Scrubbing the Tub

As I knelt in the bathroom today, scrubbing the tub, my roots came to mind. I’m one of those Latinas. Not the ones that were born in a Latin country, but one of the ones that were born here. My parents were born in Puerto Rico and raised in 2 worlds, there and here. I, on the other hand, was born here. Only visited the island once in my life. Our familial ties to the island having long been stretched too thin by the hands of time.

My parents were progressive. My father being the first in his family to graduate college, law school and go on to become a lawyer. My mother graduated high school and went on to work full time in Corporate America for 30+ years. My father was the primary nurturer to us and my mother cooked, sometimes when she felt like it anyhow. Other times, it was every person to themselves to find dinner. I am no stranger to cereal and eggs for dinner. That was normal, part of life. My mother washed her own clothing and at some point so long ago that I can’t remember when ceased to wash all of ours. I washed my clothing. My sister washed hers. And my dad washed his and my brother’s.

My husband is one of those Latinos. Not like me, but born on the island. He didn’t come here until he was 19 years old. He still struggles to speak English. His mother doted on him, his father, and the rest of his brothers and sisters. She never worked outside of the home as far as I know. Her days were filled with nurturing their family. Cooking, cleaning, washing, she does it all. When my husband came to the US, he had never lifted a mop, washed a dish, or his own clothing to say the least.

And somehow, my husband and I met, fell in love, and got married. If he had known how un-domestic I was, he would never have married me. He sees me “serving” him as an act of love and devotion. I see “serving” him as being demeaning to me. So we often get mired into the same vicious circle of an argument. Him questioning my love for him because I don’t want to jump up and serve him dinner. I mean for God’s sakes, I’ve been taking care of the kids all by myself all day. Could he serve himself and give me a break? And me questioning whether he appreciates the sacrifice and the commitment that being a Latina wife and mother every minute of every day entails.

I was raised to be independent and now here I am being forced into a mold that I wasn’t built for. How do you just become the quintessential Latina when you were not raised by one? No one else seems to understand how I feel belittled, how I feel less worthy when my husband comes home and I have to jump up to serve him. Then continue to clean, help the kids with homework and so on while he sits in his boxers scratching his balls on the sofa watching ESPN. And I’m supposed to be happy. How do you find happiness in that? I look at my daughter, who is only 2 and being formed now for her future, and wonder what the future holds for her. A life of servitude for her family under the guise of nurturer? A husband who pitches in and cares equally for the children and the house? And my sons, will they do the same that they see my husband doing to their wives one day?

In the mirror, I see the marionette strings tied to my back and wait for the familiar pull of my husband’s hand. For him to guide me in the direction I should be going. For me to jump up, the happy puppet that I am, to cook, to clean, to smile, to laugh, to be reigned over. A lump forms in my throat; I swallow a tear and go back to scrubbing the tub.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mike
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 01:55:07

    I understand what you're saying. Think of it this way, maybe: When you go to Mass or prayer or temple or whatever … you take a candle and light it from another candle that is burning down. The old candle goes out, but the flame on the new candle is still burning. It's the same flame, there's nothing different about it, just a new candle. Nothing saying you can't still be the same person inside – strong, proud, sensitive and caring. Hold on to your flame, don't let it go out regardless of the type of candle it's burning on.

    Reply

  2. latinabella
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 06:45:27

    @ Anonymous – Yes, I'm definitely not as "Latina" as he had probably envisioned me to be. I'm probably a lot more "American" in how I was raised. Although, I'm sure he was never aware that there was a difference in women, he probably assumed that all women were the same as his mother and the women in his family and this was never raised before we got married. And yes, you are right, I can teach my children to be more independent and help more around the house thereby helping me, although at this point I don't believe it's possible to change him. Thank you for your response. I think this along with Mike's next response is my answer. I'm going to work with my children to get them to make everything in the house more of a team effort amongst us. An improved attitude on my part, not letting it all get to me will help tremendously too. Thanks again for reading my post.

    Reply

  3. latinabella
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 06:47:37

    @ Mike – you're are so right! I am going to try to not my flame go out. I need it to be a bright beacon for my children after all. Thanks again for your comments. I really appreciate that you took the time to read and comment.

    Reply

  4. Mlvlatina
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 23:37:32

    I completely understand. I feel the same way, but I go on "strike" at least once or twice a week. It snaps everyone into place. I still do the majority of the chores and serving. I feel like a maid most of the time, but I feel I have the best of both worlds. The days I am on "strike", I come home to find dinner cooking and the house nice and clean. My hija learns that she can have it all, a traditional marriage, with an independent twist.Abrazos,Monica (@mlvlatina)

    Reply

  5. latinabella
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 20:21:04

    @mlvlatina, Thanks for visiting my blog sweetie pie! There are times, every once in a while when my husband will pick up on the subtle ques that something is amiss and he may make a meal, but that's not very often. Maybe I'll have to let everyone know when I'm "going on strike" and then see how it all plays out. Maybe he'll chip in a little more around those times too. We'll see… 🙂 I really hope it works. ttyl!

    Reply

  6. Anonymous
    Jan 25, 2010 @ 13:30:04

    It can be so frustrating! Instead of going all out maybe smaller things would work– e.g., cook the meal since you will be cooking for yourself and the kids anyway, but don't serve it to him. If you are preparing separate food for the kids anyway, and you don't need the same kind of food, then don't make food for him. If he asks, be chipper by say the food's on the table (if you've cooked) or say "I'm having XXX". If he's saying he's not asking you to cook, then take him at face value and don't cook for him. Similarly with the laundry. Take care of your own and the kids, but then let his be. If he gets upset, you can be sympathetic, but unbudging. Also, let him watch the kids for a few hours over the weekend while you run errands or do something else. And also, how much time do you two set aside for the two of you to have fun? Maybe your house won't be as clean/organized as it should be, but maybe once or twice a week (Fri/Sat) you could sit down together and watch a movie and cuddle? I don't know if you have family dinners, but is that another way you can detach him from the TV and bring him into the fold of the family? And on days off, taking small family trips I think is a good way to get him into a more nurturning mode where he is having to take care of the kids.I don't know if you would feel guilty if your house was not perfect or if you were loving, but firm about not doing things for him, but it is a way to send a message to someone who is not able to see your point after you have had conversations with him. The trick is to do it without the hurt and resentment at his behavior from spilling over from you to him during this act of civil strike.

    Reply

  7. latinabella
    Jan 25, 2010 @ 23:25:03

    @anonomys, thanks for posting your comment. Love your ideas! My only problem is that if I don't cater to him he takes it as a personal affront to him. As if I don't love him because I'm not doing all those things for him and then he has an attitude, which can be very difficult to bear because he gets moody and miserable for days. And honestly my house does get messy at times, because I have 3 kids and I'm the only person that cleans. Unless I enlist the help of my 2 sons. So I've come to grips with the fact that my house can't be perfect a long time ago, he still hasn't though. And immediately gets in a foul mood if he walks in a sees toys on the floor and me folding laundry. . Oh my, it's draining just to write about it. Thanks again for your advice and I'll see if I can use some of your ideas in bits and pieces. Or he'll never want Romantic alone time with me at all.

    Reply

  8. Melissa
    Feb 19, 2010 @ 19:18:26

    Can I just add my humble two cents here? My Abuela was from PR and she had my mother here. My mom was an only child and expected to nothing other than study so that she could have a better future than my grandmother did. Typical immigrant story. Here's how that turned out on our end. My grandmother was the strongest woman I knew. My mother became weak willed and spineless against my bully father. He too expected everything to be done for him. He was raised in Ecuador BTW. He came here at 20 or 21. He would fight with my grandmother and she would fight right back. He would raise his voice at my mother and she fought back initially, and with time just gave in to everything he said. In time, we all lost respect for my mother ( I have three siblings) and I hold my dearly departed grandmother in highest esteem. My mother is a NYC school teacher and still had to do all those things and her job. She did none of them well, but he took poor quality over pitching in at all. The kicker was that he COULD cook and do all that because once when he sent her to Ecuador with my sibs and I stayed behind with him, I never ate so well or lived so neatly. He just refused to do it out of machismo.I'm not insinuating by any stretch that your husband is like my bully abusive father, but I wonder if my mother ever once had this internal conversation. And I hate the idea of any woman, much less a woman of such obvious strength and intelligence, giving in to what seems to me as simple manipulation. Obviously he knows you love him, you are making a life together with him, treat him with respect and tenderness. Clean laundry is just that, not an act of devotion.I pray that you find your way through this with your husband, not in spite of him and that you don't lose yourself to him, because your children will see that. Trust me, I know.I'll keep you in my thoughts.

    Reply

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