Please Help Me, I’m Losing Myself


I am turning into a 1950s wife. I am almost Harriet Nelson (Google it, kids).

I was born in 1956, when women wore dresses and pearls while making dinner for Dad and the kids. I was born in a time when Mom’s stayed home and scrubbed the floor while Dads went off to the office to do manly things.

Which means that I grew up in the 1960s, when women were burning bras and demanding birth control. I went to college in the 1970s. I marched, I read Gloria Steinem, I became a feminist.

When I married my high school sweetheart, we both went into the relationship with the understanding that we would be equals. We shared the shopping, the cooking, the dishes, the laundry duty. We both went to graduate school, and we both embarked on professional careers. We were a part of the generation that defined the idea of work-home balance. We both worked. We both cleaned bathrooms. We both took the car in for inspections.

When our kids came along, the pressure to keep that balance increased exponentially. With both of us working, there were lots of frantic early morning near-fights, with both of us whisper-shouting behind our bedroom door,

“I CAN’T STAY HOME TODAY! I have a meeting….” “Your turn to take him to the doctors! I cannot miss another staff meeting!”

There were nights where dinner was a frozen pizza, too, but those were few and far between. I might have been a feminist professional, but I was also an Italian Mamma. I cooked. But he cleaned it up. For 37 years, we kept up our balance. We both worked. We both raised our kids. We were a team, and we were equal.

Then the kids grew up. They moved out. If you can believe the audacity, they all set out on lives of their own.

Paul and I kept working and sharing the home chores. The balance that we’d established held its shape and all was well.

Until I suddenly and very unexpectedly found myself retired from my many years of teaching elementary school. That’s a different story and has no real relevance here. Except that my unceremonious departure from teaching set me on a totally new path that has had few little bumps. My forced retirement, very very luckily for me, coincided with my new life as a grandmother.

I left teaching in June, a month before my daughter gave birth to our first grandchild. And I was given a huge, unexpected, glorious gift. I got to be the stay-at-home woman taking care of the baby.

As “Nonni”, I was able to stay at home on cold rainy days, snuggling a baby and baking muffins. As a retired teacher, I was able to wrap the baby and myself in a warm blanket and listen to good music while it snowed outside our window. As the stay at home caregiver, I had no more commute, no more paperwork, no more meetings, no more conferences and best of all, no more forced ‘professional development’. I was free. At last, at the age of 59, I was free to indulge my nurturing, caring self and just sit around rocking a baby. It was fabulous.

And it mostly still is. Except that now there are two grandchildren, ages 2 and 4. And now there is a messier house. And more food to be cooked, served, cleaned up.

Now I find myself preoccupied with things that I never ever noticed in my first 37 years of marriage. In my first 60 years of life, in fact. I can’t stop organizing drawers and closets. Yesterday I moved my socks and underwear drawer into a new spot, switching it out with my jewelry and random sundries drawer. It felt good to do it, even though I know that after more than 3 decades of everything in one place, I’ll be dead before I remember what I’ve put where.

I am spending a ridiculous amount of time cleaning things, too. I mean, if we have managed to live happily for all these years with crud in the bottom of our deck slider, why do I have to scrape it out every week now? Why? Why am I vacuuming the windowsills? And why am I compelled to make new recipes? Complete with dessert? Every friggin’ night? What the hell.

I even have matching cloth napkins and tablecloths now. And what’s even worse? I love them.

So please, dear fellow women of a certain age. Please help me. At the point in my life where I thought I’d be wearing funky black hats and writing poetry, I am scrubbing bathroom sinks and buying scented soap. I have lost my hippy, feminist self. God help me, I have turned into a 1950s housewife.