So What is Behind the Concept of a Renaissance Wife?

So why choose to be a Renaissance Wife? Well, that's really one part choice, one part nudge from the husband, and one part cluebat yielded forcefully by life circumstances.

From the beginning Chris insisted on doing his part to train me to be either a. competent or b. understand enough to get help in everything he does for the household. Whether this is a holdover from his service (training a military wife) or just plain practicality on his part, you'll have to ask him.

There's a few levels of knowledge necessary to survive life in every arena, and the trick is knowing where you are in each area. Let's use setting up a wireless network for example.

Base minimum: knows that their computer can be completely fucked up by doing things wrong, therefore finds someone trust worthy to set it up for them and watch out for their interests. Knows enough to not assume they have the knowledge necessary to do it right, but can do enough research to screen what kind of help they need.

Base competency: can set up a normal network, but stops shy of messing with the advanced settings. Capable of explaining to tech support what they did and did not do.

True competency: can troubleshoot and deal with everything that won't require sending the damn router back due to equipment malfunction.

Expert: gets out the soldering iron and fixes the damn hardware.

The trick is knowing which level you're at, what is out of your competency level, and what your options are for getting help if need be without being fleeced.

Chris spent quite a bit of time working on getting me to at least base minimum in every area that impacts our lives, and some level of competency in some areas. He's still working on it and I'm still working on it. The goal is for me to be able to run the household and run our affairs without his input if need be.

There's quite a few things I do that don't fall under the normal purview of "housewife", "wife", or "working mom".

So September before last my brother and his wife and kids and in-laws visited us on their way to Seattle to visit family. My brother and his wife keep to a more traditional gender roles arrangement.

One of those morning my sister-in-law found me in the garage splitting wood the hard way, with a wedge and an a maul. We didn't yet have a wood splitter (situation now fixed) plus I really, really needed to practice.

SIL: What are you doing?
Mel: Splitting wood for the fireplace.
SIL: Why isn't Chris doing it for you?
Mel: Because I need to learn how to do it.
SIL: Why? It's his job.
Mel: Because I still might need to do it whether it's his job or not. I'm not going to freeze just because he's not here to split wood every time I need it done.

The concept was lost on her.

Just a few months later, the need hit home. Chris was diagnosed with cancer; the concept of being able to do everything if need be stopped being theoretical and starting being applicable. In many ways, that's still where we stand.

Which is why a few weeks ago a few hours before being due in to work at the bank, I found myself kneeling on muddy ground with a sheet of chicken wire in one hand and electrical ties and galvanized wire in the other. Houdini the Doberman, freshly escaped, watched me from the other side of the fence while I patched the latest hole he'd managed to make in the chain link.

The patch is still holding. It's not pretty, but it works.

I went straight from patching the fence to making breakfast to the shower to a sweater, skirt, pantyhose, and makeup.

Pro tip: remember your nails are broken from fixing the fence BEFORE pulling on pantyhose. Chris helped me put on my spare set because I kept tearing the poor things.

Life and necessity don't really care what your gender is, or how much you know, or whether or not you know what you're doing. Reality doesn't care what gender patched the fence and what gender tended the sick child, and neither does the satisfaction in a job well done or the joy in learning something new.

So why be ignorant and willfully incompetent when  there's so much to be learned and done?


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