A Pomegranate SeedBy Sara Richmond Walls
A few days ago, my fifteen-year-old niece asked me, her 23 year-old-aunt, to peel a pomegranate for her. Thinking that this was an opportune time to teach her the importance of independence and learning to do things on her own, I said “No, you do it yourself.” Minutes later, I find my 59 year old Spanish stepmother stripping away the leather exterior of the ruby red fruit with a small, sharp paring knife that I am convinced she carries around for such occasions. It made me wonder: Was I wrong to leave my niece hanging? Was she asking not “peel this for me,” but rather “do something nice for me, nurture me, take care of me?” Had I let my niece down? I shook off the question, thinking that I have been overreacting since returning back into my no-longer-numbed-by-Zoloft skin.
But the thoughts lingered, and came fully to the surface as I began the task that was delegated to me for Thanksgiving dinner, 2005: Sweet potatoes. Nothing fancy, my sister said, just quarter them, throw a pad of butter on them, sprinkle them with brown sugar and then bake them. Seemed easy enough. But as I ran my hands over the dark imperfections, pealing away the sprouts beginning to form, I realized that I am nothing like my 59 year old Spanish stepmother. In fact I’m nothing like my own mother, or my mother’s mother. I am a different breed of woman. I am a woman in the middle of a crisis.
Men, bless their hearts, some of them do try. Mine, for example, does try. But he has been raised as most men have been raised that the women are responsible for the cooking, the cleaning and the raising of the babies. And it is not that he refuses to clean; it’s that he has never been taught how to clean. Granted, I was never really taught to cook and we would never have a homemade meal if it wasn’t for him. Regardless, if I want a clean house, I must do it myself. Today’s woman is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Whether or not intentional, society pulls women two distinctly different directions.
First, there is the rock. We are told to do what we choose with our lives. To make something of ourselves. To be all that we can be. And, to work. Why? In many homes in middle America, it takes two to make a household work financially. Without two incomes, couples can hardly pay the mortgage much less eat out four out of seven nights a week, drive two separate vehicles, have cable and high speed internet, and support all of the other various and sundry hobbies that either the Mr. or the Ms. Enjoy. Thus, women are now desired by society to work. Both because this is somehow broadening the women’s movement and helping us achieve our dreams, and because we just simply have to live the type of lifestyles we want.
Then there is the hard place. This is the side hit me as I watched my stepmother peeling the pomegranate for my niece, and as I thought about my sweet potatoes nourishing the bellies of my loved ones on Thanksgiving Day. This is the side that tortures me when I see a baby smile, feel movement in an expecting mother’s stomach, or view the Willow Mother and Baby Angel on the top shelf of the Cracker Barrel. This is the primitive, primeval, instinctual physical and emotional need to nurture. To love and take care of those around you.
The pressure for women to obtain that place of motherhood to someone or something is twofold. The physical body itself and the hormones it produces urge women to become mothers. And, while society may not demand that women become mothers, there seems to be something quirky and off about those who don’t. There is always that lingering question that follows a woman who hasn’t had a child like a cloud of overpowering perfume: I wonder why she never had kids? Or, in the case of a couple “I wonder why they never had children.”
So where do women belong? In the home with the family, or on the job helping her husband bring in the bacon? As the growing answer seems to be that women are expected to be in these two places at once, how are women supposed to do it all? With these words, I ask questions that I feel have no discernable answers. They are as complex as the pomegranate seeds my niece loves: tough on the outside, bittersweet and crunchy inside, and always sticking places where they shouldn’t, like your teeth.