Can a Woman Ever Really Retire?

The other day I was at an amazing Indian dance concert featuring a friend of my daughter. This young woman performed, for two hours, a classic Indian dance known as Bharatnatyam Arangetram. And she plays golf, too. She is heading off to high school, already a stellar example of what a woman of today can become, and I was in awe of her.

Afterward, there was a totally yum Indian food buffet. I was there alone, and I always like to sit with people I don’t know, so I sat with some older couples who had one spot left at their table. It turns out they knew the dancer’s father, a cardiologist, mostly through playing golf at the local country club. So here I am at a buffet of Indian food, sitting with some folks who, like me, were clearly not of Indian ancestry. They didn’t seem totally comfortable with the menu, so I knew I was in for an interesting meal.

The one woman, who reminded me of my mother, said something to her husband that’s exactly what my mother would have said: “There’s no meat!” All of them picked about at their plates, not sure what was what or how to eat it.  All but one. The woman next to me had a neighbor from India, so she and I together were wolfing down the delicious food with delight.

The other woman sitting across from me had such a pained look on her face, I felt obligated to make conversation. I asked her if she enjoyed cooking. She looked at me with a droll and depressed look on her face and said, “I’ve been cooking for 44 years, and I’m sick and tired of it.”

Her husband, who was busy talking to the golfer next to him, didn’t hear. The other woman (the one who reminded me of my mother) chimed in, and said she too was sick of it. So I—troublemaker that I am—looked at her husband who was sitting next to me, and asked her if he ever cooks. The face she made was comical. Again, it was the stunned, prideful, and resentful look that my mother would have made (with a slight shake of her head). “No.”

I turned to him, and asked him what he did, and he said, “Nothing. I’m retired.”  I joked with him that maybe he should learn to cook. But he wasn’t interested in my kind of humor.

The two women looked at each other, and the first one, the droll one, said to me, “A woman never retires.”

I felt heartbroken for them, and also sad that they did not want to try the saffron pistachio ice cream.

But I could also see their point, and it was pointed straight at me. As a working woman, I will hopefully one day be able to retire from my job, my career, and such. But will I ever be able to retire from being Mom? From being a wife? I don’t know. As women’s roles have changed, men’s roles have changed too, but it still doesn’t feel quite figured out.

It occurs to me that this may be the reason my mother-in-law vehemently refused to have her oven replaced when the door finally fell off, when she was 89 (and the stove wasn’t much younger). She was finally ready to retire.  And then there was my mother, who basically “never” cooked again after my father died.

With the economy the way it is, maybe none of us will ever be able to retire. But it struck me, sitting at that table, that we still have a long way to go—not just for women, but for men, too. I hope that if I had sons, I’d teach them to cook just as I’ve taught my daughters. (If you do have sons, please do teach them to cook.) I still know women today who coddle their sons the way my mother coddled my brothers—that’s something I will never quite understand since I don’t have boys. Of course, as a young woman I was trained to coddle the men in my life, too, and it’s a hard habit to break! It doesn’t really matter that I’m a CEO. At the end of the day, I’m still the wife and mother, with all that brings along with it.

I hope one day we get to a point that Riane Eisler calls true partnership, where all our male and female tendencies inside all the men and women are balanced, harmonious, and respectful. Helpful and useful, too. Where love, not duty, predominates, and there is a balance of work and pleasure for all.

I can dream, can’t I?

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9 Responses to Can a Woman Ever Really Retire?

  1. Judy C. August 29, 2011 at 8:06 am #

    I don’t know if I would want to “retire” — even if I ever could — and I may not be able to do so. But part of the word “retire” is
    “tire” — and maybe that is the problem. We can get into negative patterns that “tire” us — cooking might become one of those. I love to cook — and my Mediterranean heritage insures that I have a colorful array of menu options — everything from home-picked grape leaves and tabouli to spinach pies and kibbee (many are vegetarian, some are not.) I truly pity the person who has neverfully appreciated the array of fresh fruits and veggies available to the human palate — and, with the bee crisis looming – every day I am reminded that this may not be a continual option for the human race. On that note, does a bee retire? — no…it is doing what it is designed to do — and, if we
    as “homo sapiens” are doing what we are designed to do — “love” — then, perhaps we will no longer feel the need to retire too !

  2. Peter August 29, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    After I graduated from college, my mom gave me a copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and suggested that, if I hoped to eat, I should use it. (To that point in my life, my only cooking experience was making Rice Crispy treats for a class project.) She loved food and prepared the whole comfort menu from the 60s–cream chipped beef on toast, pork chops and applesauce, and a delicious concoction called hot-dog hash (home fries with onions and chopped wieners). I dove into Fannie with relish, prepared full meals for myself and friends in the boarding house where I lived, and haven’t looked back. My dad never cooked; all of his four sons do, a lot. My point: This may be a generational thing, Maria. If you’d sat at a table with twentysomethings after that dance recital, your companions would have known from Indian food, plus any young men present would have tapped into the sure woman-bait that is a man-cooked meal–if they know what’s good for them. One of my favorite things about chef-hood, aside from the eating: If you cook, you don’t have to do the dishes! Retirement for me will mean more time to cook, not abandoning the kitchen. Too many good things I’d like to eat!

  3. Kim August 29, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    Love this post, Maria.

    When my two sons were home from college this summer and were off from work for a week, I asked them to prepare dinner and pointed them the to the many shelves of cookbooks we had on hand. What a feast we had that week! I had the best pasta sauce ever. Their secret? They downloaded Anthony Bourdain’s cooking shows from NetFlix.

  4. Jean August 29, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    I don’t think I will ever retire, but I hope I will have the courage to downsize and simplify my expectations about the things I “need” to do on a day-to-day basis and spend more time doing the things I enjoy — which happen to include cooking — as life circumstances change. I’ve seen older women continue to cook and clean as often and as extensively as if they still had a house full of kids and their mother-in-law were coming to run her white-gloved hand over things looking for dust. Life is about choices and priorities, and so much of what we “need” to do is self imposed because we don’t give ourselves permission to make changes or have the courage to open a discussion with a significant other. I’ve spent vacations with older women who insisted on cooking a “real” breakfast of bacon and eggs on a camp stove and then washing everything up while everyone else went off to have fun, heating gallons of water on the same stove to do it with (and men who expected they would do both): when I camp we usually eat granola or instant hot cereal out of our beverage mug and each person swishes a little hot water around in his or her mug afterward and the dishes are done and the morning stretches ahead for everyone to enjoy. Once in a while we have crepes with the fresh raspberries we picked the day before, because it is fun, but only because it is fun not duty. As life progresses I hope to do more and more simplification and enjoy everything I choose to do more.

  5. Sue Stewart August 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    Peter is right – my sons cook and support their partners. It is a generational gap that has a lot to do with the men sitting at that table as well as the “tired” wives. Things have changed but at a certain age that will never happen.

  6. Vanessa August 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    For me, cooking is love, and I enjoy feeding people. But I enjoy being fed, too. My husband and I each have our repertoire, and occasionally we cook together. We like experimenting with recipes, and tweaking them. And the best days are when I get a lie in and he makes scrambled eggs lightly seasoned with turmeric (crazy, but so good) – fluffy, delicious & made with love!

    (I wait for the day he discovers the iron and lavishes the same attention on the clothes)

  7. Sharon August 30, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    I am happy to report that I was determined to raise a son that I would not send out into the world to look for a housekeeper or a woman to raise his children. He would find someone to love and partner with then my generation did. I do not live in their house, but it appears that the children are tended by both and the house is tended by both. Some of the chores they have broken up as they prefer one over the other. I was married to someone that was confused by the washer and dryer. I dearly loved his mother. But it was a disservice to him as a human being that he felt the home had a male/female split to it. Times…they do change and will may even change back again and then that generation will believe that they also reinvented the wheel…and life moves on. So try not to be to attached to your doings…be…

  8. bonnie August 30, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Just got back from watching my son compete in a chef’s competition similar to iron chef. He said he learned to appreciate doing the cooking b/c our family insisted on sitting down to a family dinner! My husband (retired) now does all the grocery shopping & about 1/2 or more of the cooking. His father also did much of the grocery shopping & some cooking. And my husband’s grandfather (a widower) did all the shopping & cooking. So in our family, those domestic tasks were considered and taught to be a manly way to provide for one’s family. And a womanly way to nurture!

  9. LINDA D PELLINO September 13, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    With 7 children – my husband decided that if he helped with dinner – he’d eat sooner – and so he did. Then he retired before I did – so he took over all the cooking. Our kids – both genders – started out with English muffin pizzas after school – and have graduated to specialties of Pecan pie – Shortbread cookies – scones – venison roasts – eggplant parmesan – pumpkin pie – complete Thanksgiving dinners – and on and on. Now – unfortunately he is on dialysis – so things have changed and cooking is more of a challenge than it used to be. But I keep researching and trying to find good meals that exclude the things not on his diet. As far as other chores – they all learned how to use a washer and dryer – vacuum cleaner – dust cloth – iron and ironing board. Those who have children learned how to change diapers – burp babies – and walk the floor well into the night. All in all – they enriched their lives by doing all of those things -and hopefully that new generation saw – appreciated – and will pattern their lives the same way. Linda

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