You are six years old and you dream of getting married. Of course you do. You’re six. Getting married, to you, means a party and pretty clothes and becoming that most wonderful of things: a Grown Up.
Being an organised sort of person, you have already started to make your plans; being a fairly new writer, you like to set them out neatly in your notebooks and diaries and myriad scraps of paper that you shed like petals as you go. Being your mother, I sigh and smile over them, and I keep just a few as a way of remembering the you that changes day by day.
I won’t show you this letter yet, but one day, maybe when you are going to get married for real, I will. I’ll show you what you thought being married meant. Actually, my darling, I think you’ve got a good understanding of the give and take of a relationship already.
You also have wonderful negotiation skills. An Xbox One for a mansion sounds a pretty good deal to me, and I’m impressed with your admirable forethought in choosing a life mate with an apparently endless supply of cash and baked goods. I’ll trust that by the time you’ve grown up you’ve realised that owning a till doesn’t mean it’s necessarily full of money.
I don’t care if you marry for money or cake. I don’t care if you marry a man or a woman. I don’t care if you never marry at all, though I do hope that one day you’ll fall in love for keeps.
But if you do make that decision; if your six year old dreams come true in one way or another, I hope that you choose well and wisely. I hope that your Theo (for the sake of argument) doesn’t come from a home where domestic chores are “women’s work” – or that, if he does, he has realised for himself the rubbish that is.
Maybe things will have changed by the time you marry, but I see so many women who accept with fond exasperation – even pride- that their husbands “can’t” cook, or clean, or operate the washing machine. Who’ll fill the fridge and the freezer before having the audacity to go off and leave their family for more than an hour at a time; who’ll return knowing that the laundry basket will be overflowing and that the dishwasher will appear to have sealed itself shut so that dirty crocks crowd the work surface and float in scummy water in the sink. Confident, practical, sensible women – married to perfectly nice men – who take as inevitable that the job of picking up pants and pairing socks belongs to them and them alone.
My love, the possession of a vagina is a mysterious and wonderful thing, but it does not confer a unique ability to operate a hob. Nor does oestrogen work like so much fairy dust on vacuum cleaners and bottles of washing up liquid, transforming them magically into useable tools simply by its presence. Never let anyone persuade you otherwise.
You can choose not to dust, you can choose not to cook a proper meal for a week, you can choose to ignore the fact that the bath needs a clean. Choosing any or all of those things won’t make you any less of a woman, just as choosing them won’t make a bloke any more of a man. You’ll be lazy at times, and I hope your husband will know how to be lazy on occasion too, but never mistake habitual laziness for incapacity or ineptitude. You can both be a pair of slobs, or you can deepen your bond by scrubbing the skirting boards as one. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re happy (and you don’t kill yourself with food poisoning). The point is, though, that if you live together, it’s not up to one of you to skivvy for the other. You can share out the chores as makes most sense, but it’s not for you, by virtue of your womanhood, to ensure that all the boring necessaries of housework get done.
The reverse is true, too, of course. It goes without saying that your brothers will learn that you and I (and whichever women share their lives in future) aren’t here to smooth their domestic paths. More, though, I’ll teach you to fill the car, change a lightbulb, wire a plug. I’ll let you hear me ring the garage and hammer out with them what needs to be done with my car. I’ll make sure you know that my inability to make things as well as your daddy is down to my disastrous lack of technical flair, not the fact that I wear a bra.
I can’t really tell you how to make a marriage work, of course. Who can? You love to look at my wedding dress, stroke the soft satin and wrap the sweep of the skirt around your shoulders. I’ll keep it, my love, in case one day you want to fashion your own from it. But the stuff of marriage? All I can do is to show you day by day, and hope that you work out for yourself how to make it fit.