• Cover: November 26, 2014
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What Makes a Good Wife

When her husband got sick, this writer could no longer be the reluctant caregiver

Page: 4 of 6
  • It might surprise some who know me as a friend—or those people who know me as the stranger who helped them reassemble the contents of their purses when they've scattered throughout the train—to learn that I am a reluctant, sulky caretaker. That I do not naturally possess, toward my family, an atomic-strength maternal instinct. (As my daughter says when I fail to respond to her skinned knee with the appropriate gravitas, "Way to care, Mom.") Because when I'm out in the world, I practically stalk people in order to help them. Even if I'm wearing a party dress and heels, I'll help a woman lug her sooty-wheeled triplet stroller up five flights of stairs. When my daughter was only a month old, I picked up an old man pushing his dead motorbike along the roadside and shoved his bike into the back of my car even though its handlebars poked within millimeters of my daughter's screaming face.

    In other words, I am far more willing to unresentfully caretake for the people outside my home than I am for the people in it. My first book editor was similarly wired. When her writers came to New York, she'd take their boots to be resoled, help them pick out clothing, and treat them to lunch and a daring new haircut. When she died, her memorial service was attended by hundreds of people she'd helped over the years, person after person trekking to the podium to sing her custodial praises. And yet, as we filed out of the auditorium at the conclusion of her service, I heard a man whisper to his friend, "I feel sorry for her children."

    I wrote him off as a crackpot. But a second incident made me wonder if this overheard snippet of sotto voce bitchiness spoke to a universally shared disdain.

What Makes a Good Wife
When her husband got sick, this writer could no longer be the reluctant caregiver
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