‘Look she’s just a housewife’ my son says dismissively as the caption comes up under the made up face of the plump blond excessively tearful contestant on American Grit.
‘So am I’ I say defensively. ‘No you are not. You paint, you take photographs, you write a blog’ he retorts. As if it would be shameful to admit that his mother was indeed ‘just a housewife’. However I am aware that, I also feel negative about being a ‘housewife’ and the narrow image it conveys. I would rather put nothing on my Facebook bio than ‘housewife’. Despite the fact I know how much it takes to manage a large home with two teenage children, a large dog, leopard gecko that eats live crickets, husband who works long hours and is often away for days at a time.
In some ways it was easier when the kids were small and I was ‘a full time mother’. A role that seemed to carry without some virtuous muesli eating sanctity of nurturing and sacrifice. Although when I went back to work I realized all to quickly that all mothers are full time mothers its just that some also have a job with responsibilities outside the home. They might have another job title – engineer, scientist, teaching assistant and get paid but the full time responsibility of being a mother never goes away. If they need you – you have to drop everything and be there. I unapologetically say mother not parent because I still believe that in todays culture the responsibility for children is still seen to be ‘naturally’ the mothers.
Another uniquely expat expression I hate is ‘trailing spouse’ which suggests a person who just blindly follows their partner wherever they go. In fact the decision to move to America was one very much one we took jointly as a couple based on the interests of all the family not just my husbands career. However I am guilty of saying ‘my husbands work’ when asked why we moved to Austin, as if I did just simply move because of him. The challenge for the partner who gives up job to go (as I did) rather than moving for a job (as my husband did) is finding your own independent place in the new country. I confess I am not there yet.
In the interim I struggle for a label to adequately define me not wanting to viewed simply as a housewife, full time mother or trailing spouse. I am currently reading ‘Texas a novel’ – it’s a history of Texas presented as a multigenerational saga of a family that starts with Native Americans and the Spanish and gradually incorporates immigrants from all over the world. Colonists who came to Texas to make a new life. Maybe that’s what I am.