When I was staying home with my kids — there are a few of them, and they are very closely spaced — people used to ask me pointedly and with no small modicum of condescension, “So, what do you DO all day?” As though caring for small children, running a home, even just keeping the toilet paper stocked were not taxing enough. I worked outside on a variety of projects that generated some extra cash, but I didn’t have a “steady job.” Consequently, I was a nonperson. Ask Social Security. They’ll show you just how little I am worth as a result of those years outside the FICA pale.
Adams’ Playdate features a stay-at-home parent, a handsome young beefcake and former weatherman from Barstow named Lance. His life is spiced by the honest satisfaction he derives from watching his daughter blossoming into womanhood and healing his belly chakra through the variety of tantric sex positions he studies with yoga instructor, who happens to be the wife of his wife’s business partner. The book is funny and entertaining, and the characters range from Barbie -and-Ken shallow or slightly loopy to downright and absurdly insane; based on my year of living reluctantly in California and my frequent visits to the La Jolla area where the book is set, they rang true.
But besides being a quick, fun read, the book scratches at a dark veil that shrouds two issues and renders them rarely talked about: human beings are threatened by choices others make, and child rearing is regarded as a part-time endeavor that demeans those who choose to devote their lives to it.
Lance is a “househusband.” His wife Darlene is a wheeler and dealer, so Lance manages the cookie sales for his daughter Belle’s girl scout troop, drives her to and from her various activities; he spends his days washing, drying and folding the laundry, shopping for, cooking, and baking the food or scrubbing, scouring and polishing the house before he finally manages to catch a break over coffee and some community gossip at the nearby Starbucks before he jumps into his car to retrieve the child. The men in his circle consider him a loser, and they call his wife a sucker for having married him. “At my house,” brags the next-door neighbor, “I earn the dough. I’ve never met a woman who makes as much as I do. Never. Nunca. If a man earns less than his wife, he must be really low paid. What kind of freeloader would let this happen?”
The observation is shared at the requisite revelatory party scene, the one where all characters’ secrets are discovered, set as a rather slapstick dinner honoring Robin, the sister of Lance’s playmate, who has written a sociological study called Househusbands and the Women Who Love Them, which has become a runaway best seller. Darlene and Lance find themselves defending their choice to live as they do, but they also find themselves seriously questioning whether their critics might actually have a point. Have they chosen wisely?
It’s a funny moment, made funnier by its poignancy, augmented for me by the resonance. I lived through parties like that one, and my life was then and ever after of questionable esteem.
After thirty-three years of tending my marriage and that crop of delightful children, I left my husband to pursue the writing life I had postponed. In one of our divorce mediation sessions, my spouse asserted, with absolute conviction, “You really don’t deserve to have half of everything, you know. Because even when you worked fulltime — and you only did that for the last twenty years — you made less than a third of my salary.” No one batted an eyelid in consternation, and I was blind-sided, but I should not have been.
In those years, the world had concluded that since women were liberated, they should not be allowed to sit at home and eat bonbons anymore. In society’s eyes, I had not accomplished anything measurable — except, until I finally got to the gym to work it off, a substantial amount of baby weight. If I had had, in those days, a good offer to engage in an independent yoga/tantric sex project with a willing man, I might have accepted gratefully. Truth is, however, where women might find househusbands sexy — “oooh, they have such a prominent feminine side!” — men are not so enticed by housewives whose clothes smell of baby farts and whose bodies lumber from the strain of spending the day as a jungle gym. Even when men appear to be bottom feeders, they are higher in status than the women toiling next to them.
No kidding. We should talk about this. Women and men should have options, and society should reward them for making bold choices. Instead of criticism, both men and women who stray from the accepted norms should be applauded for having identified what they want, decided what they are willing to do to get what they want and then for going after it. Whatever it is. It’s what we love about good acting; it’s what we should relish about good living.
And frankly, someone should be minding the kids!