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Get A Wife: Confessions Of A Slob

page three

I've read about a billion books on mothers who work, how it's okay--good, actually--for mother and child, but I still feel guilty. Every mother I know feels guilty. Here's why I feel particularly guilty: some days I'm home, my kids are not, and what I'm doing looks like Sitting Around. And yet I don't sit around nearly as much as I think would be good for my writing. I'm scared the Bad Mommy Patrol might drive by, see me without a pen in my hand and turn me in: "That woman's not a writer, she hasn't written a word in five minutes, and her kids are in daycare! She's just a bad mother."

A friend of mine has just completed an impressive 900-page manuscript over the past three and a half years. She has a four-year-old daughter. When I saw her last week, she asked how I deal with the issue of productivity. I mumbled something like, "not well," and she said, "Writing for me has become like hammering nails. I feel I have to write a certain amount every day. Otherwise, I feel too guilty having my daughter in daycare."

I think there are relatively few types of people prone to write 900-page books. Perhaps it will surprise some, but I think women who have just had a child are a very likely group. It is absolutely terrifying to be a woman and have a child. What will happen to you? Will you ever think again? Will you ever, ever, have autonomy and leisure again? Will anyone ever take you seriously as an individual again? It is a hideous thing our culture does to mothers--erasure is how I would sum it up in a word--erasure and assumed, prescribed domestication. Although I did not just write a 900-page manuscript, I kind of wish I did, and I can totally see the appeal in doing it.

Let me assure you that my friend's manuscript is not some crazy rant. It is meticulously researched analysis, written to be irrefutable and exhaustive. I think this is how mothers feel we have to be in order to have a shot in hell at being taken seriously. This is how women in general often feel--the work-twice-as-hard-to-be-seen-as-half-as-good deal--and this is hiked up exponentially for mothers of young children. Everyone assumes, in a sick, clucking sort of way, that you now have diaper brain, couldn't keep a real thought in your head if someone paid you. Conveniently (or so they think), some employers will actually offer to stop paying you, to "let you go," now that they assume you "want more time at home." More time to clean? To create the hearth we are all programmed to feel our children need?

Right after our second son was born, we hired a well-meaning, yet terrifying born-again woman as a "doula" (mother's helper) for a few days. She basically shopped, cooked, and cleaned while I breast-fed, ate, and cried, and my husband comforted me, changed diapers, and took care of our toddler. The first day, she brought me a lovely, nourishing meal on a white bedtray with a note, scrawled in her shockingly childish hand that read: "If You Don't Know What Day It Is, Your Mind Is Where It Should Be. On Baby."

Did I really want this woman in my house, especially when I was suffering from intense perineal pain, postpartum depression, and overwhelming exhaustion? Yes, I realized I did. I was really hungry--starving, in fact--and, as usual, our house was a sty. I thought the baby deserved something better for his entrance into the world, so I had hired a Christian to clean our house. Now, I was paying the price.

The doula's note haunts me even now, more than a year later. Is it so bad to want to know what day it is, maybe even glance at the paper, for God's sake, when you have a newborn? Falling into some morass of undifferentiated Mommydom has always terrified me. And it is most terrifying with a newborn, when you might as well be a cow for most of the day. Many intellectuals aren't used to living consciously in their bodies. So pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding can be potentially positive and counterbalancing experiences for thinking women. But also totally terrifying--at least for me.

I'm willing to entertain the possibility that I could just be some kind of pessimistic, enraged nutcase. I'm aware that I'm fairly neurotic, perhaps out of step with a majority of mothers. Here's an example: the parents of our son's best friend just had a new baby, and three days after the baby was born, they invited the kids and me out to play putt-putt. The father began playing intently and seemed disappointed that I was his only lackluster competition since his wife was carrying the newborn in a Snugli. As he and I played and the older kids raced around, the husband would periodically yell to his wife over the sound of an irritatingly loud leafblower: "2 for me and 4 for Faulkner!" She would dutifully record our score, reaching deftly over the newborn's tiny head to write it down. (I had offered to alternate shots with her, but she was afraid she'd hit the baby in the head if she tried to putt.) I was totally amazed by this situation. I knew for sure that if my husband had told me to keep score while he played putt-putt and I carried our three-day-old baby, I would have told him where to stuff the putter.

Would this have been ill-placed anger? Am I wrong to want equity at every instant with my "domestic partner?" What's wrong with a little putt-putt?

I admit, I could be more flexible. The putt-putting incident took place on the man's birthday, and I don't think his wife felt particularly deprived not to be playing. (It is a relatively silly sport.) Still, I’m afraid--at least now--to let go of my anti-domestic, anti-I'll-stand-on-the-sidelines-with-the-baby-while-you-engage-in-the-game-of-life stance. It feels like I could slide all too easily, too unwittingly, into something hideous, something about much more than who golfs when. So we live in relative chaos at my house, and my husband doesn’t play sports with clubs.

I'd like a calmer, less embattled solution. Sometimes I think science fiction might have an answer: time travel, another dimension, a wife who can morph into my body (my husband would still not have sex with her.) If they can clone a sheep, why not a wife named Dolly? Some days, motherhood already seems like a sci-fi flick--invasion of the body (or mind) snatchers where plenty of new moms have already been abducted. I've had my struggles with the aliens, but they haven't taken me yet. I'm pretty much the self I've always been: I live in a sty, and I spend time writing. This will have to do, for now.

mmo : march 2003

Get A Wife: Confessions Of A Slob first appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of Brain, Child Magazine (www.brainchildmag.com)

Faulkner Fox teaches creative writing at Duke University. Her book on motherhood and domestic life, Dispatches From A Not-So-Perfect Life: Or How I Learned To Love The House, The Man, The Child, is coming out from Random House in January. She lives in Durham, North Carolina with her husband and their two sons.

Also by Faulkner Fox:
What I Learned From Losing My Mind
on Salon.com

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