It’s not even an hour into my work day and I’m popping Advil for a nasty headache, then glancing at my schedule for a time I can sit with a hot cloth over my eyes. They’re strained. Heat helps.
Standing at the counter, I’m staring at the fridge and worrying about dinner.
And it hits me. I’m meal planning. Talk about déjà vu!
This is new. Or rather, this is familiar – though it takes me back before the past three years of empty nest (when I had only myself to cook for “officially”), before 10 years of post-marital life (when I had myself and children to cook for), to a decade of more traditional family fare as I tended to babies and held responsible corporate jobs.
At the time – my unwritten mission – make a nice home, raise the kids, get dinner on the table for Hubby. Oh right. And continue to bring in that nice managerial salary.
Men and Women at Work: So Who Cooks?
To be accurate, the man of the house was away as often as not in a position that kept him traveling. In my experience, it’s relatively easy to feed two little boys (and oneself on the run), and far more effort to provide healthy dinnertime meals for another adult. (And dare I say it, especially a European?)
However, as those meals may have occurred on average three nights a week, there were leftovers or quick options for myself and the boys like sandwiches and soup. That helped to make my “second shift” somewhat lighter duty.
Why déjà vu?
I’m suddenly aware of being concerned about provisions in the pantry, the need for nightly variation, impacts to my budget, and time to prepare the evening meal – time being the most pressing constraint at present. And I’m not talking three dinners per week, but likely five out of each seven.
Whereas throughout the summer, I was the one in my relationship with less available hours, as a new academic year has begun (and a tiring commute for my teacher-partner is involved), it seems only logical that roles switch – or at least, shift. And I suspect I have de facto taken on this daily duty.
And of course, as I run through the list of ingredients on hand, I realize that I need to go to the market – or rather, two of the markets out of four that I routinely visit. This backs me straight into an old (annoying) corner – the time required for grocery shopping that I once had planned to a T, and that I haven’t had to fret over for several years.
There is no two-hour window for a trip to the Farmer’s Market, much less a one-hour window for a quick run to Trader Joe’s or the local supermarket. Reality strikes: As part of meal planning (for the week ahead), scheduled shopping needs to be accommodated.
Meal Planning for the Week: Soups? Leftovers?
Let’s see… It was a frozen pizza (organic) and salad last night. Before that, pasta and chicken. Last week, a chicken and Chorizo dish that worked for two evenings. (Do I possibly have the makings for burgers in the freezer? Can I drum up a pot of soup?)
In addition, as my less than “Domestic Goddess” tendencies are a thorn in the side of my partner in crime, while he is understanding (and wields a powerful sponge) in summertime, that will no longer be the case as he’s back to his own fairly grueling schedule. And while I work from a home office – and am grateful for that – I am nonetheless “home.” Expectations arise out of that fact when it comes to chores and errands, and those expectations add to my stress.
I may have joked recently about finding myself thrown back to a 1950s model of “love,” but could it inadvertently become more true than I imagined? Will I be trapped in a time warp by virtue of logistics?
Love. It’s a catch-all phrase – for affection, esteem, admiration, respect – and the “je ne sais quoi” that sparks something between two people. We all want it; we all cling to it; we all dream of being held in its romantic embrace. But there is a price: My, but how often love is crowded out by the challenges of “domestic bliss” – the gas bill, the electric bill, the latest repairs to a roof or a small deck; the vacuuming, cleaning the oven, running here and there to fill the fridge.
Naturally, I didn’t consider these issues until my temples were throbbing, my eyes burning, and my back (acting up) requesting that I spend the next hours alternating between writing standing up and leaning against a heating pad. Ah, the pleasures of a laptop that can truly be used in the lap!
Women and the “Second Shift” – Domestic Duties
I dim the brightness on my screen to make reading and writing easier. The Advil is beginning to live up to its promise. And I consider the phrase “second shift” again. Popularized by the media (and a book written 20+ years ago), use of the expression brings focus to the reality that women, in general, bear the larger share of domestic responsibilities even if both the man and the woman in a household go to work. Clearly, for a single head of household (like myself), that is all (or nearly) the domestic tasks.
Incidentally, the second shift was mentioned in an illuminating Times piece by Patricia Cohen this week. (While work-life balance is much in the news and younger fathers are increasingly picking up a greater share, the phenomenon persists with income and other impacts.)
I return to the peculiarities of my own situation: “go” isn’t part of the equation; I stay to work, and thus feel compelled (and expected) to address more of the second shift.
How many working women still find themselves in this position? How many feel guilty if they don’t “feed their man” (not to mention the kids), and tidy up the house before he walks through the door?
None of this has been discussed; he works long hours, I work long hours.
While I’m fortunate in loving a very fair man (so I imagine we’ll figure it out), so much for my propensity to plan, as I seem to have placed myself these last months in a situation of “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Yet I was unaware of exactly how many bridges lay ahead, and my vision – daily – remains somewhat impaired.
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