I am not a good wife
I am not a good wife! My father tells my husband I am not the marrying kind. My mother raised me to be a strong, independent woman, and when I tell her I could live in a separate house from my beloved husband, I can feel her shudder over the phone line.
I am not a good wife. These are the words my friend cannot stop repeating while we sit on her front porch smoking cigarettes, ducked down so that the kids inside won't see us. We smile at each other in guilt, although in a moment we will go back inside. She will sing and read them to sleep, they are peaceful children and she is a good mother. I will give them hugs and kisses and promise gifts on my return like any good auntie. Still we skulk on her front porch, and look at each other, knowing, and giggle. There is still a light in our eyes. We recognize it in each other. It is our youth, our energy, our kick and spit and fire. It is our joy and freedom. There are a million words you could use, but none truly express what we possess. What we see in each others eyes is exactly what compels our fathers to say that we are not the marrying kind, what makes our husbands ask why we do not dress like real adults, why our mothers shudder over phone lines.
I am a good wife. I am monogamous and kind and honest and responsible. But I am told I clearly do not understand the definition and so I ask: what does it mean to be a good wife?
We know it is not the nineteen fifties version, who has been buried with her Jell-O and aprons and sometimes her bruises hidden with Mary Kay #6. We are not expected to stay home, out of school, pregnant and silent. But we are expected something. And it is just that expectation that is confused and confusing to me.
These men, they are good, evolved and modern and everything we asked for. They say: "Go girl! Be the woman you are! Get your Ph.D., work your super job! Or quit if you want, whatever makes you happy! Don't worry about dinner, and I'll take care of the laundry!" They do all the right things! They reverse all of our grandfathers' and fathers' ignorant and arrogant mistakes. They are the marrying kind. They give us these things, considered gifts, not rights. They look as though they have thrown open a door in front of us and stepped aside. They urge us on and cheer. This is the beautiful trick. It is a lie.
We are allowed and expected to fly, but there are limits. You are still a wife, you are still married. You can be free, but you must remain in control. You must maintain, for the sake of your security, and ours. They want us to be made of serenity, passivity and love. They want us to tattoo 'I love you' across our foreheads, just so they know we do. They tell us to take yoga, to calm ourselves down. They want us to be passive and tell them that they think too much, tell them not to worry. We want them to think more, to not need our 'I love yous' to echo, to be their own anchors. We will not tolerate them telling us that we ask too much, because we know there is no such thing.
We also put these limits on ourselves. The compulsion to reenact our mothers' lives is something that few of us can get a handle on. We must be caretakers and nurturers. We must sacrifice for our family's happiness. We hold our own freedom with the bonds of loyalty and commitment. Commitment to family, commitment to tradition. Tradition that our mothers taught us, the tradition of being a good wife.
You still have rules they tell us, and we tell it to ourselves. But in the euphoria of our freedom we want to scream: screw these rules! We will write and dance and live limitless. We will tell everyone how we feel about everything. We will be silent when we choose and we will be alone when we choose. We will run naked and know we are stunning, and we will not care if you agree. And when we are done we will come home to you. We will love our children and cook your food, well, we might stop off for McDonald's, but we'll be there.
This is not good enough. Neither to them, nor to us. We feel guilty if we are not Susie Homemaker, we feel weak if we are not Janet Careergirl. Regardless, any freedom we hang on to brings terror to those who are comfortable with the blanketed roles they have thrown over us. This freedom breeds terror in everyone, except me, and my girlfriend, with her pretty children and her vacant stare. The conventionality my husband and family preach is their security blanket, their drug. It is called "maturity", "adulthood", "marriage", and the inevitable side effect of this well-known disease, "interdependence". They love this disease, these fathers and mothers and husbands. They feed it with judgment and insecurity and advice and questions, like scissors, aimed to clip our wings.
-A weekend with the girls is great, but you need to know when to say when.
-It's not about conventionality, it's about practicality.
-You need to learn how to cook.
-Eventually you'll have to cut your hair.
-Adults don't get tattoos.
-Eventually you'll fall into one style of clothing, everyone does.
-Yes, you can be grounded at 26.
-You can't avoid fluorescent lighting your whole life.
-Your father and I think you're bi-polar.
-Must you always sit on the floor?
-Can you dress like an adult for one day?
-Do you think you're manic depressive?
-Are you a lesbian?
-You're too old to do this.
-Being independent is great, honey, but we're married.
I make them want to crawl out of their elasticized skin, I know it and it's what I'm all about.
In the beginning I tried to sneak. Like a rebellious teenager I cleaned my room and told them about my day at school and when they went to bed I crawled out the bathroom window to go live my real life. The problem with that is it is living a lie. And part of my definition of being a good wife, a good woman, is honesty. I admit, I am tickled when they squirm now, but not out of cruelty, rather from the sheer bliss of freedom. The freedom to be one's whole growing self is an awesome thing. And I say awesome in the biblical sense, ignore the fact that churches make my skin crawl, but the modern day sense of the word is entirely to unsophisticated for me.
My husband beats on the walls I am forced to build for a moment of privacy. My mother turns her back in the hopes that the old me will wrap my tiny arms around her waist and beg to be cared for. My father is silent and waits for me to access the fountain of rationality he's sure must be in at least one gene he gave.
So I feel less adored by my husband, my mother is less talkative and my father continues to feed my husband wisdom after I have left the room. And I know that I have made my own bed, my mother taught me that. But that doesn't mean that I can't make it and remake it in my own way. I will sit on the floor with long hair, away from fluorescent lighting, and eventually, they will see I am nothing to be afraid of. I am a good wife.
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