As hiding out as a housewife hasn’t felt like my ultimate career destination, I set up a meeting with Carrie. Carrie works as a talent and success coach, identifying potential careers for clients or taking an existing career to a higher level of success and satisfaction. She works from the premise described in “Strengths Finder,” by Tom Rath, who describes the 34 talents common among people, each talent complete with its own set of strengths. Rath explains that struggling to fix our areas of weakness is a waste of time. Rather, we can identify our strengths and use them to create a greater sense of happiness, ease and success in life. After identifying my top five areas of strength, I met with Carrie via Skype. Bright and insightful, she easily interpreted why I excel at the things I do well and how to maximize my strengths. It was enlightening in a way I had not considered before. I wanted to crawl through the computer and into her lap, but I restrained myself.
After considering the things I do well and why, I began to ponder weaknesses with which I have struggled. Societal expectations combined with my own comparisons to other women have often led me to criticize myself. At times I have wished to be someone other than who I am.
Feeding my family brings me no joy. There, I’ve said it. The truth revealed. It’s not that I’m trying to deny anyone of sustenance. I have no interest in cooking, nor do I enjoy the grocery shopping necessary to cook. I fantasize about the day that someone invents a freeze dried meal replacement pill containing the daily nutrients essential to prevent any chance of stunting the growth of my children but conversely allowing them to grow into fully developed healthy adults. Brilliant! I would happily feed it to them, take it myself and never look back. On the weekends as a treat we could go to a restaurant where someone else who enjoys preparing food could feed us whatever we chose. No pressure, no problem if my three and four year old ate only pizza and ice cream, the two foods I can consistently count on them to eat without complaint. They would have been beautifully nourished all week by the freeze dried meal replacement pill, which would look and taste shockingly similar to a dried maraschino cherry, preventing any possible protest when pill time rolled around, formerly known as dinner.
Many of my friends love to cook. In days past I frequently cursed myself, and my apparent pathetic lack of enjoyment in cooking for my family, as I watched other mothers cook effortlessly and with joy. It is womanly, motherly and being half Jewish, genetically speaking, I should be feeding my neighbors’ kids as well as my own. Really, I thought, what is wrong with me?
While planning a get together with some family friends, I suggested we order pizza. We were invited to their house, and I certainly didn’t want my friend to feel that she had to cook for us. At the same time, I wanted to avoid involuntarily offering to cook out of inherent guilt or obligation. However, she insisted that she WANTED to cook. When we arrived, there was chicken marinated for the grill, a beautiful salad topped with chopped pear and vinaigrette dressing, macaroni and cheese baked from scratch and for dessert a blueberry cake drizzled with a lemon glaze. Having found the recipe on her favorite food blog and wanting to give it a try, she claimed she had baked it as an “experiment.” It was perfect. It was delicious. Don’t think for a moment that just because I don’t enjoy preparing food, I don’t enjoy eating food that someone else has prepared. I do. I knew that she had spent a great portion, if not the whole morning preparing the meal. Perhaps she had been awake at dawn carefully grating, mixing and matching several cheeses, giggling like a mad scientist giddy with joy, watching through the oven window as they symbiotically melted evenly among the macaroni noodles. And as I sat in her kitchen, savoring the blueberry cake drizzled with lemon glaze, I couldn’t help but acknowledge to myself that I would rather have set my hair on fire than spend my entire morning cooking and experimenting with recipes I had searched out on the internet. (Long heavy sigh inserted here to emphasize despair and disappointment in self.)
Just to add insult to injury, when I do muster the will to prepare diversified, healthy meals, neither of my children will eat them. Whatever I announce I am going to make for dinner, they are at best dismayed. My son has a slightly wider variety of foods that he will eat than my daughter. I can count those foods on my two hands. My daughter’s repertoire, I dare say, can be counted on my left hand alone. None of them overlap. It’s a fucking nightmare.
Prior to creating children I perused various children’s menus usually found on the back of the regular menu. I was curious. I was incredulous. People fed their children a load of shit! Fried chicken strips, hamburgers, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and pizza occasionally peppered with carrot sticks as a parental pacifier. I certainly would never feed my kids that crap and judged the restaurants harshly for not offering grilled chicken, steamed vegetables with fruit salad for dessert. Eventually, I would single handedly alter the face of children’s menus and the restaurant industry as a whole with my offspring heralding the change. My children would stun and impress waitresses throughout our greater suburban area by insisting in their little baby voices that they be served something lean and healthy. Years and two children later, I waste my money and face great frustration choosing healthy options in the restaurants that offer them. My kids would rather not eat at all. In fact there have been many nights my daughter has forgone dinner altogether (I don’t budge on dinner. They either eat it or not. Their choice) preferring to remain hungry until breakfast when she can eat yogurt. She likes yogurt. Only yogurt. Every single day without fail, she eats strawberry yogurt. Having dark hair, dark eyes and a serious intolerance to dairy, I marvel at my blonde haired, blue eyed daughter who only consumes dairy if given a choice. I occasionally have to shake my potentially horrifying fear that there was a mix up somehow at the hospital. Currently she should reside in Wisconsin, rather than with me, where when she turns sixteen she would have been unanimously crowned Miss Dairy Queen and excitedly ridden down Main Street, wearing an over-fluffed canary yellow prom dress, waving a practiced to perfection majestic princess wave, perched delicately atop a huge Paper Mache wedge of Swiss cheese. I’ve gotten no calls as of yet to claim her but I screen all Wisconsin area codes relentlessly. Incidentally, the only vegetable my son will eat short of bribery or threat is a carrot so the restaurants were on to something there. My husband once suggested that I only feed my children vegetables at every meal until they grow ravenous enough to eat them. In response, I asked him if he was planning on taking off a few days of work for this experiment in torture. He hasn’t mentioned it since.
I wonder, why is this so hard? Do they not want to eat as a result of my dislike of meal preparation or has my dislike of meal preparation grown exponentially at their refusal to eat. Hard to say. But recently as I strategically hired our babysitter to come just before dinnertime and performed my weekly skulk about the frozen food section at our local grocery store searching for healthy, microwavable options that everyone will eat, I felt a little less guilt. I felt slightly less “less than” my counterparts who love to cook. Because, rather than assuming I am a bad mom as I had done in the past, I realized that maybe cooking is just not in my top five strength strengths (fireworks of relief explode here). When that brilliant scientist develops a freeze dried, healthy meal replacement pill that looks and tastes like a dried maraschino cherry (completely organic and GMO free in avoidance of that whole mess of a controversy, as well), I will throw a ticker tape parade followed by a big party for all of my loved ones, completely catered by someone other than me. After the grand celebration a professional clean up crew will promptly arrive to cheerfully clean up the ticker tape and party mess because just as I dread meal planning and preparation, I also hate to clean.
I feel at this juncture it is only fair to admit that my dislike for cooking is only equal to my dislike of cleaning. I regret to report that cleaning my house makes me feel like a rat on a wheel. Let me rephrase that: cleaning my house makes me feel like a sweaty rat on a wheel because each time I begin to push the vacuum cleaner across a room, as light as vacuums are these days, I break into a sweat. Maybe it’s flop sweat resulting from the sheer anxiety I experience knowing that I will never be capable of cleaning my house the way I would like it to be cleaned. Perhaps I am sweating because as I am sweating, vacuuming the living room, my kids are rapidly disassembling their bedrooms. It is only compounded by the fact that anything I am able to accomplish on a Tuesday, certainly by Thursday will all need to be done again anyway. Lord, help me. Or maybe I am sweating because I am horribly out of shape, and pushing a vacuum is just too much physical exertion for me. Equally possible. Regardless, I hate the whole ordeal. And I imagine if some of you are like me, you are wondering why I might think that anyone would enjoy cleaning. It’s hard for us to fathom but I have met more than a few women who do get a great sense of satisfaction from the act of cleaning their homes. Unless they are blatantly lying to me in an attempt to make me feel like dog shit, they genuinely like to clean. And I can’t help but wonder why not me? Why can’t that be me?
We recently broke down and hired a woman to clean up our mess who has managed to elevate the act of cleaning a home to an art form. She cleans my house like she was born to do so, and I have to stifle the urge to kiss her directly on the mouth and maybe even slip her the tiniest bit of tongue to express the depth of my gratitude and devotion as I hand her the check I have written out of pure reverence for her talent and expertise. She cleans my house in a way that has exceeded all of my possible expectations. I feel blessed by her brilliance and am convinced that Carrie would be able to explain if given the opportunity, exactly how cleaning falls within her top five strengths. If you call, email, text or skywrite me for my cleaning woman’s number after reading this, know that I am perfectly willing to share, provided that it doesn’t interfere with time she has set aside for me. Don’t even try it, people.
I am left with the hard cold reality that cooking and cleaning, two of the most traditional duties of a housewife are not included within my top five strengths. I try to take comfort in the knowledge that I am not the first or the last to be slightly mismatched in my current job.
Perhaps out of desperation or maybe exhaustion, I propose that rather than focusing on our perceived weaknesses as housewives, moms and women, can we just focus on what we are great at and drop the judgment? End the comparing and despairing? Compare, despair. Compare, despair. It never ends well. I am continually working to stop the dance in my head of comparison that seems to happen so easily and replace it with acceptance and appreciation for who I am.
Interestingly, “empathy” was one of my top five strengths, and I can see how I use it everyday. Acting from a place of empathy is as easy as breath. Fixing boo boos. Listening to problems. Big sloppy kisses. Need a hug? Want to be held? Feel like some cuddle time? I’m that mom. Understanding, feelings and fears. Respecting my children’s desire and innate instinct to express themselves as the individuals they were born to be. Wonderfully easy for me. My absolute favorite duty as a mother and housewife.
Having a cleaning person has enabled me more time to exercise that strength rather than wasting time wrestling with a weakness. And no, we can’t really afford it either but sometimes you have to spend money to get the return you’re after. Money spent every two weeks, in return for my sanity. It’s seems a small price to pay. When we file for bankruptcy please consider taking us in.
Thank you Carrie for allowing me to identify my top five strengths and for giving me the permission to recognize that many of the activities I had felt guilty for not excelling in for so long simply weren’t in my top five. No guilt. No shame.
Order the pizza. Applesauce and carrots on the side.
To check out Carrie’s site: http://www.cunningtonshift.com