Friday, 5 August 2011

The Usefulness of Childless but Maternal Ladies

Hilary is napping again. Hilary takes enormous quantities of drugs, and they make her sleepy. Our plan that at 4:30 PM she should go to the fruit and veg store and I should push her there in her wheelchair is no more.

You're going to think I am being paid by Natalie Angier to push her book, Woman: An Intimate Geography, but I'm really not. I was just so struck by her explanation of why women live so long after menopause that I keep repeating it. Essentially, women are necessary for the survival of the human race beyond actual conception and child-bearing. Once we survive (or are never brought to) child-bed, Nature needs us to care for the babies whose mothers don't survive child-bed or who are too busy with new or other babies. In short, the human race needs aunties and grannies almost as much as it needs mummies.

I was thinking about this again today because I am having a rather nice time with Hilary, nicer than Hilary is having herself, of course, since she is often in pain and somewhat drug-addled. It is very nice to feel useful just by sitting around drinking cups of tea and muttering Italian vocabulary words, or by pushing Hilary in her wheelchair to the Mediterranean and splashing around myself. And I would not be here, and Hilary would have had to work harder to find another under-employed pal, if I had children to look after at home.

In old-fashioned books, the one cast-iron excuse for leaving your husband to cook and clean for himself is going to take care of one's sister who is having a baby. In old-fashioned books men are even more useless about babies than they are about cooking and cleaning. Come to think of it, my married-with-children friends' mums are always traveling vast distances to stay over in the last weeks of pregnancies, to scrub the floors and make the dinners, etc. They don't bring the expectant granddads for some reason. Hmm...

Anyway, I am glad that society has loosened up enough to allow husbands to cook for themselves without being made fun of by other men and to allow wives to care for sick female friends far from home. And although of course I am sorry that Hilary is so sick, I am glad I have hit on a definitely plus to being both maternally-minded and childless: one can be useful to sick friends without worrying about betraying family responsibilities.

And, of course, Single childless women--as long as they can support themselves financially from their sick friend's home--can be useful in the same way.

This reminds me: on a brief visit to the beach very early this morning, I met two Mexican nuns taking a day off. They live in Rome, and for work they cook and clean for the Misericordia. I'm not sure what the Misericordia is in their context, but I guess that it is probably a hospital. And I was charmed to meet nuns who were not professors or ministry staff or famous organizers or celebrities but just plain old cookers and cleaners.

This is where Hilary would yell, "Nuns aren't Single!" True, but you see what I'm getting at. When you don't have serious familial obligations, you are more free to help others, which can sometimes be more enjoyable and certainly gets you more praise!

Of course a man or woman should put care of his or her children at the very top of the responsibility list, but if you choose not to marry or you do marry and God doesn't send you children right away, you can have all the enjoyment to be found in helping people who don't expect it as much, including in romantic Italy, as have the nice Mexican nuns and me.


Beb said...

Liz Gilbert talks about the concept of the "Auntie Brigade" in her book "Committed," which I think is a pretty interesting meditation on marriage, although certainly not in line with Catholic teachings. She discusses the usefulness of aunties (childless women) in an interview here:

Seraphic said...

Oh, heavens! "Eat, Pray, Love" lady! Now the sparks will fly!

Sheila said...

In some cultures, it was traditional for the youngest daughter never to marry, but to stay home and care for her aged parents, and to travel around among her siblings helping them out in times of need.

That seems just so generous to me -- what a wonderful life of service.

Lena said...

The one silver lining in my unemployment has been that I was able to visit my dad when he was in the hospital and was able to visit my friend when she was dying.

I do know of a widowed man who flew across the country to help his daughter and son-in-law with their new baby.

I imagine you are a great help to Hilary. The presence of a friend is a great comfort.

Katie said...

There are lots of advantages to being single (and an aunty). My mother died fairly recently and as I am the only sibling living in the same city as my dad I can keep an eye on him in a way I may not have been able to do if I were married with a family. I enjoy the company of my nephews and then send them home to create merry havoc for their parents. I can devote more time and thought to the children in my class.

A thought on Sheila's comment - my great aunty came from a family that expected her (the youngest daughter) to live at home with her elderly parents and aunt to take care of them. This was a generous thing of her to do but I'm not sure she had much choice in the matter. Perhaps she wanted to get married and continue the career she left(which was in another town). Whatever her feelings were - it was a hard life for her in many ways.
Some traditions are good but only if there is free will involved.

Domestic Diva said...

Random question: what does a single gal do to thank a single guy (or guys) who have done her a favor - a Mr. Fix-It type thing, say? Normally I would bake them some brownies, but now that Seraphic says no cooking for single men, I'm curious...

Seraphic Spouse said...

You say "Thank you." Men like to feel useful. They sometimes get the impression that we don't think they're good for another but money. Fixing stuff for a woman who can admit that she can't do everything for herself and therefore she admits men can improve life on earth makes men feel good. He enjoyed feeling useful. So all you have to do is say "Thank you. I really appreciated that!"


Anonymous said...

No baking, indeed, but I've found that serving the fellow a lunch, or even just beer, once the work is finished, is a gesture of gratitude that is seldom (never, in my own experience) misunderstood as anything more than gratitude.

It *is* nice to be able to help out friends and family members.