A student once asked me if I ever wanted “to get married, stay home, and take it easy instead of go to work."
I laughed for five minutes. She was laughing with me—despite having absoutely no idea what was funny about her question—until I explained, sputtering, that "being married and staying home" was much, much harder than going to work. "If you want to have a good marriage and a stable home, it's never easy," I told her, from the heart, as I poured us coffee. "Having a solid work life will probably make your relationships at home even better—but seeing married life as an "escape route" from personal responsibility is like seeing a three-ring-circus and thinking it'd be a great place to take a nap.
Yes, Dr. Freud, my perspective most certainly goes back to my own mother.
My mom did not learn to write a check until she was in her late 30s. I remember being with her at a local store when the pharmacist behind the counter explained that he would accept a check from her written on my father’s account; I don’t think she’d even known writing a check was a possibility.
Like many other women of her generation, she was given a certain amount of cash every week as a household allowance and it was assumed that all expenses would be paid from that small, small fund.
Anything “extra” had to be asked for specially. I remember eavesdropping guiltily when the “extra” item was something I wanted: a new doll, a new dress, or money for the movies. My mother would do my pleading for me when I was a kid, and she and I waited, like members of some guerrilla force, to ambush my father when he was “in a good mood.”
My mother would instruct me to help prepare his favorite meal and be cheerful until he was sufficiently relaxed.
Then we pounced, giving all the good reasons for this unplanned expenditure.
Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t: I grieved for months after being denied a pair of white go-go boots in fourth grade, which had seemed crucial to my emotional well-being. I won’t say that I felt like Scarlett O’Hara lifting her fist to the sky and swearing, “With God as my witness—I shall never be hungry again!” but I promised myself that when I grew up, I wouldn’t have to play tricks to get them to buy me what I wanted.
My father worked hard—12 hours a day, six days a week, sewing bedspreads and curtains with his brothers at the family shop—and money was always more than tight. It had a stranglehold on us.