Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Is it OK if I be happy?

I may be misinterpreting this story from among the Worldview Fiction contest finalists, but I find it very hackle-raising.

For those of you who don't follow links, the tale is entitled "Wanted: Perfect Life (Will Settle for Mediocre)." It follows a young mother who has awoken from her dreams of marrying Prince Charming and raising beautiful children to realize she is married to an emotionally distant boor, has bratty kids, hates her life, and especially is annoyed at her apparently-perfect friends. She finally blows up at a ladies' meeting and tells them all how she feels, thus losing some friends and regaining others who finally confess that they feel the same way.

Now there are some good parts to the story: quite a bit of humor, some clever insights, and the point that plaster sanctimony is a great evil. There are also some artistically bad things: a fair amount of cliche and sterotype, and a sloppy writing style that isn't justified by a quasi-stream-of-consciousness perspective. But it's the apparent final message that really bugs me.

Maybe I have an unusually wonderful husband and child (but of course). Maybe it's just that I'm still (practically) a newlywed and only have a remarkably angelic 3-month-old so far, and in five years I will hate my husband and children, too. Maybe it's because I haven't had post-partum depression. (From the way I used to get post-Christmas depression, I fully expected to.) Maybe it's just that I've never really gotten into the whole "girlfriend" thing.

But honestly: my life is not this bad.

Sure I have my grouchy days (or at least grouchy minutes--I try not to drag it on all day). That's life. But I don't find myself wishing desparately to escape, like, well, like the feminist stereotype of a housewife. I don't envy DOB leaving for work every morning. I've worked at a job, a wonderful job that I loved, with great co-workers (I have to say that, they read this). But in every job there are going to be parts that you hate. I've had morning sickness, and I've written grants: I'll take the morning sickness.

From the way the story is written, the author doesn't appear to be suggesting that there's really anything wrong with this attitude: the woman doesn't stop griping, she just finds friends with whom she can get together and complain about their husbands and wonder why the dishes never get done. Now, I'm sure real friends are great, and definitely superior to fakers, but is that really all the hope there is?

Isn't it possible to be real and be happy? Isn't it possible to be pleased when your husband is feeling romantic? Isn't it possible (do I ask too much?) to teach your children to eat their supper and not to barge into the bathroom?

Frankly, I'm not certain her new group of friends would necessarily be any more real. I'm not sure, for instance, that I'd feel comfortable announcing among them, "I did the dinner dishes before bedtime every night this week!" (Not that that has happened yet, but in case it did.) I've been in situations where I felt guilty for having anything good going on or doing anything right, and it's just as unpleasant as situations where everybody was pretending life was unflaggingly wonderful. The only difference is, it's easier to meet the group standards when they're set at failure.

Come to think of it, I've known and admired a lot of women who were real and happy. Who still liked their husbands and their children. (And whose children, though not perfect, were not brats either--I know, I babysat them.) Who could weep with those who weep, but didn't have to wallow with those who wallow.

I hope this story is just the first chapter, and that the woman goes on to find a better life. Whether she does or not, though, I'm not going to give up hope on having, not a perfect life, but a good one. Because that's what I have.

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