The Invisible Woman

Sometimes I feel like a lozenge.

As if marriage and motherhood swallowed me up and sucked me to something so slight I am almost invisible.

We had a rare and impromptu dinner party last night. I worked feverishly all day trying to eke from the vegetable garden and the freezer the makings of supper time fare fit for eight. Colourful Swiss chard with stems of saffron and cochineal, hard little peas soaked in peppermint tea to encourage them to plump tenderness, rhubarb, all pink and fleshy and real custard made from quails’ eggs for that was all I had; I patiently broke 30 tiny eggs, their marbled shells softly yielding, into a basin to beat and stirred my custard in the double boiler my mother used to make porridge in when I was a child.

And I set the table and built a fire and put a slick of lippie on and waited for my guests knowing that the Achievement of The Day had come in a meal hobbled from what I could find.

My guests ate well and much wine was downed but it was hard not to notice that almost all the conversation was borne of their work day, elements of which they had all shared on some level. I, who’d pottered in a quiet studio and stooped over tidy, greenfeathered rows in a sun drenched vegetable garden, was mostly mute.

How many children do you have? Asked one guest, a lawyer. I am sure I’ve told her before. Three I say and motion toward a photograph. But her interest is already waning.

When will they next be home? Asks another. December I say. I’d like to say more but I know what I will sound like: I will sound like the woman whose children’s presence is her lifeblood. Her oxygen. They are my life. But I am aware, and delighted, that they have their own.

What’s the puppy called, inquires a third.

Gippy I say. But he doesn’t ask why. And I don’t have the confidence to elaborate. (Which is a shame: for thereby hangs a tale).

Nobody asked me what I did. What I do. I would have loved to have told somebody about the photo journalism collaboration I am working on, the writing competition I entered, the travel commission I’m working on.  I have stories. But they got stuck in my throat, like lumps.

Instead of loosening them, my stories, I ferried dirty plates from the table and delivered my Rhubarb Grunt (nobody asked what it was and there was a story attendant to that too; another lost opportunity to exhibit Myself), the topping was perfectlypalegold, the fruit bubbling in its vinrose juices. Look s a bit overdone, remarked husband. Nobody commented on my custard. Which was finished by the time the jug got round to me.

I bear no rancour toward my interesting (even if disinterested) guests; I only feel cross at myself. I lay awake most of the night and pondered, is this because I’m a married to a man whom I have followed dutifully, gone where he has wanted to go, trodden his path, been a little hidden in his shadow? Is it because I was a stay at home mother? Is it because I’m of a certain age; according to a survey, women become invisible by their late forties. I’d have loved to have been invisible at Four. Or Eight. But not at 48. Is that why I’ve been sloughed to something that feels insignificant?

I lie and I plot. What if I embarked on an adventure all of my own? Would I have the courage to became Pauline Collins’ Shirley Valentine (without the oily mustachioed Greek waiter)? Or Julie Walters’ Susan in Educating Rita?

I shall call myself Calypso, she who conceals, I tell myself. And I shall travel to India and I shall return wearing a sari and sporting a bindi, with psychedelic souvenirs and dysentery. And Stories.

Big loud clamouring colourful stories all of my own.

21 Responses to “The Invisible Woman”

  1. inthewronggear Says:

    Forget concealment, I think you’re a born Scheherezade! Keep telling your stories, and singing your songs, because in fact we clamour to read and hear them xx

  2. janelle Says:

    hmmm know the feeling! for me it’s the ” I’m a teacher.” They either pin you against the wall, shoving their belief down your throat or move places with someone so they don’t have to sit next to you. Yes. We’re getting to be invisible. Fuck ’em. The ones that see you are the ones worth bothering about. And you’re MARVELOUS!

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      oh how i’d love to witness somebody trying to shove their belief down your throat janellabella! i do not imagine for one moment you’d quietly swallow it. and their loss if the move seats; they’ve just missed out on the most entertaining guests of the evening x

  3. Marie Says:

    Oh, I wish I’d been there to hear your tales! I do think it can be hard for us who are in the work-outside-home world to understand those not – it can feel rude to ask “What did you do today?” But several of my best friends are stay at home moms and I know how hard they work, and i have a glimmer into the fascinating details of your life.

    As to the invisible at 46, I sternly declare that as rubbish. I’ve just turned 46 and I am fabulous. My opinions are taken more seriously than in my 20’s and 30’s, I bear more gravity, the grey in my hair adds a depth to its color. I’ve finally figured out why my weight has been such a problem (it’s the carbs) and am dealing with that, and men like me quite a lot ThankYouVeryMuch, even those a decade and a half younger. But they know not to approach me with nonsense that I will not abide – instead I have to make a move or indicate interest and then it’s full steam ahead. I’m in control of my destiny, more firmly with each passing year, and I continue to be very visible. I’ve made some rather flighty choices all my life but now I’m ready to turn the tide and it’s not too late. 46 is a perfect age.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you Marie. you’re right. “I do think it can be hard for us who are in the work-outside-home world to understand those not – it can feel rude to ask “What did you do today?””. i think it can be hard to ask questions of people whose lives you cannot imagine. I am good at that on two levels: A journalist I am inherently nosy! and as one who is very shy my mum always advocated, ‘ask questions, ask questions’ so i do.

      as to the invisibility. i am going to learn to elevate my visibility! i have told my daughters that when i am 64 or 74 or 84 i do not want them to regards me with ‘what a sweet old lady’. i want them to shudder and say ‘oh god no, what’s she done now’!

  4. sustainablemum Says:

    When I am 48 I hope I shan’t be invisible as I will still have children at home I came to motherhood late. I do hope that I am not invisible at 58 when they may have both left. Us woman that stay at home have a rough deal, I don’t think those that work really understand what we do all day especially as there are woman who earn outside the home and run a home. Your dinner guests sound like the dull and rude ones being invited to dinner in someone’s home and not paying the slightest bit of attention to the host or the wonderful food she has served.

  5. carol Says:

    your food sounds yummy – and your guests sound rather full of themselves (and your food)… so don’t worry about their opinions or lack of interest.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      i think that’s really valid sustainable; there are mums who work outside the home and who do both jobs really well. that’s why it can be difficult to justify the choice not to work outside the home. and that i think is why full time stay at homers are sometimes so far out of the reach of others imagination. The guests were great. my problem is i feel as if i’ve been left behind a little. as if i need to play catch up. develop the confidence to tell my stories loudly so that anybody who has any doubts about how colourful full time wivesandmothers are is obliged to change their opinions.

      • reluctantmemsahib Says:

        Carol my food WAS delicious. I was particularly impressed at the quail egg custard and thought the rehydrating of peas in peppermint (to give us minted peas) was an especially brilliant display of ‘making do’. xxx

  6. JF Says:

    Your guests sound like a bunch of indifferent and conceited bores.
    I know just too well how you must have felt. I am sure you could do their job, question is, would they have what it takes to live in your shoes? Most likely not.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Thank you JF. but the guests were great and fun to listen to.

      The problem I think is twofold; partly they cannot imagine what my life is like, what I DO all day, and so their questions are hampered. They shared a common experience with one another but not with me. Partly, and probably a larger part of it all, is that as a stayathome whose trailed in her husband’s wake for so long, I worry that people may dismiss me as being a bit thick, lacking ambition, drive! But the biggest part I think is that the dearth of practice lately (given dislocated geography and isolation), and my anxiety about all of the above, steal a social confidence I once had. That’s why I’m so cross with myself.

  7. chiaradiack Says:

    Hmm I recognise that situation, been there :-(. For the record I think that you are highly visible, this blog, those lampshades and your wonderful writing are testament to that – your guests were rather jaded and blinkered and perhaps need to improve their social skills. Thank you for the peppermint peas tip, love that! The meal sounded utterly delicious!

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      good hey? the peppermint tea! mine have to be soaked a bit; they are hard little green bullets. And you are so talented C with your glorious fabrics and colours; it helps, oddly, to know that you have an empathy with me x

  8. iotamanhattan Says:

    Well, when we do finally get to meet (whatever happened to that promised rendez-vous at Patisserie Valerie?), I will defo want to know all about the double boiler (how impressive is that?), the quail’s egg custard, and the rhubarb, so save it up.

    I’m cross with Ant, for saying it looked overdone – whether true or not.

    Funny that you have exactly the same thought in this post that I was pondering this very morning. I, too, was brought up that conversation was about asking questions. Let people feel you’re interested in them. Be interested in them. Put them at their ease by letting them talk about themselves. But I wonder if the conversational landscape has changed. I noticed yesterday that when I met two new people, both of them just started telling things, tell, tell, tell. Is this a generation thing? Certainly younger people do seem to want to blow their own trumpets more than we do – in a good way, I think. We were taught more to expect people to question it out of us, wheedle it out of us. I feel a blog post coming on…

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      I agree Iota, the ‘tell’ thing. I don’t think it’s generational. I think its the way your were raised. I have always urged my kids, whether when they feel anxious in company or notice somebody who does: ask questions – it helps to deflect the focus on you if you’re not comfortable or helps to draw somebody on the periphery in. Once, after a party, one of my teens sadly complained they’d felt shy and left out, I said, ‘ did you remember to ask questions?’. I DID Mum. I did. over and over until i had no more questions left to ask and they never asked me once. Not Once.

  9. Anna-Marie Says:

    Dear ReluctantM – I could have been one of those guests because too often my conversation is about work. But let me tell you something … we are BORED talking about our work. We WANT to talk about something else but work has consumed our lives. And let me tell you another thing – and I have seen this again and again – we all LOVE a good story. I lurk on your blog and come back again and again because your stories are wonder, wonder, wonderful. Please – find your real voice and tell me your story when I am enjoying your stupendous food! Find your voice for you and your girls. I can see you presiding over your table saying “I have a story for you …” – and we are spellbound ….

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Thank you Anna-Marie. I suppose, because I’m stuck at home all day, I imagine my day must pale in interest and significance to those of people in proper jobs. And that steals a confidence. And a voice. For me penning them is always easier than delivering vocally; I can write with consideration and pluck precisely the right word. Thank you for reading x

  10. Arundhati Kanbur Says:

    You are welcome to come to India. I will teach you how to wear a sari !!

  11. In The Pipeline - Chino House Says:

    […] Related: being a mom + wife can sometimes feel like being invisible. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: