I learned recently from this well-done essay in the New York Times Magazine that there is now something called a “femivore.” Apparently, a femivore is a woman who has decided that, instead of working so she can earn more money to buy her kids more junk from Target, she is going to stay home and grow veggies, raise chickens, can tomatoes and impart her values to her children. In the old days, we called this person a housewife. But now, it is considered a radical decision to quit the rat race and tend to the homestead. This brand of housewife eats local, composts and happily lives with less. And the implication seems to be that her life is somehow more authentic, more virtuous, than the life of a working mother.
I spent the past two years working in the rat race and pining for such a life. As the office grew grim and unrewarding, I envisioned myself at home making loaves of hand-kneaded bread, knitting sweaters, cooking elaborate meals with local produce. There had to be a more satisfying life than this one of trudging to the fluorescent-lit snack bar for a Diet Pepsi every day at 3 p.m. Now, thanks to my layoff, I have at least a little bit of that life. I work part-time from home and spend afternoons tending to my daughter and my garden—and failing to clean my home. But I’m still trying to figure out, am I living the femivore dream? Or is housekeeping, cooking and child-rearing the same tedious work it was in my grandmother’s day?
Shortly after my layoff, when I let my housekeeper go, I talked a good game about the silliness of working to pay someone to clean your house instead of working less and cleaning your own house. It has been three months now, and I can officially say that I much prefer paying someone to clean my house. I find no reward in cleaning a home that will be dirty again in a matter of days, if not hours. Cooking, on the other hand, is one of my passions. But I seem to find myself with less time and energy for it, now that my daughter is here with me. And I no longer have the money to buy all the local organic produce that I used to.
All these sunny spring afternoons with my daughter are undoubtedly the greatest reward of my at-home life. We have spent many hours outdoors, discovering bugs and birds and flowers. We have made stained glass from tissue paper and bird feeders from pine cones. We have baked cookies, taken leisurely walks, read stories and shared snacks on the porch. But taking care of a child can also be hard and frustrating work. They don’t give you even the briefest moment to yourself. They ask a million questions. They make you late for everything. They leave a tornado’s path of mess. Sometimes, I find myself ready to blow up when she carelessly spills her milk for the fourth time that day. My husband comes home to a house strewn with toys and, I’m sure, wonders what I was doing all day.
No question, this life is more fun than working in the downward spiral of newspapers. And I don’t diminish the value of all the afternoons I have spent in the park, listening to my daughter squeal with joy each time she finds a dandelion. But whether this life is somehow more virtuous or authentic than working full-time, I can’t say I’m sure about that. Of course, I believe every woman should choose the life she thinks is right for her. But I hope we will resist the urge to believe that one choice is more right than another.