Gimli and I had a huge fight on Wednesday morning before he left to work, which ended with me telling him “Just go, so I can calm down and we can talk about this later,” after I had yelled at him in front of the kids and banged my head on the kitchen cupboards. He walked out the door with tears in his eyes and it took me about six hours to fully calm down. I feel bad for Illyria who was subjected to a short-tempered mother all morning, and who saw us fighting for the first time in her life (not our first fight since she was born, but the first time she’s seen us fight).
On the surface it was about grocery shopping, but underneath that it was about the shift in our roles since moving here. I’m having a hard time coming to grips with how I see myself now, now that I spend maybe five hours a week instead of five hours a day working on my dissertation. And Gimli, who used to come home every day to put Illyria down for her nap when she was a baby, is now gone from 9 until 6 or 7 and weekdays often doesn’t see Oz at all except for about an hour or two in the morning.
So Wednesday morning, Gimli waved a yellow post-it note at me. “I’m making a shopping list,” he said pointedly. I felt my hackles raise: it was his air of “This isn’t my job, I shouldn’t have to be doing this,” that instantly raised my defenses, because we always shared this duty before, in the States … and it escalated from there.
I understand his frustration, and I feel like I’ve been ridiculously slow on the uptake, to really get that I have to take pretty much full responsibility now not just for the shopping itself, but for monitoring the cupboards and refrigerator and for thinking ahead to what we might need tomorrow. I have to shift my mentality and think in terms of backup, like I do with regard to diapers and coffee. I have to think that way about everything – bread and eggs being a main point of contention at the moment because I tend to use them up before buying more, instead of always having extra on hand. Same with leftovers – my preference is to use up what’s cooked before cooking more, but this strategy results in an often-empty fridge, which bothers Gimli more than I realized.
His mom is a hoarder and stockpiler to a ridiculous degree (we spent a year once eating through her canned food, and she once kept a frozen salmon in the deep freeze for – get this – TWELVE YEARS) but I suppose I tend to run to the opposite end of the spectrum. I need to find a better balance. I’ve been living day to day, seldom planning ahead more than one meal at a time. And that has to change for the harmony of our home. By the end of the day Wednesday, I had come to terms with that. And I know I’m spoiled for help – our fab Albanian babysitter/cleaner/general helper is here for at least a few hours every day, and all day Mon/Thurs. I should totally be able to handle my current reality considering the help I have.
But I’m feeling deeply depressed about this shift in how I see myself – I don’t feel like an academic anymore, I feel like a housewife, and a bungling and inexpert one at that. (Not that I’m feeling particularly confident about my dwindling academic self at the moment either, to be sure.) I feel like giving up. I feel like giving up on the PhD, on language learning, on everything that isn’t related to managing the household and raising the children. Last night I dreamed that first a former student of mine and then another grad student in my cohort came to me and said, “we don’t think you’re really cut out for this program.” It was a version of the oh-no-there’s-an-exam-today-and-I-haven’t-studied-at-all dream we all have and I think it is indicative of the growing feeling I have that I’m just pretending; we may drag this out for a few years, but in the end, I will never finish my degree. I don’t have what it takes. Maybe I have the smarts – at least enough to fake it – but I don’t think I have the drive, the mental discipline, or perhaps as Wordgirl put it, the ego to take it to the end. (I did once; where did it go?)
I’m good at the loving, the playing, the getting down on the floor and getting absorbed in whatever the little ones are absorbed in. I’m usually very patient. I’m not so good at the organizing, the discipline, the setting boundaries and being consistent about rules and routines. I have to get better at that part of it though, because like it or not, I am the señora de la casa now. I’ve been shunted back six decades in time. And if I’m going to have the responsibility, then I will learn how to do it well.