When I was a teenager, I longed to be a boy. I longed for their carefree ways. I longed for their strength. Above all, I longed for the freedom and numerous privileges boys seemed entitled to. It sure looked easier to go through life as a boy. Of course, growing up in a Muslim family gave me proof of that daily.
At my grandmother’s house, men ate first, kids after and women last. Women cleaned. Women cooked. Women took care of the kids. Girls were expected to help out while boys played. I resented that.
Men got together and played cards on Saturday night. Men went out and played soccer on Sundays. Men could have hobbies and drive anywhere they wanted. None of my aunts had a driver’s license. None of them had a passion in life, unless you count gossiping and watching soap operas. Even the act of prayer was a social event for men who gathered at the Mosque while women prayed alone at home.
By chance I lived in a western country where this order of life was not my only model. And my own father was a very open minded progressive Muslim who had married a Catholic woman. He cooked, cleaned and didn’t mind going to the store to buy sanitary pads for his daughter. Actually I felt so close to my dad that he’s the one I confided in when I had my first period.
Biology made it clear that I wasn’t a boy but in every other aspect I got as close as I could.
I hung out with my male cousins more than with my female ones. We played soccer, basketball and badminton. We played fuss-ball after school. We shot pool. We hung out at the motorcycle race track.
I never waited to be asked out but took matters in my own hands.
I was smarter than any boy I knew. I was strong. I was independent and resolved to stay so.
On my wedding day, I vowed to love, cherish and honor my husband but clearly I wasn’t going to serve him. No sir. Not me. You can imagine that this hostile attitude did not foster an environment of peace and love. I wasn’t very loving and he wasn’t very peaceful during the early years of our marriage.
It took me a while to understand that serving and servitude were not the same.
Serving is an act of love. Servitude is steeped in fear.
Serving brings joy to the recipient and to the giver. Servitude breeds sadness and contempt. Serving is mutual. Servitude is one way.
Serving builds a strong foundation. Servitude weakens.
Servitude is bad!
Serving is good.
Once, we were at a party and I told my husband that someone had brought a yummy pumpkin pie. I asked him if he wanted some and when he replied yes, I pointed to the counter so he could get it himself. I wasn’t trying to be mean. I wasn’t even joking. That was just me. That was my stance: If you want something, go get it yourself Mister. I’m not your slave.
I loved my husband very much but our relationship wasn’t thriving and I was looking for solutions. I knew something had to change. I didn’t realize that something, was actually someone: ME.
Once I changed, my marriage improved. When I cared for my husband properly, yes, HE was happier but so was I.
Dr Laura showed me how powerful I could be as a gentle woman. I took all her advice to heart.
I stopped the nagging.
I never complained about him in public.
I woke up each morning and looked for ways to make his life better.
I put up the white flag on my internal battle of the sexes. I relaxed into my self.
I enjoyed being a woman.
Our marriage flourished.
One day my husband asked me the million dollar question; If neither money nor time were a consideration, if I could do anything with my life, what would I like to do? My answer shocked me: I would love nothing more than to be a full time homemaker, I replied.
I love cooking good meals. I feel accomplished when I experiment in the kitchen and pack homemade pastries in the freezer. I take pride in a clean welcoming home (although I’ll confess I prefer that someone else does the cleaning part). Nothing else brings me quite as much pleasure as when my husband (and now my daughter) raves about a meal I prepared. I can’t think of a better use of my time than loving on my family. And yes that includes a whole lot of serving.
Maybe my aunts were happier than I could see back then. Maybe, their husbands “would have swum in shark infested waters to bring them back a lemonade”- Dr Laura (or more likely a chai tea).
My husband does.
Turns out serving him didn’t take anything away from me. On the contrary, it was my greatest gift to myself.
The girl I was wished to be a boy. The woman I became wouldn’t trade womanhood for anything in the world. Only a woman can become a wife. Only a woman can be called mother.
And I couldn’t be prouder of being a mother, a wife… of being a Woman!
Next week’s essay is titled “The people of my village”. Subscribe using the widget below and it will be waiting in your inbox once it’s published.