One mom's take on her life and how the world views it By Laurie A. BrummettIllustration by Marc Stopek:
I had a dream, that one day brown children
and. . . . Oh, that's not my dream, that's Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. My dream was more of a nightmare.
Neighbors, relatives, church folk and so-called friends were all pointing and yelling, "You housewife. You should be ashamed of yourself for bringing a brother [my husband] down and not carrying your fair share."
I woke up sweatin' and screamin', clutching the sheets between my teeth, digging my nails into my husband's backside (he liked that part).
This dream was horrible. The pits. But it was just a dream.
My reality is that my kids are worse than the people in the dream. They ask me daily, "Ma, when you gonna go to work?" If that's not enough, when we drive past huge NOW HIRING signs in front of Wal-Mart, Target, McDonald's or Pizza Hut, they get a gleam in their beady little eyes. They turn toward me with sly, sneaky smiles, winking, like, "That's you."
I announced to my newly betrothed on our wedding night, "Honey, I can work or I can cook. Take your pick." We both chose the latter. Never mind that I wash, starch, iron their clothes, scrub the floors until my knuckles are raw and cook their meals over a campfire. Well, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I do wash clothes, cook and mop. Couple that with returning to school, and a four-year college degree program that has turned into a 16-year nightmare (I bet the director wants to hand me a degree based on longevity) and tell me: How I am supposed to find time to flip burgers?
Thank goodness that where I live, Normal-some 150 miles southwest of Chicago-my trade is a little more common than in a large city such as Chicago, where more of the female population works outside the home.
That includes my big-city relatives. I was once informed by a female family member that it's OK for white women to stay at home. Not the carry-a-mule-on-your-back-and-never-get-tired black woman. There is a stereotypical mantra that claims black women are supposed to bring home the bacon, cook it, wash the pan, put the pan away and still dress to kill for church. "White females," this relative claimed, "are more docile and domesticated than black women. The black woman needs challenges."
This person went as far as to say that a black woman wants to stand proudly beside-not behind-her man.
And let's not talk about filling out bank loans and credit card applications. First, I get the lady-how-gonna-pay-for-this-with-a-welfare-check look. Or, if the clerk is black, I get the sista-you-need-to-get-off-your-butt-and-get-a-job look. I feel like Rodney Dangerfield; I get no respect.
My family? They take me for granted. They act as if I had a job they could buy $500 sneakers and $300 pants. Why should I go to work just to buy them expensive things? They don't even take care of the clothes they have. I don't know about other parents, but I think I am going to put up a sign that reads "English is not spoken here." Look at the evidence: First, they assume if I had a job they would get more stuff, right? Wrong! When I say, "Pick up your clothes," it sounds to them like, "Throw them on the floor."
Finally, I got smart. Whenever I go into their rooms and find clothes on the floor, I scoop them up until I have a nice healthy stack of attire and hold an in-house garage sale. I put a sign on my bedroom door-GARAGE SALE-set up a foldaway card table and let the games begin: pants and tops $1, socks and T-shirts 50 cents. I even have $2 sales on Sundays. One day I think I made $47.
Despite my efforts, the mess continues. So, until my kids either run out of money or I find a new habit, I will hold my sales. Perhaps this will fund my retirement.
Another time, I got back at my kids for constantly nagging me to get a job. I drove them to school in my long, fuzzy, pink bathrobe, which stuck out from underneath my trench coat. Then I tied my red and blue flowered silk scarf around my head Aunt Jemima style. My daughter asked to be dropped off a block away from the school for weeks.
People still trip over the fact that I'm an at-home wife. Some of my so-called friends have asked me what I do all day. Sometimes I wonder myself. When I first decided to stay at home, I thought, "Oh yeah, this is cool. I'm gonna check out these kids. Watch a little television. Clean a little house. Spend a couple of hours at the mall. I can do this."
Ain't necessarily so.
Since the kids and I were home all day, the house needed to be cleaned minute by minute. Breakfast dishes, lunch dishes, dinner dishes. Things break-clean up. Things fall down-clean up. In their younger days, my kids would rip all their covers off their beds and make tents. Four beds made two to three times a day equals-what?-7,000 bed makings?
I needed to go to work just to get some rest. Put those little buggers in daycare or something. Cleaning is easier now because of my various secrets that I mentioned before, but I'm still bombarded with, "Take me here, take me there." "Can you bring my homework to the school?"
Early in my stay-at-home career, the reactions of bank lenders and clerks bothered me. I felt as though I were back in first grade when I didn't return from recess and the teacher pinned a note to my sweater and told me not to come back without my parent. It seemed to me the clerks were saying the same thing: Don't come back unless you have a responsible adult with you, i.e., my husband.
I am not as sensitive to those financial people now. I know what I do is as valuable as any job outside the home.
You know what? I would do it all over again, even though my chosen profession, housewifing, is dumped on by many who consider it unnatural for a black woman to stay at home and have a man bring her his paycheck.
I have worked in the past. I pulled a four-year stint in the Army and spent time in the Army reserves as a sergeant. In addition to that, I've held paying jobs as a clerk, typist, teller, lab tech and student teacher. I have even owned my own business. Most people look at me in awe when I mention those, but a HOUSEWIFE! Lord forbid that should get back to the 'hood.
Whatever profession a person's chooses should be performed to the best of his or her ability. I do, because if I am fired, society has to take over the job of raising my children. We wouldn't want that, would we?
My new dream will be of sisters at home uniting. We'll rephrase James Brown's song "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud" with “Say it loud, I stay at home and I'm proud."
Laurie Brummett is a full-time mother of five children plus one husband, a part-time student and freelance writer. She considers herself a new-age Erma Bombeck with Whoopi Goldberg flair.