It’s amazing how quickly we’ve fallen back into the old routine around here.
You know the one I mean.
The one where the male goes out to hunt and gather and the woman stays behind to keep the home fires burning.
Now I don’t want to sound sexist, but these roles feel awfully comfortable. Of course, considering that we wore them for about 33 years, it’s not surprising that the resumption of this routine has all the comfort of those old leather Keds I wear to weed the garden. A little battered and worse for wear, maybe, but fully functional all the same.
Back in 2009, that horrible, awful, no-good, very bad year when my husband joined the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed, our lives did a complete flip-flop. About that time, I had an opportunity (more like a mandate, really) to work full time ay my office. This came with a wage increase too, so I would have been a fool not to accept. Thing was, I’d never worked full time outside the home before. You noticed I qualified that with “outside the home” because if anyone doesn’t think that raising children and running a household from top to bottom isn’t working full time, than I dare them to spend 24 hours with a couple of toddlers, a dog, and a 30 year old house on a half-acre lot.
Truthfully, I’d been out of the child rearing business for a while, but I’d tacked a couple of part time jobs onto the homemaking thing which all kept me pretty busy. But I still had two days off most weeks, in addition to my weekends, so I didn’t feel too overloaded.
But working 9-5 was nothing like that. Just adding on those two extra hours during the work day was bad enough, then adding on two more full days – call me a weakling, but within a couple of weeks I was ready to sign myself into the nearest sanitarium. All I wanted at the end of the day was to be able to come home, settle into my favorite easy chair, turn on the wall mounted fireplace, and hunker down with a good book and a glass of wine.
That’s when it dawned on me – there was another person in this equation who wasn’t really doing anything. That’s right – my now jobless husband, although depressed and listless, was available for active duty. Before long, he was enlisted to do my bidding. Grocery shopping, playing chauffeur for my mom, housecleaning, dog tending, bill paying – he was doing the gamut of things I simply had no time or energy to do. And he did an admirable job of it too.
It was weird, and not a little unnerving for me to go out into the cold winter mornings while he was still curled in the chair, sipping coffee and reading the internet, the ventless fireplace blazing away. Of course, I had waved him off to work like that every day for most all of our married life. I suddenly felt terribly guilty – how inconsiderate of me to flaunt my freedom in his face like that all those years. Because let me tell you, it made me green with envy to see him sitting happily at home while I went off to shuffle papers.
I have to confess, I could not hold up under that pressure. About six months into that arrangement, when it became apparent that Jim would be getting enough contract work to at least keep us out of the homeless shelter, I went back to part time. We had the best of both worlds, really, with equally flexible schedules.
But then came the offer for him to return to work, and with it a sense of great relief on his part. He had been campaigning for his job back ever since he lost it, although the company has not had enough faith in the economic recovery to start rehiring until now. He wanted to go back to work all along, I think, and although part of me hated to see him give up the freedom and flexibility he had as a self-employed contractor, he needed the validation that has come from being rehired.
I think we also needed to return to our familiar roles within the family. Although we both were able to function in each other’s element, it wasn’t a good fit on a permanent basis. Something continually felt awry, and it was tiring emotionally and physically.
So the situation around here is back to normal. I’m the one getting up and making the coffee again, getting breakfast for him as he prepares to head out to one of the interminable meetings he’s been attending all over town. I’m back to waiting dinner every night, not knowing for sure when he’ll be home. And I’m back to having the house all to myself again, not having to plan my practice schedule or my housecleaning activities around the Expert Engineer who was at work in the
home office dining room.
And he’s back to feeling useful, and important, and part of the “pack” of guys who go out to work every day, hunting and gathering for the family back home. It’s feels like this is the way it was meant to be, at least in our neck of the woods.