Thursday, August 4, 2011

Whose Home are You Making?

I just had a moment of awakening while chopping onions.

As a child, I was enchanted by white onions; they always looked so perfectly oniony. Almost manufactured. But my mother only ever bought yellow onions. Or, if we were having hamburgers, red onions. I don't know what she had against white onions. Maybe to her they looked too oniony. Who knows.

My mom might have made the onion-decision without noticing, just like she ironed without noticing.

When I was eight, my family moved from a rambler to a two-and-a-half-story condo. (The "half" was a loft which we treated like a third bedroom.) The master bedroom and the big family room were on the second floor, and the washing machine and dryer were in the garage, underground. The process of doing laundry used to go like this: someone (usually my mother) would haul all of the dirty clothes from the big hamper in the master bedroom down two flights of stairs to be washed and dried. Then she'd haul it all up two flights of stairs to be sorted in the family room. The clothes in the "to be ironed" pile would then go back down one flight, to the kitchen, where my mom would set up the ironing board.

And because all of the "to be ironed" clothes belonged to my parents, they would make one final trip up the stairs to the master bedroom to be put away.

My mother did this for years before it dawned on her that she was ironing in the kitchen because (and only because) her mother had always ironed in the kitchen. She started ironing upstairs after that.

Shortly after Rob and I moved into our first home, I caught myself ironing in the kitchen one day. I promptly called my mother and we had a good laugh about it.

But it wasn't until last night, as I stood in my kitchen—not ironing but chopping onions—that it dawned on me: I am the homemaker in this home.

(I have trouble with the word homemaker. I had to fill out a form for Westley's preschool on which I ended up checking the box next to "Full-time homemaker." I recoil a little whenever my "employment status" comes up. Because it's so cliche, and anti-feminist, and I can't help but feel guilty—like I'm wasting my very good, very expensive education by spending the day cooking and cleaning.)

Many of the little "rules" I have about how to do this job of mine come from...well, I have no idea. Except that my mother always bought yellow onions, so obviously, those are the onions to use.

But I had bought white onions for homemade salsa, and didn't end up using all of them. So when I went to make last night's dinner and needed an onion, that's what there was. Then I'm standing at my cutting board, chopping up this perfectly oniony, manufactured-looking white onion and feeling vaguely transgressive...

...except that this is my house, and we don't have any rules about onions.



Melissa said...

It is a strange feeling, isn't it? I realize you can make whatever decision you want about the space that you live in? I'm still getting used to it too.

P.S. I always buy yellow onions because my mother does too. But that's also because I don't know the difference between different kinds of onions. So I just go with what I know.


I'm certainly not making my grandma's house because hers was CLEAN.

Amber @ Not Mommy said...

This reminds me of some old internet story of a woman who always chops the ends of her pot roast off. It's how her mother always did it. When she finally asks why, her mother tells her it was because the pan was too small :-)

Sonora said...

About the idea of being a homemaker... I'm currently reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes, and it's changing how I view that word--I recommend it!

Here's a piece from the publisher's review: "Radical Homemakers is about men and women across the U.S. who focus on home and hearth as a political and ecological act, and who have centered their lives around family and community for personal fulfillment and cultural change. It explores what domesticity looks like in an era that has benefited from feminism, where domination and oppression are cast aside and where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude[...]If you ever considered quitting a job to plant tomatoes, read to a child, pursue creative work, can green beans and heal the planet, this is your book."

Allison the Meep said...

We used to have our taxes done by a guy who specialized in taxes for the entertainment industry to make sure we were getting the most of our deductions. And every year when we'd get our forms, I'd silently stew that my employment status was listed as "housewife."