Can I Really Call Myself A Housewife Anymore?

Sometime in 2016, I wrote a piece about identifying as a queer housewife. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever written, not by a long shot, but it was something I was feeling really intensely at the time and really wanted to talk about. The extremely simplified version is that I had, as a younger person, really wanted to stay home and raise babies and keep my house. When I grew up and became a feminist and realized I was a flaming queer… this didn’t seem like it was going to happen, so I set the dream aside. But having a baby FORCED me to stay home (in the same way it forces many parents, including many new moms and other birthing parents who aren’t ready, back into the workforce). And while I was forced to stay home, I fell in love with it, and came to identify with that word, housewife.

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The whole thing ended up sparking a bit of a debate about terms. Many people told me they preferred homemaker to housewife, as it was gender neutral and less derogatory. But the term “homemaker” has been tied up in a very particular brand of conservative Christianity, and benevolent sexism, for decades now. And besides, I wanted to be a housewife specifically because it was gendered work I was doing. Are there men who cook and clean and budget and organize? Absolutely. But my own housewifery made me feel connected to generations of women who cared for their families and homes. I couldn’t divorce it from that, and I found that I didn’t want to.

Anyways, I got paid for that article about being a housewife. I think I made seventy-five bucks.

***

This spring, my spouse and I made a rather huge change. Specifically, she cut her working hours, from four days a week to three days a week. This way, I could also work three days a week, and we would split childcare duties equally. With our toddler weaned, this seemed like the perfect setup for our little family. Now no one would be carrying the brunt of the kid-wrangling, we would both work, and both do childcare, and have one day off a week in common. In many ways, it was a dream come true for me.

I started freelance writing at the end of 2015 and very beginning of 2016, and I started really small. I was just bringing in enough money to take the edge off, the edge of living in poverty. I was really proud of my contribution, even though I try very hard not to assign value to myself based on money earned. For so long, I hadn’t been able to financially contribute to my family, and I had watched (and felt) us struggle to try to survive on one income.

Since then it has been a (more or less) uphill climb. But there is never enough time. I work nights. I get behind on projects. I get behind on the blog. And my work time always gets eaten away at, slowly but surely. My spouse and I may work the same number of hours… but one of us works outside the home (her) while the other works inside the home (me). When doctor’s appointments have to happen, it’s easier for EVERYONE to schedule them for my work days. And then I take part of the day off and scramble and it sucks. Often I work nights. Often I work too many nights in a row (because I don’t know when to give myself a break) and make myself sick. Often freelance payments come late which makes it feel like I’m working this hard for nothing.

The switch from two work days a week to three work days a week alleviated some of the pressure on me, but not all of it. And it also added more. The income I make long ago ceased being “extra” money. I am now responsible for a rather large chunk of our monthly budget. If I don’t work, we can’t pay our bills and buy our food, period.

And the switch also meant something else… it was the end of the housewife dream.

A lot of times, I am too tired to make dinner, so my spouse does it. The livingroom which I used to lovingly pick up on the daily… well there are dust on top of the toys left on the floor now. The exciting DIY projects are all left for… another day, someday, maybe one day. All of this is in the service of my career.

I’m not complaining exactly, but it’s like I accidentally morphed from a housewife into a career woman.

And here’s the thing. I’m not even sure how I feel about that. I love my job. I love the work I’m doing. I’m writing some really interesting and exciting things that I never would have dreamed of a few years ago. It’s just that some days, I would rather be making my own granola bars and tending my little garden, you know?

***

Not having the identity of housewife makes me feel a little bit like I’m floating. I no longer know what my roll is, I’m no longer entirely sure I fit my roll. The reality is, of course, that I desperately want to do both. I want to do more things than there can ever be time for. I want to make pie crust and write interesting and well researched pieces, and do creative projects with my toddler, and organize the pantry, and work on my novel. But I also want to be kind to myself and read books and watch Doctor Who. There isn’t enough time, and I’m getting frustrated, and I’m burning out. And I’m not the only one. Women (and other people, but largely women) are so often tasked with doing the impossible in not enough time, we are so often racing the clock, we are so often torn in a thousand directions and unable to feel anything but guilt.

I don’t have an answer.

But I do have an idea.

Stay tuned.

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I’m More Than A Mother, I’m A…. What?

This is a post about identity. This is a post I don’t really want to write.

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When I was in High School, I had this really cool art teacher. But there was another art teacher, not necessarily cooler, but younger, who used the next classroom over. She had a free period while I was in my studio art class, and a friend of mine and I used to chat with her while we were working (or procrastinating). She was in her twenties, she had a live-in boyfriend, she only taught part time so she would have time for her work. She was a feminist. She was incredibly interesting to me, as a seventeen year old artist stuck in the suburbs and unsure what was coming next. We talked a lot. One day, I don’t remember why, I told her that I had always known that I wanted to have kids, to be a mother. At the time, I considered it to be something like my second calling. I believed in fate, and I believed that I was put on this earth to make incredible artwork, and also to mother.

“Yeah but, is that really want you want, or is it just what you’ve been told you want your entire life?”

The question was like a blow. I felt insulted, I felt like my own sense of myself was being challenged. Suddenly, this woman who I had respected was under fire in my mind. Who the hell was she? She didn’t know me. She didn’t know who I was, she didn’t know what I wanted. Just because some people caved to social pressures and did things just because others told them to, that didn’t mean that was me. But it was actually a worthy question. Children, especially children who are assigned female at birth, are told so much about what to expect of our lives. The things we are told shape our perceptions (duh) and affect what we want, or what we allow ourselves to want. It is so much easier to choose from the approved list, after all.

But I really, really, wanted to be a mom.

***

Recently, chatting with a friend who is at a different point in her journey toward parenthood, I shared a piece of information that feels very basic to me, so basic that I forget it is surprising for others.

“I’d been dreaming about, and sometimes planning for, getting pregnant for about ten years before it actually happened.”

“Wow, really?”

If you do the math in your head, that would put me at the tender age of nineteen the first time I thought, “you know, maybe I should have a baby soon?” But in all honesty, it may have been earlier than that. I was always in a hurry, I always considered the fact that I had to wait to have kids to be supremely unfair. Have you ever known something in your bones? In my bones, I knew that I was supposed to be a mom. When I was twenty three, I got a cat and joked with my friends that it was “the only way to put off having a baby.” But it wasn’t actually a joke, the joke was that I was pretending it was a joke. When I was twenty four I started researching sperm banks. My mom had had my older sister when she was twenty one, in my mind, I had already fallen behind.

I spent all of my twenties dreaming about motherhood, hoping and wishing and praying that it might be just around the corner. When I met my wife I said, “just so you know, I probably can’t get involved in anything very serious right now, I’m saving up to get pregnant this year.” A friend, when he was something like nineteen, introduce me (age twenty five) to his mother as “mom, this is Katherine, she’s my Detroit mom.” It was clear what he was saying, “this is the person who takes care of me when you can’t do it.” Maybe I should have been embarrassed, but I found that I was beaming. I wanted to be a mother so badly it was like a fire, consuming me.

Then, at twenty nine, I got pregnant.

***

This is a post about identity. This is a post I do not want to write. I don’t want to say the words, because they feel cliche and weak and stupid. I am sitting at my laptop, in my livingroom, and the livingroom is so utterly and completely filled with toys and kids’ books that it looks like a tiny daycare center. The baby is napping upstairs as I write this. Next to me on the couch, on one side, is a massive pile of baby socks, yet to be paired and put in his drawer. On the other side is the sleep sack he wears to bed at night when it’s cold. I just remembered I have to switch a load of laundry over. But I am sitting down to write this.

I want to be more than just a mom, goddamnit!

A few weeks ago, there were some silly little things going around facebook, those copy-paste statuses. “Comment and I’ll tell you something I admire about you!” one said, “Give me a compliment and I’ll compliment you back!” another offered. And I bit. It seemed like it was maybe a little cheesy, but hey, anything that gets us to lift each other up, right? There’s been dark times lately, we could use a little joy, a little reflection on the parts of us that are good. Maybe it was contrived, but maybe it would also be worth it?

I waited for the compliments to roll in.

“You’re such a good mom!”

“You’re such a good mom!”

“You’re such a good mom!”

And I felt the metaphorical wind entirely leave my metaphorical sails.

***

Look, it’s not as though I don’t want to be a good mom! I am, by definition, a mom, I am mothering as we fucking speak (we’re not actually speaking, I’m writing a blog post and you, in the future, are reading it, whatever) and if I’m going to be a mom, a “good one” is certainly the kind I want to be. I like doing things well. And also, my child is a person, and a person who matters, and so doing well at raising him seems like a thing that matters. Obviously, I’m gonna show up for him, I’m going to try my best.

But there is something profoundly lonely and isolating about knowing that, first and foremost, everyone sees me as a mother. The rest of my personality, the rest of my many titles and roles, are entirely eclipsed by my relationship to this one, individual, solitary, person. He claws at my skirts when I leave the room. He spits my own breast milk out of his mouth and onto my shirt and then laughs at me. He, well not really he but more the fact that he exists, rules almost every waking second of almost every day of my life. And the people who know me, the people who are outside of that relationship, that is all they see of me. Anything else that I was or am — wife, lover, artist, friend, daughter, sister, faggot, story-teller, cat lady, slob — is rendered invisible by the heavy weight of motherhood.

It’s ridiculous for me to resent it. After all, this is me we’re talking about. For a decade I pined for motherhood. I craved it the way I crave sweets. I knew it was an important part of me, a part of my identity that was yet to manifest in the physical world, for a decade it was just out of my reach. I was so excited for it! I knew that once I could attain it, I would be whole and complete, everything in the world that I was meant to be.

But that’s just it. Motherhood was never the end for me, it was the beginning. It was never a singular identity, it was one of many. What I craved was a rich, full, and complicated life, in which I had a child or children. I wanted to be a mother yes, but not just a mother.

And, in some ways, I’m not just a mother. Since my child was born, I have built, for the first time in my life, something like a career for myself. I’m a writer, I write words for a living. Once, I applied for a regular contributor position (which I didn’t get, but no matter) and the editor responded with “oh, I’m very familiar with your work.” I have work. In fact, I work my ass off. I happen, however, to write a lot (though not exclusively) about parenting. Writing about parenting, especially if you are a mother, is seen as a hobby, a side-hustle, not real writing, something us moms do on the side. I have a blog that is at least in large part about having a child.

I’m in a livingroom fucking covered in toys.

So I can see why “mom” might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of me. I’m not doing a whole lot over here to give you much else to work with, I realize. Maybe it’s fool-hearty in the extreme to whine about people only seeing me as a mother when I am constantly performing motherhood. Maybe in part I’ve thrown myself headlong into parenting because I wanted it for so very long, maybe it’s because the odds are very good that I will have only one child and I want to mother the crap out of him. I don’t know. I feel embarrassed to even be talking about it.

But I’m more than just a mother, I’m also something else, something else I don’t have time to think about right now because the baby is going to wake up soon and I have about three thousand things to do first.

Taking Time

Lately I’ve been losing focus. Life is busy for pretty much everyone when you live in capitalism, when you live in a culture that glorifies being busy, when productivity is seen as more important than love and joy and connections. It gets even busier when you have a small child, and when you sit squarely on the poverty line. Babies find a way to extract time out of you that doesn’t even exist. They do it in perfect love and perfect innocence, but they do it all the same. And time is money, and we don’t have any of either. Add to that the fact that I’ve been freelancing, meaning I’ve been working in all the small spaces of time I can find (when the baby naps, when his Ma has him, when I’m breastfeeding and a good idea strikes), and it’s basically a recipe for constantly feeling addled, constantly feeling behind, constantly being consumed. We’ve been missing more and more family meetings, getting more behind on housework, feeling the stress of it all pretty much constantly. It’s a good life, but it’s also no way to live at all. So I lose focus, I drop metaphorical balls, I have a harder and harder time returning to myself.

A lot of this, I think, comes from being forced to live in some semblance of the nuclear, no matter how hard we fight it. Maybe fighting isn’t the answer, and maybe one day things will be better. But for now we live in a small two bedroom apartment, and most days it’s just the three of us. And even when we were living at the collective, we still often felt isolated as a family. I don’t have answers, just questions. I suppose one could move to an established commune, but that’s not where we’re at right now.

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And so I take a second to edit something that’s past due, I take a second to start dinner, I take a second to make silly noises with the baby. He is crawling now, and saying “hi” to every person, cat, and book, he meets in our living room. It’s a thrill.

<short intermission for a diaper change>

But it also means a new level of parenting, wherein he is insistent on being independent, but actually needs constant help navigating even our mostly baby-proofed front room. It’s not that I wasn’t engaged with him when he was younger, I was, it’s just on a different level now. Yes, I can set him down to play on his own for five minutes while I pee/type something up/grab a snack, but in just a few moments he will need me again. He doesn’t know that eating paperback novels is not, in fact, a thing that we do. He doesn’t know why the baby gate is there. He doesn’t know that if you crawl under the dining chairs, and then sit up, you’re liable to bonk your head. So he needs me. So I go to him. I take the books out of his hand before he can eat (very much) paper, I try to encourage that he play with his toys while also giving him the freedom to choose which ones, I sing to him and kiss his bumps and bruises.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. There’s this phrase: “make time,” as in, “well you just have to make time to see your friends.” But it’s so ridiculous because you can’t actually make any more time than there is. Before you know it the day is gone and you’re reading Goodnight Moon for the five thousandth time. Before you know it, the time is gone.

***

My kid turns one at the end of May. Last year, I had a thousand projects I wanted to do before the birth. I didn’t do any of them. I had all the time in the world, but I was too sick, too tired, to depressed, to do even the most basic things, and everything else waited until after the basics were finished (which, they never were).

So I’m making him a quilt for his birthday.

I’ve never made a quilt before, but I’m fairly certain my plan will work. I’m making the quilt primarily out of the many flannel receiving blankets that we were gifted for him, the ones that were too small to swaddle him in by the time he was two months old. Those ones, and the one we took home from the hospital. You know the one.

I’ve been thinking about this for ages, trying to find the time or make the time to get started. After this load of laundry. After this article. After the baby’s down for bed. After my wife is home from work.

Then it hit me. You can’t make time, but you can take it.

You can decide to take time, even if you don’t exactly have it.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. I steal moments to cut pastel fabric into triangles. If he’s up, I can’t get much done, because he inevitably finds what I’m doing more interesting than any toy for babies, and he will try to take the scissors. But that’s ok. That has to be ok. When I cut the flannel it makes this satisfying sound. It feels strange to be dismantling the bits of cloth we used to wrap him in.

There is no time. There is never any time. But take it anyways.

I have to go, he’s after the books again.

Post Nuclear Year In Review

I started this blog back in November of 2014, so the vast majority of it’s life has taken place over the last year. It’s strange to look back on it, or really even to look back at 2015 at all. 2015 was the year that the most things changed for me (except maybe the first year of my life, because those changes are a BIG DEAL) and it was the year that very nearly killed me. As it comes to a close, it feels like it must have been at least three years.
But it wasn’t.
Here on the blog, I published a whopping TWENTY-FIVE posts, but everyone forgives me because I had that whole BABY thing going on as well. We mostly talked about the weird culture of parenting, and all the weird ways I feel about it.
Here are my top three most popular blog posts from 2015.
This was my third most popular blog post this year! I wrote it back in August, when my kid was only three months old. We were in and out of the hospital, and the doctor’s office, pretty much constantly (for both of us) and while I was totally exhausted, I was also noticing all of the pressure to use as many gender markers as possible.
So we pushed back against that pressure. And I wrote about it. And it seems like maybe people liked it.
The second most popular post of 2015 is from December, which somehow surprises me, but maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe readership is just going up in general? I don’t know. But I like this post. It was hard to write, which for me, seems like it’s often the mark of really good stuff happening. It’s when you really have to sit with it and work through it and try to wrap your head around it all that the magic happens.
We moved into a small apartment. I loved it. But I also needed to deal with the fact that I still felt like rejecting the nuclear family model was/is an important part of my life.
And honestly? I’m still struggling with these ideas. How do we find the balance between fierce idealism and practicality? How do we live as members of a larger community – rather than in familial isolation – when we have a needy infant who just wants to stay on his schedule? When we live in a city with extremely dysfunctional public transit? It’s easier to stay home. I hate that it’s easier to stay home. It’s easier to stay home. Please come over.
“Who is the mom? Oh we both are. Full stop.”
This is literally the most read piece ever on Post Nuclear Era. It continues to shock me. That’s one of the things about creating things though, is so often you can’t predict what is going to resonate with people.
I wrote this piece fast. I wrote it angry. I posted it with typos because I knew if I stopped to do a better edit I wouldn’t hit that “publish” button. If you had asked me to predict what would happen with it, I would have said that it would either be a throw away piece, a drop in the bucket, just something that was up on the blog that a couple of people read (hey, it happens sometimes!) or it would piss people off and I would get backlash. Why was I being so mean and judgmental? They were all just trying to be nice. And while I’m sure that some people definitely disagreed with my take, I only happened upon one of those people. ONE.
What I did see, though, was more and more friends sharing it. And then it got picked up by Ravishly. And I have literally no idea how many people read it over there.
But it’s a really good feeling, y’all, when your angry rants mean something to someone else. It’s real good.
And here’s my personal favorite.
You Have To Guess – Pronouns For Babies
I adore this one. I loved writing it. I loved the little moment that inspired it.
A few more minutes passed, and then the older boy said “but how can you tell that it’s a boy?”
It was a loaded question for me. Some of my closest friends are transgender, as is my child’s generous sperm donor. I am constantly aware that any identity we put on him may be discarded by him at any time in favor of something else. His other mother and I, we are just his parents, we don’t own him. He may not be a boy. He could be a girl, or even something else. That is ok with me because I love him for who he is, I love him just for showing up to this amazing world, not for any particulars about him that I pretend to know.
I looked at the child standing in front of me “well, you have to guess.”
Seriously. So great. And we keep on guessing. And it keeps not mattering. And we keep dressing him in all the colors. And we keep trying to be humble and ready to change directions whenever, if ever, he needs us to.
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Looking ahead to 2016, where are we going? Well obviously we are going to keep talking shit about the nuclear family structure, keep trying to be as intersectional as possible, keeping learning and trying to be humble. And when I say “we” I mean “I am going to try to do these things, but also I hope you’ll join me.”
Apart from that, I have a few post nuclear resolutions.
In 2016 I will:
1. Do my damnedest to get a post up every single week, on Friday. Seriously. I am bad at this and I want to do better. Barring that, I pledge to at least three posts a month. Hold me to this!
2. Make a donate button. I don’t expect to make a bunch of money off you all, but lets be real. This is work. This is also an anticapitalist space, and I want to keep it that way. I will not be selling anything here. But. If you are able, and you want to, you should be able to contribute to my glamorous lifestyle as an internet writer. I will make it so!
3. Not shy away from tough subjects! Y’all, watch out. The vaccine post, it’s gonna happen one of these days. I even have notes!
4. Add at least one cat picture to every blog post. Because I care. Really I do.
That’s it for looking back and looking ahead, then. Happy New Year, and Happy My Wife’s Birthday, to you all! I’ll see you next time.

Reflections – “Making” Babies, The Work of Gestation

For days now, I’ve had this one quote from Free Willy running through my head (just stick with me here a minute):

Randolph: 300 years ago, my people only had to spend one day a week gathering food, and everybody ate like kings.
Jesse: So what’d they do the rest of the time?
Randolph: Told stories, made music, made carvings. Made babies.
Jesse: Sounds good to me.

When I saw this movie I was probably 8 years old, and I remember this part distinctly. Partly because I was sort of fascinated with native cultures in an unnuanced and problematic way, and partly because this quote was totally thrilling because, you guys, they were talking about SEX!

I’ve been thinking about this cultural assumption, the way that we use language when discussing procreation. We mostly think like I did when I was 8 years old – people make babies by having sex. If we allow space for queer baby-making, we maybe expand the definition of “making babies” to include conception outside of heterosexual sex. We include things like artificial insemination, then. Oh hey, there’s a Tig Notaro joke about that!

So actually, I wrote about the first assumption, that we all know how babies are made and that it’s by heterosexual intercourse, way back in my first (not very good) post for this blog!
But I still kind of accepted that when we say “make a baby” we are talking about the moment of conception. And besides that having some pesky implications in the matter of choice and abortion rights (and oh boy, we are going to talk about that stuff, just not today, ok?) I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that this idea is unfair to those of us doing the work of gestation.

The work of gestation, how come nobody talks about that?

The thing is, we describe gestation in fairly passive terms. You are pregnant. It is not something you do.

But that’s absolute bullshit.

To get a baby at the end of nine long months requires much, much more, than sperm meeting egg to form a zygote. It requires a real physical body to do real physical work. And that body is a person. And that person is working. Whether that person is an excited new mother, a transman working towards becoming a father, a gestational surrogate, a scared teenager who’s decided to give the child up for adoption, or any other identity, that person is working.

We, as a society, have a history of trying to find ways to define work seen as “feminine” as anything other than work. I know this. As a feminist I think about it a lot. And yet this one, this one is really under my skin right now.

Because I am working my ass off over here.

I am making a baby every day.

We do not consider a plant grown simply because we have a seed in our hand. We do not consider a house built because the contractor has the plans and some of the materials. We consider those things the start of the work.

First I made a tiny cluster of cells, and then I grew that bigger and bigger. Eventually I began to make proto-organs, and arm and leg buds, and I made an entire placenta to help nurture and support this new thing I was making. Now I’ve made fingers and toes, and bladder and heart, and even tiny eyebrows. And still I am working, working, working. My child needs me to do this work so that they can grow strong enough to one day make themself with less of my direct assistance (though, you can bet your ass I’ll still be working then).

And this is work. And this work shows. For three months I was so sick that I could hardly function. I found myself utterly exhausted even though all I had done on the outside was lay in bed and read a book. I was exhausted because I was working. And even as the sickness has eased (somewhat, it isn’t gone), still, I continue to work. I struggle through the insomnia, I find ways to cope with my ever expanding uterus, with my total loss of my normal center of gravity. I deal with the insomnia and the heartburn and the nosebleeds and the itchy boobs and the tiredness and comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. All of this is work.

Maybe instead of considering “making a baby” a magical moment that happens on a cellular level, and the subsequent nine months of pregnancy mere passive incubation, we should start honoring gestating people for the hard work they are doing. Maybe we should start acknowledging that we don’t live in Brave New World and absolutely none of our babies grow in bottles (although I’d point out that even in Huxley’s imagined future, there were people caring for those fetuses, and everyone accepted that those people were, ahem, working). And yes there are political implications for how we treat pregnant people (poorly) in this country, but maybe we should just start by acknowledging that they exist and that they are, you know, actually doing something.

From now on, I am not pregnant (adjective), I am gestating (verb).