Queen Elisabeth of Belgium exemplified the kind of femininity that I admire.
I read about her life on The Cross of Laeken blog and loved the description of how she expressed her affection for her future husband in her letters to him. This bubbly romance was not reflective of a superficial love. It was the expression of a fierce love and admiration for him, that continued to grow in their married life. It is beautifully symbolized by her anger at discovering after his accidental death from a mountain climbing accident, that others had prepared his bruised, broken, and muddy body for burial. She wanted to render him this last loving service of devotion herself.
I needed Queen Elisabeth's inspiration, as I found myself in somewhat of an identity crisis after I received advice from a finance guru that I should re-enter the work force. He believes that it's ridiculous for a woman to stay home in "retirement" after her children are grown.
Although I bristled at his use of the word "ridiculous", I could understand his viewpoint. I know lots of women do go to work when the children are grown. In fact, I became painfully aware early in my mothering career that every little milepost in my children's lives was an opportunity, in many people's eyes, for me to go back to work. But now, apparently, I have no excuse to allow me to stay home and devote my full energy to my career as housewife.
So I spent several weeks considering leaving hearth and home and plunging into the "real world" where what I did every day could be duly categorized and measured in terms of dollars, income taxes, and contributions to the Social Insecurity system. I realized it would indeed be pleasant to be approved of as a faithful member of the Church of Commerce. Plus, there are many things that interest me, and it would be great to have the extra income. I would probably make much better use of my time than I do now. The discipline would definitely be good for me.
But seriously, the real question for me was not about the value of my returning to the workforce. It was whether I would be of less value if I chose to continue at home. Right away I could see a paradigm problem. I think of myself as a domestic goddess. Haha! Wouldn't that term throw the Department of Labor into a tailspin? I'm sure they just classify me as "jobless" in their grand economy of the gross domestic product, which of course has nothing to do with domesticity. After many hours of considering what I "produce" in my economy, I concluded that even though I am not changing diapers or homeschooling or ferrying children to piano lessons or baseball practice anymore, I still have a distinct role to play at home. Just like with all the other stages of my career as a wife and mother, there is a demand for my services. And I dearly love providing them!
I still research issues in order to offer guidance for the matters upon which my children consult me. Other times they just want my presence, like the time my then 21-year-old son asked me to accompany him to look at a car he was considering for purchase. This was on a weekday, during hours that I would have been at work if I had had a job. He handled the whole meeting with the seller while I stood in the background and marveled at how courteous, confident, and knowledgable he was. I went with him on the test drive, and he talked to me about his observations of the car's condition and performance. On the way home we took the scenic route through an attractive neighborhood, and we talked about investing in rental houses. Later he compared the car he test drove to his Mustang. He concluded he would rather keep the Mustang. I don't know how to quantify this two-hour experience with my son for someone who thinks of me as retired. I can only say that when we got home, I was conscious that we had shared something incredibly important for both of us, and it had nothing to do with cars.
Then there are my parents. I am free, on short notice, to take them to the doctor and be not only the chauffeur but the second set of ears to listen to what the doctor says and help my parents make decisions on follow-up care. Right now I am providing all their daily care, but even when they had a hired aide, I still took them to the doctor, stayed with them in the hospital, did their grocery shopping, managed their home maintenance, etc.
My husband, too, can count on me to care for his needs and make home a pleasant place, a refuge for him to return to from his battles in the world. He is the only boss I have, and the benefits package he offers includes loving me unconditionally. I love making him happy, and I look forward to being able to devote more time to this project at this new stage in our marriage.
And guess what. When I asked him if he would like me to return to work, he said promptly and firmly, "No."
So I'll keep on at home and maybe get a framed picture of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium to hang in my living room over the fireplace.