Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I had no idea at the time how “different” my family was; in my mind we were just a normal family. Of course being Black and working class, what exactly does it even mean to be normal? My Mom spent most of my childhood being a housewife (I don’t recall her ever referring to herself as a stay at home mom hence my choice not to use that word in this piece when referring to my mom) aside from a brief six month stint in retail when I was seven, she didn’t work outside of our home until my late teens when my dad was diagnosed with throat cancer.
In my family, my mom pretty much wore all the hats and my Pops only wore a few hats. He wore the earn money hat. It was an arrangement that worked for them for many years until my Dad’s cancer necessitated a change. Until my Mom’s premature death at 50; she enjoyed taking care of her family. The night before having a complex and risky brain surgery less than two months after lung surgery, my mom was cooking my favorite meal to teach me the recipe in case something happened.
This “traditional” arrangement that my folks had frankly left me conflicted, growing up I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be like my mom growing up. So at an early age, I rebelled by not learning to cook and doing the bare minimum of housework that I could get away with because I wasn’t comfortable following in her footsteps. So what did I do? At 18, I pretty much followed in my mom’s footsteps and married early and entered motherhood at 19…just like my mother.
Early marriage and motherhood were game changers since of course I had no money and there are only so many cans of spaghetti o’s a gal can eat. I quickly learned to cook because while I may not have wanted to cook, I needed to eat. Over the years, I have slowly added skills to my domestic arsenal at the same time as I’ve worked on my professional chops, juggling motherhood and partnership while going to college, graduate school and moving up the professional ladder.
I have never been one to loudly talk about my domestic conquests but in a Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram era; I am realizing that to be a woman and mother who is only marginally interested in domestic matters is to feel as if you have no place in the world. Turning 40 this year has been a place of learning to accept myself for who I am in this moment, not some dream image of myself. That has meant accepting the fact that I am not by nature a domestically inclined woman. I know how to cook, there is even some consensus by others that I am actually good at it, but frankly I hate cooking. I cook because while my husband is a proficient cook, most of what he cooks is not to my liking.
To be honest, my only requirement in my physical living space is that it is clean and free of clutter. My dream space has white walls with little within those walls except the bare minimum to be comfortable. I don’t spend time creating the perfect physical home because when I am home, I would rather spend time with the other people in my home.
Yet in a social media driven world, the constant bombardment of cozy homes with handcrafted food and an increasingly dazzling array of handcrafts has a way of making a woman like me feel as if I have no place in the world. Throw in the holiday season and I am ready to curl into a ball and give up my mom/wife/woman card. Despite the lip service about women having choices, it seems that at the end of the day there is a tacit expectation that if you are a woman, you must have a certain set of skills and if you don’t, clearly you are deficient.
Sorry, but I am not having it. After years of forcing myself into a domestic mold that at one point had me baking my own bread and doing all manner of things that are not instinctive to me, I am no longer interested in playing that role. Looking back, I wasted a lot of energy striving to be the woman I thought I had to be instead of being the woman that I really am. This past Thanksgiving in choosing to celebrate the day in a way that made me happy by not cooking, it opened up the holidays for my entire family. The grayness that I had assumed to be part of the never ending grief of holidays and dead relatives was actually angst at feeling forced into tasks that I hate.
So this holiday season, the gift that I am giving myself is the okay to embrace my lack of domesticity and accept myself as I am in this moment.