Rhymes With Life

Harrison Said it Best

Rhymes With Life

There was a movie I watched years ago with my boyfriend. Harrison Ford stars as a husband desperately searching the alleys and apartments of Paris with a punk ingénue for a sidekick/pawn as he tears apart the city looking for his missing wife. He’s intent, rumpled, equal parts angry and confused. He doesn’t speak French but he tries urgently to get the police to believe that his wife wouldn’t just disappear. They shrug, roll their eyes, raise their Gallic eyebrows at the pretty young thing and imply that wives do this sort of thing all the time. Especially in Paris.

{As I began to write the paragraph above I paused, fingers poised above the keyboard, tipped back my head and yelled up the stairs:

“What was that movie with Harrison Ford in Paris?”

Needing no further explanations for our now mutual vocabulary, my husband seamlessly answered: “Frantic”.}

When we saw the movie I was much closer to ingénue than I was to wife, but what struck me most about the movie was the way Harrison Ford spoke the words “my wife”. Whether he was imploring, insisting or snarling, the emphasis in that little phrase was not on the ownership implied by the word “my” but on the word “wife”. He filled the word with such value and integrity, such unshakable faith, that for the first time I heard “wife” not as the butt end of a joke, not as an apron clad cliché, but as a word that could mean an entire life to another person.

Now, yelling in an unself-conscious fashion up the stairs, I am indisputably a wife. We have indeed made a whole world together, my husband and I, and yet still I struggle with my relationship to that word and to the shadowy cultural assumptions cast when I identify myself as such.

The odd thing is, I find the word “husband” easy to say. This responsible father, committed husband, this man with whom I have chosen to share love, life, banking and dirty laundry is all comfortably contained in the word husband. We do not demean the word husband. Wives however, are easy to lampoon, to sacrifice on reality TV, commercialize with sarcastic fridge magnets.

When in doubt, I turn to the dictionary. There was no solace there.

Dictionary (Webster Encyclopedic) for wife: [A.Sax: a woman, a wife; root doubtful] a woman or female of any age who is untied to a man in wedlock. Compounds: ale-wife, fish-wife.

Dictionary (Webster’s Encyclopedic) for husband: [A.Sax the master of the house, from Icel.] the master of the house, a man joined to a woman by marriage.

Master of the house as a definition seems a tad outdated. My dictionary is dated MCMLII, so I tried the new 2007 Penguin Thesaurus, eds. Fergusson, Manser, Pickering and found:

Husband: married man, spouse, partner, mate, consort, groom, old man, other self, lord and master (lord and master?!)

Wife: spouse, mate companion, other half, better half, old woman, little woman, (wait, it gets better!) missus, ‘er indoors, bride, helpmate, squaw

Slammed the book shut. Fumed. Briefly considered designing a t-shirt with ‘ER INDOORS emblazoned across the front. Above fierce broomsticks crossed like pirate swords.

Clearly we have not yet defined the female side of the domestic equation with any dignity.

I have decided Harrison said it best: wife.

Rhymes with life.

A variation of this post first appeared at CanadaMomsBlog.

Do you struggle against the word "wife" and it's cultural weight, do you embrace it as your own, or re-define and live it in a new context? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


The Good Idea Paroxysms

Hide the Nail Scissors

The Good Idea Paroxysms

There are certain things which seem like a good idea at the time, but which are, in fact or in the clear light of day, not a good idea at all. For example:

Painting bedroom walls the colour of ruby slippers without first doing a sample test

A third pina colada

The do-absolutely-no-exercise-and-get-super-fit ab sculpting belt advertised on late night TV

Yogurt drinks or milk shakes of any sort for the children in the back seat no matter how long the road trip, how old the children, or how high pitched the whining.

Zucchini sticks

Giving yourself a midnight haircut with the nail scissors in the bathroom mirror

I speak from experience for each and every one of these (luckily, my wallet was downstairs and my abdominal muscles too flaccid to get me off the couch so though the ab sculptor was seriously considered, it was not purchased) and for the most part, I’ve learned to ride out the good-idea-paroxysms. The bathroom mirror haircut though, is a recurring issue.

Inevitably, there comes a night when I confront myself in the bathroom mirror, and the only logical next move is to reach for the scissors. These nights usually follow the kind of day that leaves my reflection looking dishevelled and put upon and decidedly unglamorous. This is not strictly a motherhood thing. This has occurred since high school. In that artificially lit emotional moment I am absolutely certain that when the layers of my hair in the front (or the back, sides, top) are a little shorter (shaggier, layered, feathered, blunt) tomorrow will be better. I will be better.

A petite plainly spoken hairdresser may have finally cured me. I recently curbed the impulse to reach for the scissors and went to bed instead. The next day I took myself off to a proper salon, still struggling a little against the certainty that a judicious bathroom hack job would be a really good idea, but sitting in the salon with tasteful zen-esque floral arrangements and pretty glossy magazines strewn about with pretty glossy women looking calm and under control, convinced me of the wisdom of my decision. The miasma of styling products in the air may also have contributed to my delusion, because when the stylist consulted with me about what I wanted to do that day she refused.

Refused!?! I did not understand.

I was still moving my hands around my head cheerfully describing a “casual, chic, choppy growing-it-out effect” when the stylist cut me off with a curt shake of her sleek bob. “If you want to grow it out you have to grow it out.” She looked at me and waited for her words to penetrate. Clearly, I was still too deep in my good idea.

She tried again, speaking more slowly this time: “If I cut your hair today, in six weeks you will be back trying to manage another awkward stage.”

My hands fell helplessly into my gowned lap. “So….not cut it?”

“Not at all.” Then she smiled, a little sternly I thought.

I went home and hid the nail scissors.