First, the sleep report. Sam slept a little better last night. We bought a co-sleeper bed that fits between Michael and I in our bed, keeping Sam at the head of the bed above the sheets and blankets but still close enough to Mommy for her comfort. In theory. She seemed to enjoy it well enough from 9 PM until 11:30 PM. Unfortunately, I had a bout of insomnia between those hours and nothing would lull me to sleep. Then we hit the midnight feeding and that’s when the trouble started. Sam nursed for half an hour, seemed pretty much asleep, and then screamed for 45 minutes when I tried to set her down in the co-sleeper. I ended up nursing her again for another half an hour, in spite of the pediatrician’s instructions not to do so because Sam has been gorging herself nursing. Sam didn’t puke, but did eventually nurse herself into a coma and at around 2 AM, I finally was able to sleep. Cassie graciously provided a screaming wake-up call at 6:30 AM, so I got four hours of sleep, more or less.
But onto today’s topic. The past week in the Erotica Readers And Writers Association e-mail list, we’ve been having a discussion about Stay-At-Home Moms (SAHMs for short) and whether or not they have real lives. This sprang out of a discussion on romance novels and the recent Harlequin Spice ad which shows a woman reading a romance novel so hot that she has to hold it wearing oven mitts. Personally, I don’t read romances. They annoy me, but that’s beside the point here. The discussion in the writers group focused on 1) whether or not romances in general are a viable form of literature, 2) whether or not they’re really any good to read, and 3) how romance novels seem to be marketed to the average housewife. This led to the topic of housewives, and whether or not those who read romances were living vicariously through books rather than having real lives of their own.
Well you know that started a brush fire. The debate on the value of housewives and SAHMs is an ugly one in any situation, and a lot of misunderstandings about when the topic gets discussed. When it’s being discussed by e-mail, it only gets worse. People on both sides of the debate seemed to misread and misunderstand every sentence. I believe the brush fire is now out, but it made for an interesting day’s reading while I was sitting in the glider nursing Sam (I don’t live vicariously at all, no siree Bob).
All of this got me to thinking about being a housewife and having a life. Can you do both? Can you spend your days cleaning and scrubbing and cooking and wiping running noses and changing diapers and still be a real person? Can you invest all your energy into home, hearth and husband and still be an engaging, interesting individual? It kind of depends, I think.
When I was in the Virginia Tech Science Fiction and Fantasy Club (VTSFFC), we had a running joke about how to tell whether or not club members had a real life. To have a real life you had to a) have a significant other (pets did not count), b) live in your own place rather than at your parents’, and c) have an interest or hobby outside of science fiction and fantasy and have enough income to pursue said interest while still paying for other daily expenses. Sad to say, not too many people in the club had a real life.
I wondered last night if those same standards could be used to determine whether or not a SAHM had a real life. There would have to be modifications of course. Most SAHMs I know are married, so they automatically have significant others. Therefore I’d change the first criteria to having friends of your own. They’d have to be good friends, people you could trust with all your secrets and call up to complain about your husband. The kind of friends that you actually buy a birthday present for, and I mean a real present that you put some thought into, not some generic present that in no way reflects the personality or interests of the person receiving the gift. Basically, I’m talking the kind of friend who would help you hide your husband’s body when you finally snap because he decided he had to repair the molding around the attic entrance at 8 PM on Mother’s Day instead of putting the kids to bed like he promised he would.
The second criterion is also a bit tricky. I mean, we are talking about Stay-At-Home Moms here, with emphasis on the stay at home part. Thus, we already know these women have homes of their own, and some of them spend all day cleaning them and never go out and do anything else but grocery shopping and shuttling the yard apes to soccer practice. So I’d change the second criterion to say “leaves home at least once a week to do something completely non-family related.” Like say, take an art class or hit the spa, or maybe go surfing.
Which brings us to the third criterion – hobbies and other outside interests. This is one criterion I wouldn’t change. To have a real life, I firmly believe SAHMs must have something else going on in their lives beyond kids, cleaning and husbands. You’ve got to have a passion, a love affair with something (not someone, please note) not related to your family. And please, don’t sit there and say “American Idol” is your passion. Unless you’re actually competing on “American Idol” it doesn’t count.
I’ve certainly got my passions – art, writing, and karate. I have to pursue these activities to stay sane. In fact, I’d say I devote as much time to my “outside” interests as I do to my family. It makes me a more interesting person, to say the least.
Now, do I have my own money to afford these pursuits? Depends. SAHMs don’t actually get a steady paycheck, you know. However, some genius once figured that if you calculated what it would cost to pay someone to do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and child care that a SAHM does, then said mom ought to receive an annual paycheck of $76,000. Personally, I think that doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of work we do and what it’s worth. However, my husband is a smart man and he understands that ain’t no one happy if Mama ain’t happy, and he has therefore surrendered to me a credit card with carte blanche to spend as I see fit. I try not to use it too often. For certain expenses, mostly business related, I don’t use his money at all. I do make a few bucks from writing and graphics, and I invest that money back into my business. I even make enough to pay for birthday and Christmas presents.
I don’t know how other SAHMs could be making their own money. I certainly feel they do deserve to be paid. They ought to at least feel financially secure. Maybe they could fill criterion number three just by ensuring their significant others have wills made out. That way Mom gets all the dough when her hubby finally bites it. Just as long as no one catches her and her best friend burying the poor SOB out in the backyard (see criterion number one for details).
So take the test and see for yourself, stay-at-home moms. Do you have a real life? No? Well, if you don’t mind then that’s okay I guess. But if you do mind, remember. Everybody dies, but not everybody truly lives.