Wednesday, August 26, 2009


What have I been thinking?

For the past five years I have been the dutiful mother, trying to fit myself into the image of a German housewife, so that the house would be clean, the clothes ironed and the meals cooked. Okay, I give, I never really bothered much with the ironing. The house was never as clean as it should have been and the meals are generally cooked on the fly. So that I was never really living up to the standards that I had set for myself to begin with.

And you know what? They were standards that I set for myself. The status quo here in southern Germany revolves around a stay-at-home mom, with perhaps a job in the mornings 10 to 15 hours a week once the kids are in grade school. But one she can always cut out on when the kids are sick or there is a bake sale at school. I'm still not sure how they do it but grandparents as baby sitters figure heavily. This leaves plenty of time to clean the front stairs regularly, tend to the flower beds, clean the windows, organize the kitchen and closets ...oh and iron. There is a heck of a lot more ironing going on in the world than the average American can imagine. But noone ever forced my to live up to these standards.

Trying to keep up with this has been exhausting, mostly because I've never really bothered to try. I just keep feeling guilty about the fact that I am not trying. The stairs are done once every two weeks, the flowers are dying on the front balcony, and the kitchen and closets are places I'd rather not venture alone - and so I rarely do. A few years back we had some German neighbors over and, as they admired the skylight windows reaching to the ceiling, asked how the heck I cleaned them. "I don't." I replied. "No really," they asked, "how in the world would you get up there?" My guess is a mop on a long handle. Honestly, I'll let you know when I bother.

The problem is that I would have liked to have one of those German housewives myself, because I'd love the house to be not only clean but immaculately organized and alphabetized. I'd love to take the time I used to to clean the entire apartment, top to bottom, in preparation for final exam time. Problem is I have four little people messing the place up again as fast as I can pick it up.

And frankly, I've got other priorities. I'm either outside doing something with the kids - or inside doing something with them.

But wait. I'm starting to justify it again, starting to make excuses for not being something I never had any intention of being in the first place.

Would I like to be the type of person who takes the time to keep her car clean, to cut the kids' hair regularly and to get her own hair and nails done periodically? It doesn't really matter if I do or if I don't, because I've been trying to be that person for the last five years and it just doesn't fit. I'm glad I gave it a try though, really glad I gave it my best shot at fitting in, at living the status qou.

Because now when someone tells me how brave I am to have chosen the path I have, or about how great it is that I did things on my own terms, I can honestly say that I had no choice. It wasn't bravery, or the spirit of adventure, or even stubborness.

I have no choice but to be myself first, and mother and imperfect wife and housewife second and third. The kids aren't complaining. Our neighbor just came up the dirty stairs to share some homemade Iraqi cookies to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Aidan and Matthew ran to the door naked, and promptly gobbled up the sweets while I finished up on the computer. The sand has escaped from the sandbox outside onto our living room carpet, I've still got spring clothes sitting in a pile to be brought into storage downstairs, and dinner certainly isn't taking care of itself.

And we've got three more hours before the pool closes.

I can't be a perfect housewife, but I can be myself. See you at the pool.

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