From across the crowded room, my husband winks at me. Holding a glass of wine in one hand and letting the other one hang by the thumb from the pocket of his trousers, he turns back his attention to his interlocutor who must have said something amusing to make him chuckle. Funny and quick-witted, my husband doesn’t lose a beat and comes back with his own response, making the small group gathered around him laugh out loud. He’s in his element. Social gatherings are his domain, and he shines here. Always knowing how to break the ice with strangers, he immerses himself in social events like a fish in the water.
The wink he gave me was a reassuring nod to me. On the opposite side of the room, I shrink into a corner and avoid eye contact with everyone. I make myself unnoticeable and busy myself with my children to discourage people from engaging in conversation with me. I, too, immerse myself in this room. But more with the tapestry decorating the walls than with any person present at such meetings. I fade into the proverbial wallflower.
Unlike my husband, I’m not big on social events. It’s not that I’m shy or unsociable, I just don’t like attending these things. Don’t get me wrong, even though I’m a homebody, I do enjoy dressing to the nines from time to time. A little makeup, a fancy updo, and a pretty outfit are enough to call forward the girl I used to be; before the marriage and the kids. And, like magic, the sparkle reappears in my husband’s eyes, as he recognizes once more, behind the wife and the mom, the girl he fell in love with.
I do enjoy going out. It’s the meeting new people and the same inevitable conversations I dread. They all start out promising. Some polite greetings, small pleasantries, then they all take an abrupt turn to a dead-end and come to a screeching halt. The culprit? A conventional little phrase I’ve come to expect and despise. As soon as this phrase is uttered, the pleasantries stop, and the awkwardness and discomfort begin.
“What do you do for a living?” are the fateful words. They are a sure thing at such events. Unavoidable, like death and taxes.
I cringe inside every time I hear them. I’ve learned to always have a drink in my hand to allow me to take a big gulp and buy me a few precious seconds to come up with something interesting to say to keep the conversation going. Of course, I never do. An internal debate then ensues about whether or not I can lie. Maybe I can pull off a typical movie response in where the main character disguises the truth in a funny matter.
“Oh, I am actually the CEO of a small company. Only three employees and a dog,” I imagine myself saying with an amused grin. But that type of line won’t hold water in a real conversation, and so I resign myself to tell the truth.
“I am a housewife,” I answer, flashing my best smile. It never works. The person on the receiving end of this always stares back at me as if I just told them I dress up as a clown for a living. They give me a quick reply along the lines of how wonderful it is to be with children, and they excuse themselves from the conversation. I don’t blame them. I know I am the odd man out. In this room filled with career-driven individuals, to find an anachronism like me can be disconcerting.
Even in my own circle of family and friends, I am the only housewife and my status still elicits frowns of disapproval from loved ones who think I am wasted by staying home with my kids.
Silent glances full of judgment are thrown my way as I am perceived to be dependent, vulnerable, without ambition, weak, but most of all, in settings such as these, uninteresting. Not capable of entertaining an intelligent conversation that won’t involve diapers and feeding schedules. A bad look for a modern woman. But whether in a family event or in a room full of strangers, I don’t let these assumptions bother me.
I know I am more than what these people make me out to be. I am my husband’s confidante, ally, and friend. My children’s protector and security blanket. I am the holder of their memories, the keeper of their secrets, and the weaver of their happiness. I am the pillar on which they stand, and the glue holding this household together. I am the caregiver, the boo-boo kisser, the playmate, the partner in crime. I provide a cozy and nurturing house for my children and a safe harbour to which my husband can come and seek refuge from the outside world every day. I am his wife, I am their mom, and home is where I shine.