The challenges of a modern traditional wife
19 November 2014
An entry in the Rivers Prize for
Writing on Peace & Harmony
“SO ladies and gentlemen, peace and harmony are not necessarily hallmarks of a good life, rather, peace and harmony is your state of mind.
“One can find peace in time of conflict likewise harmony in chaos. You can choose your state of mind just as easily as you can choose your clothes.”
“In the face of challenge, it is so easy to romanticize the past, to reminisce about life and how easy and uncomplicated life was.
“Each human, each generation, each era has its own challenges. Our call in life is to survive and even enjoy the challenges life throws at us by choosing our state of mind.”
As if on cue, the applause erupted, drowning out the ending of my talk. But it did not matter, all I had left was to thank the audience for its attention.
Instead, I was being rewarded with a standing ovation – the ultimate stamp of approval.
Still high from the talk, I floated down the aisle of the Stop-and-Shop supermarket my mind not really focussed on what I was looking for.
Then my eyes caught the reflection of a smartly attired women – three piece suit; a powerful, smart, modern woman. I did a double take only to realise it was me.
Ah there was the bread, and the vegetables. It was a distant memory how I eventually got away from the lecture room, with the people trying to shake my hands and congratulate me.
Even the traffic on the way home to Nine Mile was a breeze. Life is tolerable when things go well, I mused. Any other day, I would have been cursing the traffic.
My husband had picked up the children from school and, when I finally made home, they were there. Husband and boys plonked down in front of the TV immersed in a rerun of a rugby match, oblivious of my arrival.
My only daughter was somewhere in the house, while the breakfast dishes from the morning spilled haphazardly on the kitchen table and the clothes I’d washed till late at night were flapping in the afternoon breeze.
The euphoria faded, the energy evaporated. The plaintive meows of a hungry cat added to my frustration.
I dumped the food unceremoniously on the table and flipped the cat away off the chair and sat down to reset my bearings.
Did I believe what I just told a roomful of strangers – that I could change my perspective like the way I changed my clothes? Did they understand me? Did I understand myself?
I felt like a pretender. I was expected to perform like a warhorse at work then come home and defend the image I projected of a perfect mother to my family. It was exhausting.
My in-laws were waiting for a weak moment to pounce.
“Cope with it,” chastised my mother chastised when I complained, “it is your duty as a woman.”
“What do you know about being a working women?” I had retorted. “Your only job was to look after us, you did not have the added pressure of working for money eight hours in a day then come home exhausted and cook and clean for the family and still look pretty for husband.”
“So you think have it worse than me,” she retaliated, “you don’t know the challenges I went through for you.”
My recollection of growing up was of the extended family sharing the duties, and the rewards. I had imagined such a life for myself. However, it was harder than I had imagined. My family was smaller but the duties as heavy and spoils no sweeter.
My childhood was an extended family affair. There were always sisters and cousins and aunties and my mother did not do all the work she claimed. The bevy of female relatives looked after me and my siblings when mother went to the garden or market. I ate in whoever’s house I was in.
It is true that my mother was not the nag I had turned out to be. She was not a tired and exhausted woman as I was. Her support network was a cushion from stress.
My father was a man of even temperament. Like the women, the men did chores together. They cut gardens together and hunted and fished together. The return from combined energy was enough to be shared among the extended family.
The men lived together at the men’s house and did not interfere in the women’s business; the discipline of children was a village affair.
At no time did my father raise his voice and hands against my mother. Each found satisfaction and contentment in their role.
I sometimes regret going to school and getting liberated from the village. But my parents, especially my mother, pushed me to get an education because a well-paid job was seen as an escape from the drudgery of village life.
I never understood the drudgery my mother was pushing me away from.
When I got my first job, I invited my parents to spend time with me in town.
They marvelled at the easy life. No smoky fires, no carting big containers of water from the river, no toiling for food each day, plenty of red meat any time, chilled water, antibiotics....
What fascinated my parents most was the flush toilet. In the village, afraid of the dark and of spirits lurking, my parents cut back on tea and water at night. With a lavatory in the house came indulgence in a cup of tea any time.
My dad was fascinated with lights. As soon as it got dark, he would turn them on whether people were in a room or not. Every light would be turned on. And, instead of going to sleep, he would lie down and listen to the radio late into the night.
They were happy for me, happy for modern convenience. But peace and happiness went out the window when the children were born.
Without help from female relatives, it was upon me to care for the family single-handedly. My husband was not much help because he did not know how to look after children, cook and clean. My nagging did not make him any better.
He provided for the family, but his other duties were taken over by the technology of modern convenience. Not so for me. I still had to cook, clean, nurse, the countless duties of women, duties I had no-one to share with. I was stretched but not my hours. It was exhausting.
Joining Toast Masters was an idea for me to get out of the house and do something for myself. It had been my turn to give a prepared speech so I decided to talk about life. In my talk I recounted basically what I am writing in this story.
Could I change my perspective in the face of challenges as easily as I change my three piece suit into my comfortable meri blouse and laplap? The life of a modern traditional wife is a paradox – she has achieved freedom from tradition yet is caged by it.
It's not just males who need to go to a retraining school Paulus. Our societies are changing so rapidly that very few of us understand what many others expect of us and without our family around (due to work and travel), to discuss our problems and thoughts, we often are as confused as the next person who usually is our spouse or partner.
Urbanisation often means we don't know the people living next to us. I live in the country and know my neighbours but that is a far cry from many who live in towns and cities and return from work to eat and sleep only.
Hence the huge increase in 'social networking' on computers and mobile phones. Humans are compulsive communicators and need to interact with each other.
The problem with social networking is its really only a two dimensional regime and doesn't help develop all the interpersonal skills we need or that are latent within most of us. We therefore as a species may be becoming mentally disabled in the way we communicate with those we meet and this is directly applicable to the ones we see (or should see), most, namely our family.
Family dinners often descend into the young people 'fiddling' with their electronic toys and older people looking at each other and wondering why they aren't part of the conversation apparently taking place in front of them.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 20 November 2014 at 11:55 AM
Tanya, that was a great piece. I enjoyed reading that.
I agree with Phil; there should be a training course for all men on domestic chores.
I suspect Corney was like most of us males of that generation; brought up in a village to do male chores in the village setting and finding ourselves lost trying to be home makers in an urban environment. At college of course catering is done for you and you only learn to clean a small room (if ever).
My married life was rather short (2 years) but I remember being somewhat shell shocked. Because both of us were teaching in medical school I would prepare lectures at night for the missus because of her morning sickness. When the baby was born I did not realise she would go through so many nappies in a day. I spent sleepless nights walking around the flat because any suggestion of a pause in movement she would start screaming again. But I took great pleasure in going for long walks with the baby strapped in a laplap in front in the afternoons.
In the kitchen the only thing I could do confidently was wash the dishes. I grew up cooking kaukau in a fire and looking after pigs and chopping firewood. In an urban flat I wanted to cook but did not feel confident to try. Nobody had told me that the toilets and bathrooms needed regular cleaning and house needed to be mopped and cleaned. I was stopped from doing the laundry because I put too much detergent or not doing anything right.
When mother in law came there was a lot of change. I was not allowed to change the baby’s nappies and I was not to do the dishes.
I definitely think boys should have a course in domestic science in high school.
Posted by: Paulus Ripa | 19 November 2014 at 07:38 PM
I'm glad it is all "fiction"!
But it is a common problem down here in Aus. Even if the husband helps in the running of a household I think the wife and mother, who works full time, often finds herself overburdened.
Also glad to see you are keeping up with your writing!
Posted by: Barbara Short | 19 November 2014 at 02:13 PM
Thanks Phil. I appreciate the opportunity to write and I am sure other writers do too. PNGeans - we are natural story tellers and to put those stories down on paper is our gift to the world. What most of us need is to learn the mechanics of writing.
By the way, the story is fiction, the details collected from my observations - no three-piece suite in my cupboard. My husband, well, he is another story, but he cleans and irons much better that I.
Posted by: Tanya Zeriga-Alone | 19 November 2014 at 09:32 AM
How many really ever understood the marriage vows of 'love, honour and cherish, etc.'? So much for a contract?
Our genetic make up hasn't changed in many thousands of years and clearly hasn't keep pace with our circumstances.
Maybe we were never meant to live as we live in our modern way of life and are constantly chaffing at the restrictions imposed by lack of choice, foresight or society's expectations?
And then there's our parents.
It has been claimed a mother will all her life continually look for signs of improvement from her daughter. Men at least have beer as a solace.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 19 November 2014 at 09:11 AM
I enjoyed this story Tanya - a nice piece of irony and a great expose of a modern dilemma. Your stories and articles are always thought provoking.
Your hubby is a bit slack though.
I used to cook, do the washing and cleaning and look after the kids as a matter of course when they were growing up and Sue and I were both working.
Maybe cooking, mopping and kid wrangling should be mandatory subjects for males at university.
Posted by: Phil Fitzpatrick | 19 November 2014 at 08:16 AM