I can’t even use it in a sentence. When I open my mouth, I can form the shape and blow a little air through — “Hhhhhhhhh” — but I can’t add a hard consonant without gagging.
It all started in 2012. I left my part-time teaching seasonal labor edu-temp position to build my copywriting business. Then I put aside the copywriting in order to take care of my dad. The year after he died, in the time I could work, I worked on a memoir about Dad’s life and death (still pending). Nine months later, I decided I had to get back into the world and instigated a handful of projects and service offerings that were sporadically functional but never entirely successful in the sense of continuity, momentum, and reliability.
Sometimes I worked away from home, for a couple months in a co-working space and at my stepmother’s house. Mostly I worked at the dining room table. I was home a lot.
The kids would come home and ask, “What’s happening for dinner?” Much of the time, I’d leave them to scavenge, though I’d go through spates of cooking hot nutritious food and spates of buying roast chicken from Safeway.
I spent a bunch of time in March decluttering the house, and it looks much better now, though the revised bedroom office area has returned to shelf-pile status and needs more attention than the sigh I give it on a daily basis.
My income has been up and down, though the peaks are never as high as I’d like, and while I spend a fair amount of time on this mystery, it’s not the mystery I’m here to talk about.
I’m trying to talk about being supported by my husband, who is on the verge of his second raise in ten months. He wants to support me so I can do whatever it is I do: my art, my business, attending plays and movies to understand more about directing and acting. Whatever I want to do, even if it is just eating bon-bons (or the Pearl equivalent, which is so self-indulgent I have trouble naming it in polite company).
So, more decluttering, and cooking more because I want to declutter my body and eat things that give me strength to swing kettlebells, and a fair amount of time helping take care of my father-in-law, and being more available to chauffeur kids around because I’m not auditioning for new shows until I get my own production off the ground.
The word I’m having trouble saying is related to housework. It is either “housewife” or “homemaker.” Perhaps it is simply coming up with the right word that bothers me, since I feel the need to be creative and original every time I set words to the page. (One reason among many I no longer have handwritten correspondence with my friends who live far away.)
I think “houseworker” might meet my needs, since it isn’t laden with the history of connotation of both housewife and homemaker. I am the one who is most focused on the house and home life, since everyone in my nuclear family looks to me for assignments and needs. Left to their own devices, they’d simply play on and eat in front of their own devices all the time.
And so would I. Except I identify with my house.
House to me is such a powerful concept, perhaps more powerful than “home.” I can be at home easily and in many places, as I learned when as a child I moved on an average of once a year for ten years. All I wanted was a house of my own, and if it could actually be one of the houses my friends lived in, like the Winfrees’ split-level on a cul-de-sac, or the Olsen’s modernist hexagon, all the better. Before we bought our own house, the place I lived the longest was a rented ranch house near the end of the bus line, a place within current city limits but lacking consistent sidewalks. Seven years in that house implanted that house deeply into my heart, and when it was emptied for our move during my junior year of high school, I took photos of the empty spaces it created in my heart.
Now I’ve lived in my house, my family’s house, since 1999. Last century. It is our house, and sometimes I love it more than other times. It was built on the cheap, and in my dream of homeownership, I would replace everything cheap about it with something more like the materials from one of the older houses we rented when I was a kid. Solid doors to replace the hollow-core bullshit, linoleun in place of the peeling and punctured vinyl kitchen floor.
Yet I know myself, and I know that the bamboo flooring we replaced the icky dining room carpet with was a great idea, though we really never finished the project, and I’ve given up counting the anniversary of its incompleteness (over 6 years, though).
So if I’m the housewife, I’m not taking great care of my spouse, and like my real-life spouse, the warmth of my feelings varies depending not on external changes but on my mood and how I’m feeling about myself. On bad days, the dents and scratches and list of to-dos angers me as I stalk through the wretchd rooms, and on good days, I’m so grateful we found and occupied and stayed in this place, a house with the two features that really matter to the child me: stairs and a fireplace.
And if I’m the homemaker, I can at least have a delicious meal smelling up the place once in a while. I can choose new furniture and get rid of broken furniture, I can throw away toys nobody plays with and put books I’m not going to re-read in those little book houses springing up all around Seattle.
But if I’m a homeworker, all my work simply radiates out from home base, and the home base starts with me and my intellectual and emotional needs, fulfiling those, and attending next to the needs of those closest to me, and then the next ring, and the next, until I’ve taken care of the community I keep expanding, and I guess I’m okay with all of that as a life.