I have had success in many ways in my lifetime, but housewifery was a debacle. A cruel joke. A puzzlement. It started when I got married to my first husband and came down with a sinus infection post-honeymoon. I thought I’d get to at least sleep in, seeing as how I had a temp of 103.
Wrong. A good housewife gets up and makes her husband breakfast and packs him a lunch. WHAAAAT? I’m SICK. Find the cereal on your own, Bud. You have a college degree.
I sort of did okay in the teeny-tiny housekeepking of a grad-student apartment when we went back to Boston for his two graduate degrees. I worked in Harvard teaching hospitals and promptly figured out medicine fascinated me.
We lived in a 600 sq. ft. attic of a house that was so old, you could never get the rust out of the sink. A clear glass window wasn’t clear. Ever. A century of Boston pollution etched the outside with grime. And old houses exhale dust.
Then I had a baby. She was fun. I also got a HOUSE. It needed keeping. I didn’t know where I was supposed to keep it. It looked pretty sturdy sitting on the ground. No, I learned, in between diaper changes, I was to furnish it, clean it, dust it, vacuum some parts, mop others, prepare all the meals, and do the laundry. Week in, week out. No sick days, no holidays, no vacation time.
Every day, I worked from dawn to bedtime and the house always looked the same. It was sucking me into it. I was never free of its demands. I never achieved anything for my day’s work. The baby was always fun, clean, and hitting milestones. Keeping house was a millstone. It was an intellectual Siberia.
Finally, one day, I realized that I was a total failure at housewifery. I had to get OUT of doing it. So, since I loved my daughter and had an electric range, I couldn’t very well pull a Plath and stick my head in the oven.
I decided to go to medical school in part because I would make enough money to afford household help. I knew I couldn’t afford it on my teaching degree. So I became a doctor. Honest to Pete.
I took my pre-med classes and got a housekeeper one day a week. She informed me one day that the vacuum cleaner belt broke. I bought a new belt. I had no idea what to do with it. Unfamiliar with the business end of a vacuum cleaner, I ended up totally disassembling it. The guy at the shop is probably still laughing at the young woman who brought in grocery bags full of parts … and a belt.
It mattered not that I aced Organic Chemistry and Physics. I would put 10 socks in the washer and 9 would come out. It is thermodynamically impossible to convert all the matter of a sock into energy without pretty much obliterating the greater Houston area. I learned to stay away from domestic chores if I valued my sanity.
During my residency, I would come in and clean the resident’s area. I would take a scrub brush (good enough for surgeon’s hands) and scrub the coffee pot clean. I rinsed it in boiling hot water, and the coffee went from burnt-smelling sludge to real, honest-to-goodness coffee. Doctors always are clean. I gleefully disinfected countertops and threw out no-longer identifiable food from the fridge. All while gloved, of course. The irony was not lost on me. But cleanliness is MANDATORY is a hospital. And I didn’t HAVE to do it.
I discovered that I can run a house better than I can keep one. I can tell helpers what to do, pay them an honest wage and watch them make their dreams come true with real money. Housekeeping is a valuable skill I had never learned. I pay dearly to have others do it.
I despise the hypocrisy of women who go to charity balls to benefit poor women and then pay their household helpers a pittance. Pay them a great wage and there won’t be stupid galas for poor women.
And while I was at it, I had gotten the ability to save little lives, which makes hitting the winning run at the World Series feel like a pat on the back.
Besides, for me, being a doctor was waaaay easier than changing the vacuum cleaner belt.
Causes Dixie Swanson Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
YMCA of Greater Houston
Pen Bay YMCA
Action for Healthy Kids