My parents owned a small business and worked incredibly long hours. This was in the 50s when working women were still something of an oddity and most of the women on our block were stay-at-home moms. In our unconventional household, my older sister, Jackie, and I were expected to assume the responsibility for most of the tasks at home.
On weekdays, we shared responsibility for cooking, setting the table and washing dishes. Weekends were spent cleaning and doing household chores. My father was decades ahead of his time with his egalitarian thinking. There was no "women's work" or "men's work" at our house—he cooked and cleaned and did laundry. The rule, which we heard a thousand times, was simple: nobody's work is done until everybody's work is done. Consequently, Jackie and I became masters of the art of looking exceptionally busy while actually doing very little. We could read the Sunday comics upside down while waving a dust rag around or pushing the same pile of dirt to and fro with our broom. What was the point of rushing to finish if that just earned you another job? If we were lounging, we could hit our feet at lightning speed when we heard Dad coming down the hall for inspection. On those rare occasions when he caught us goofing off, he'd growl, "What do you think you are? A guest in this house? Get busy!"
Jackie left home for college when I was 9 and I was largely expected to take care of myself. Without her to drive me, I began shopping for my own clothes. I would ride the city bus to town where my mother had strategically placed sales clerks who would guide my selections. By 10, I was cooking meals and I had my first checking account when I was 11. You can imagine the looks on the faces of the clerks when I took out my checkbook to pay for purchases. No one ever told me to do homework—or helped with it, for that matter. They assumed the consequences of facing a teacher without homework done was sufficient motivation.
My parents expected a lot from us. There were times when I wished I could be like the other kids on the block and resented having so much responsibility. Now, as I look back, I know their expectations were acts of love. They both came of age at the beginning of the Great Depression and wanted to make sure we learned to be independent and self-reliant. It was their legacy and one for which I will always be grateful.
Again, so purely honest Janet. I love your description of escaping the wrath of another job by staying busy. All of us have done that more than a few times. What a unique upbringing. Thanks
A story that is rare. Although I understand why,(a story I may write) and long ago forgave my parents for it, they put very few expectations on me. I can't help wonder where my life would have taken me had they given me more "rules" and cared more for my school grades. Thanks for giving me a view of another sort of extreme.