"Are you employed?" is a question that can throw me for days on end. Someone asks me that and immediately, my mind flashes over all the things I do in a day, the baking, the cleaning, the washing, the budgeting, the organizing, the shopping, the phone calls, the projects, the planning, culminating with the last sink of dirty dishes at about 8:00 at night, and every time, because I have no societal value as a wage-earner, I must answer, "No."
I've coped with this in different ways throughout my life. For many years, I would quickly say, "No, I'm just a housewife", often followed by the wave of a hand and a scrap of self-deprecating laughter. Sometimes, if I was really feeling pathetic, I would go into a long ramble about my outside work credits, how I had once been a professional artist, worked in the psychology field...blah blah blah, like some 'has-been' rehashing 'glory days'. And if things were really down in the dumps, I would skip the dreaded housewife word entirely and just say that I was a working artist in some sort of slump. I never failed to feel like every approach was not only a lie, it was a betrayal. It felt like I was in the witness protection program, lying about my real identity.
Fact is, I have always loved being a housewife--and still do. I was one of those little girls who played with china tea sets and truly believed her doll needed special treatment when she was 'sick' and I dreamed of having an Easy-Bake oven. My favorite game when I was in the bath was to pretend to be 'washing' the washcloths and hanging them on the edge of the tub to dry. I was cross-stitching by the time I was eight. Even when I was working out in the career world, I spent many a frantic year, doing last-minute house tidying and insisting on hot, homemade breakfasts for my kids replete with cloth napkins and gingham place-mats, all before we would charge out the door to conquer the chaos of work and school. I read interior decorating books along with my college textbooks, pored over cookbooks for fun. I still feel a deep sense of satisfaction when I have mopped a floor, or polished a coffee table. And although I have worked as a cleaning professional, the thought of having my own maid--which many women dream of--simply fills me with dread. My hands always itch to put things in order, to make them gleam, to puff up pillows and make things cozy.
And of course, the census-taker turns to me and yet again asks the question. And I reply, "I am a homemaker." Simply, without apology. As the years go by, I am slowly learning that the least said is the easiest way to power through it. And of course, we clarify that I am making no income, and thus by implication, what I am doing with such joy and attention is 'worthless.' Same drill, different day.
He continues typing, and suddenly looks up, pausing for a long moment. His gaze seems to take in the abstract painting of blues and greens in front of him, the books so neat and dignified in the case nearby, the silver teapot carefully placed on the lace tablecloth. "My," he says, with a happy sigh, "I wish that I had a housewife. This place is so...so...well.."
He tries to finish his sentence with a variety of adjectives; 'quaint' and 'nice' seem to head the list. He tries to finish, but I can tell that he hasn't found the word he is searching for. He is an older man, a veteran, in many ways an old-fashioned gentleman. It seems to me that he is recognizing something he once knew much better. It is like he is staring at a faded photograph. He is sincere, and I understand what he is unable to say.
The sense of feeling at home, surrounded by order and beauty, is much out-of-fashion nowadays. Big screen TVs and dual incomes are how we make meaning out of our lives today. I am not only out-of-fashion, to some I am an insult, a brain-washed block in the way of progress. But each day it is easier, each day something more is built in response to this modern-day madness, with each bed made, each dish washed, each day that the morning sun is slanting through clean windows.
Each day, I am a homemaker, making something so important that we barely have words for it.