Monday, January 16, 2012

feminism never accounted for homeownership

I recently walked down into the basement of our house for the first time since we bought it. Like most of what motivates me to attempt anything beyond sleep these days, it had to do with the baby. I needed to tell the guys installing insulation in our breezeway of a house that there was a baby asleep above them. I wanted to sound friendly in a threatening kind of way. It's an art.

For their part, two of the men were trying to convince the third, apparently a transplant from Puerto Rico, that it “wasn't that cold” on this particular day. I would have stayed to side with my compañero, but I don't linger in the basement of our house. The last time I spent any time in my little field stone salon was before I'd signed on the bottom line, when the house inspector was here taking notes on the boiler and shaking his head.

I left that meeting no more the wiser about boilers or anything else down there or in the rest of the house, for that matter. In short, I can't keep up. I have no idea why we need a roof vent or what the chimney in the storage room has to do with the water heater or whether or not our siding is grounded. Where Mike nodded authoritatively at the inspector's assessments of everything from the circuit breakers to the door locks, I tagged along behind occasionally saying things like “Could you repeat that?” as if I'd figure it out if I heard it again.

When Mike headed for the basement door the other day after the tub wouldn't drain mumbling something about “the trap,” I had a vague notion of what he meant, but well, not really, and certainly not enough to go into the basement and find this trap thing, just enough to know it was a crummy job and I was glad I wasn't doing it. I leaned in to him and hooked my arm in his. “Oh, honey! I crooned with mock glee bending one leg at the knee, “We're homeowners!!”

I feel like buying a house has been a major assault to my feminist identity, on the off-chance that any of it was left in the first place. Mike plans projects like installing ceiling fans and dimmer switches while I think about table runners. When I question whether he might electrocute himself while ticking off his to do list, he offers reassurances that only reinforce the divide between us.

“I took classes in electricity stuff in high school,” he shrugs, the confidence pooling at the corners of his mouth like cookie crumbs.

I look over at my husband and blink methodically. “I took Home Ec. where I learned how to sew a bean bag frog. I'm so glad we were equally prepared for the world.” And here I was thinking I'd been super lucky – the semester after ours the class had gotten into a huge rice fight and from then on everyone had to stuff their frogs with boring soft filling.

We never had to carry eggs around to warn us away from parenting, like in some schools, but no egg could have prepared me for the social train wreck that follows giving birth in this country. Since I will never ever learn, Rhys and I stopped in to a couple of parents' groups this past week. At one, where kids of different ages mingled in two huge rooms of complete chaos, a leader gushed to me about how many places you could put your baby down here. Yeah, I thought, if you want him to get a fungus. Another mom revealed to me in casual conversation that she started coming for what she referred to as her “sanity.” Toddlers on tricycles zoomed by us in some kind of pre-school rush hour, somewhere in the distance children were fighting over doll blankets. “I'm not sure this is sanity,” I responded, causing her to curl her lip every so slightly.

At another circle, we were meant to talk about the question of “identity” and what may have happened to ours since having kids. When it's my turn, my five-month-old is cranky and tired, refusing the boob I'm pushing into his face as I'm passed the “talking stone.” Over his crying I blurt out a few bitter-sounding things about the hospital and the snow. “May I offer a brief the reflection?” the overcareful, over-educated facilitator asks me when I'm done. “No,” I tell her and pack my things to go.

Can I tell you that Isaac is currently studying gender bias, by the way? First grade. I can only imagine what I was studying in the first grade. Jump rope songs and choosing games, I think. My mother and your mother were hanging up the clothes. My mother socked your mother right smack in the nose. What color was the blood? Green. G-R-E-E-N. You're it! I wonder if studying something changes it. Or are we all just trapped in a fish tank – blue fins fiddling with gears, pink fins applying lipstick – to be watched with interest by our children?

1 comment:

Barb said...

Ah yes, gender and home ownership. At our house, also an old one, neither one of us understands what the big shit is, or how it works. I still cringe every time I have to flip a switch on the electricity box (see? I know it's not called that), half afraid I'm going to get electrocuted. We had a broken fan we let run for at least a year, even in winter, because we couldn't fix it and we needed the light that was attached to the fun! Just turned the direction of the blades in winter and then back again the other way in summer. Finally our awesome contractor fixed it. And, lest this happen to you, here's what you need to do: the switch went bad when the chain got stuck up in there. A new one (bought at Home Depot) fixed the problem. Voila!

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