best. I do manage to be a loving and attentive mother, and partner, and now one who can pull in a pay check or two to boot. When I am babysitting or typing I am also able to pay for most of the groceries while he tackles the mortgage and all of the nagging bills associated with owning a home.
I never thought I would be a woman who stayed home and ironed her husband’s shirts. I don’t even have the benefits of marriage, and yet somehow I seem to have become a wife who irons her husband’s shirts. Raised in the era of feminism, I looked at it from the outside: it looked stifling and small. In college we read books like Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering, where the idea of women as sole nurturers was revealed as a social construct, born of a patriarchy. I thought I had it down pat. I threw around terms like “the division of labor” like I had no intention of ever succumbing to a life in which this division was unequal.
But in practice, it’s hard to find a healthy balance where men and women can share equally the responsibilities of parenting and work. It sure would be a lot easier if our society didn’t put so much pressure on the men to be the breadwinners, and the women to be the nurturers. Sometimes I think maybe Erica Jong was right when she wrote her article The Madness of Modern Motherhood.
The other day, a friend mentioned the word balance. It has resonated with me all week. She works full time at her gardening business and wishes she didn’t have to give up the time with her young son. I envy her working and being out in the world, the power and strength that comes from making her own money. I wish I could walk a little bit in her shoes. It is small recompense that she may also wish sometimes she could walk in mine.
Some days I am able to feel the enormity in my small little life. I don’t see myself as someone who is sacrificing herself for her family. I don’t see myself as chained down. I see myself as linked in to an ever growing web that will hold us like a net and keep us from getting hurt as we climb to soaring heights.
I am grateful to be able to write. It is like the umbilical chord that keeps me tied to the power and strength in my stay-at-home life. All the wonderful moments along the way that aren’t likely to make it to the evening news, but really deserve spots on the World’s Funniest Videos. The tiniest little moments loom large when they are voiced. And this voice just might be a raft that will carry us all down the river to an easier place, where there is plenty of money for continuous fresh, organic fruits, music lessons, summer camps, and our pick of schools. I could make it happen, couldn’t I?
Stay right there. Hold that thought.