For life in '90s, abandon rules set in the '50s


March 20, 1994|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

I once had a teacher named Miss Christie, a red-haired, stocky, bosomy bulldog of a woman who presumably found her training as an Army sergeant during World War II helpful to keep 24 rambunctious eighth-graders more or less in line.

She often talked about the future, and one of the things that concerned her was how we were going to use our leisure time once technology allowed us to eliminate everyday tasks with the push of a button.

We have the technology; we have the buttons. So where has all that leisure time gone? The answer: We've filled it.

Miss Christie couldn't have predicted a relentless inflation rate and the steadily rising price of just about everything, requiring women as well as men to earn a paycheck.

She couldn't foresee this most recent recession with its layoffs, business failures, corporate down-sizing and fat-cutting, resulting in ever longer working days for those of us fortunate enough to still have a job.

And she couldn't have known that the little girls in her class in 1957 would enter the future dragging the past behind them.

We were raised by mothers who'd bought the idea that it was their patriotic duty to stay at home when the war ended and the men who'd fought it needed jobs. They also were persuaded by an endless parade of television sitcoms and commercials, magazine articles and "how to" books, that their time at home would best be filled by maintaining heretofore unheard-of housekeeping standards.

It was no longer enough that a house be reasonably dirt- and cockroach-free; suddenly our mothers (and later, we) were expected to keep them looking like motel rooms before people check in: every surface dusted, carpets freshly vacuumed, bathrooms so clean as to appear sterile.

The phrase, "You could eat off her floor," was a compliment to those of us who followed our mothers' footsteps into the early '60s, not (as it should have been) a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive behavior.

We scorned what technology was available, furthermore, in part because we had to fill long days in suburban houses while our husbands commuted back and forth to work, and in part because then, as now, we weren't entirely sure we were entitled to any leisure time.

Today a great deal of the small amount of leisure time left to us is spent adhering to these ridiculous standards, and the rest is spent working at relaxing -- a contradiction in terms if ever there was one. No sitting around and daydreaming or wallowing in a novel with no redeeming social value for women of the '90s -- no sir.

What little time we can find for ourselves after we've scheduled quality time with our children, romantic time with our husbands, caretaking time with elderly relatives and volunteer time for our communities is spent working furiously to keep our bodies looking as if they have 20-odd years on them instead of a comfortable 45.

It's past time for us to give up the ridiculous housekeeping standards of the '50s and the unrealistic work/marital/parenting/body-beautiful standards of the '90s and replace them with reasonable standards and good old-fashioned common sense.

Because unless we begin now to take better care of ourselves, we won't be able to take care of anyone else -- and our daughters will realize, one day, as they follow in the footsteps of their supermoms, what a truly terrible example we set.

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