Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Clean Laundry

I miss the smell of clean laundry, or rather, the smell of laundry detergent. My mother-in-law prefers unscented cleaning products, including laundry soap. I used to mark every Sunday with happily-scented clean laundry and now that I don't smell that scent, I miss how comfy and calm it made me feel.

It's surprising the things I miss now that my husband, Donald, and I are long-term guests in his parents' home. I haven't been grocery shopping more than a few times since we moved in. I don't pay utility bills or rent. I don't cook meals. I don't have a large living space to clean. You'd think most of these things would not be missed, that I'd be happy without them. The thing is though, the loss of responsibility makes me feel like less of an adult, like I'm living in a fantasy and I'm losing touch with reality. I worry that I will have a hard time adjusting back to real life, to taking those responsibilities back.

The responsibilities of adulthood are actually somewhat precious. They represent independence, self-reliance, and freedom. When we don't do these things for ourselves, it means that we are dependent, closer to children than adults. It's not that I am ungrateful - I do appreciate how lucky we are. It just surprises me that I actually miss these things, that I still long to be an adult, even though it's un-fun and difficult sometimes. I know Donald would be happier being less dependent too.

It does something to one's self-esteem, this sense of dependence on others. I find myself seeking out ways in which I can be independent. We do have our own private space at the house, which I take great pride in being responsible for keeping clean. We take care of our cats. But this is not enough for me. I need control over more than that. I started spending a lot of time looking for things I can control, like my calorie intake, for example (more on this another time). I have had sudden urges to bake and cook, and to do home improvement projects, to reclaim some of the things I used to do. I need to find ways of expressing who I am as an individual.

I have also found that my sense of myself as Donald's wife depends on these things, on these responsibilities. My father, in his infinite wisdom, said to me when we first moved in with Donald's parents, "Make sure that you are a married couple first, and children of his parents second." My knee-jerk reaction was "Yeah, Dad, of course," never thinking that our status as a married couple would come into question. But, I made a point of sharing what my father had said with Donald, and it has given us an awareness that we otherwise would not have had until after we had fallen into the ditch of confused identity. We have been able to maintain our couple status as primary, although I know it is easier for me than it is for Donald, since these are his parents, after all, and not mine.

We are very lucky that Donald's parents are actually quite respectful of us and so giving. Even though we are in a very good situation, under the circumstances, we know that we are not happy, we are not content. We need control over our future, over our responsibilities, over our laundry. We need to do whatever it takes to get our own lives back.

So the question is, how do we do that? How do you claim your independence when you find yourself in a dependent situation? What do your responsibilities mean to you? What does adulthood mean?

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