Friday, January 18, 2008

Domestic Life

Cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. The staples of domestic life. Whether you're single or attached, childless or parent to one or many, these things never go away, do they? Someone has to be in charge of keeping the home fires burning (once a very literal task requiring a body-usually female-to go from room to room and rekindle the flames in the fireplace or woodstove).

I've been "keeping house" for almost 32 years now - keeping the same house, actually, so we've both grown a bit frayed around the edges together. I'm not the world's greatest housekeeper - certainly nothing like my mother in law, who kept this house before me. She worked full time outside the home, yet devoted every spare remaining minute to cleaning. Washing windows, buffing the basment floor every Saturday, removing the light fixtures weekly. She was the type of woman who would make up my father in law's side of the bed if he got up in the night to go to the bathroom (and I'm almost not joking about that).

My mother was quite the homemaker too -it was her full time job from day one, and she took it seriously. When I was a toddler, my grandparents lived with us, and most of my memories are of my grandfather and I playing together while my mother and grandmother cooked, cleaned, and decorated.

Well, that sure isn't me. When I was younger, and the whole housekeeping thing was new, I was a lot fussier. I wasn't working outside my home at the time, so I had plenty of time and energy to invest in domestic life. But raising a child quite effectively cured my penchant for neatness, and I decided early on that it was better to play with my son than worry about whether the sink sparkled.

Nowdays, domestic life just plain makes me tired. It's so endlessly dreary - the same floors to sweep, the same furniture to dust, the same bric a brac to shuffle around from season to season.
And the grocery shopping-my god, don't even get me started on how much I hate the grocery shopping.

I have completely lost my heart for all of it.

One day not long ago, I was leaving my mother's house after one of our marathon trips to the market. It was a typical cold, wet, Michigan winter day. My sinuses were clogged, there were huge dark circles under my eyes, and I'm sure I resembled death warmed over.

My mother looked at me and I could see her eyes fill with tears.

"You know, I didn't want this for you," she said softly.

And it struck me that of course she had other plans for me, a bright child who came of age in an era when women were not only encouraged but expected to have more than a domestic life.
Perhaps she envisoned me a doctor or lawyer, with a large home and servants to do all the work for me. Or maybe she supposed I would live a single life, and be responsible for no one but myself.

For the first time, I wondered what her dreams for me might have been, for if she had them, she never shared them with me when I needed to hear them. And while she may have hoped my life would be different from hers, she wasn't able to help me see the potential, or allow me the freedom necessary to find it on my own.

And so I have lived a largely domestic life.

But though domesticity may have occupied a fair portion of my time, it has never been the essence of my existence, as it was for women of previous generations. For as long as I can remember, books, writing, music - those have been the things that fed my soul, irrespective of dust on the table tops or dishes in the sink.

How thankful I am, for that has been my oasis in the desert of domestic life.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can soooo relate -- when I was younger, I just about killed myself doing what I thought was important in keeping house. It was also important to me that other people look at me and think that I was a very good housekeeper. Cooking, cleaning, laundry -- all things that never stay done anyway. Due to many, many circumstances, I tried to balance motherhood, wife, working woman and housekeeping at one time. Doesn't work. When I sit on the floor and play with my GrandDolly, how I wish I had done the same with my daughter, her mother. Some days it just about moves me to tears thinking of it. But the past is past, and now I tell my daughter often that she is a good mother, not that she is a good housekeeper, although she is. I hope that is what she will remember, because you can try to be all those other things, but what can be more important than being a loving parent to a child?

Blogger Sherry said...

Yeah, I hear you Becca...a domestic goddess I am not, even though I have been a stay-at-home mom...other things have filled my world..dust and domestic "chores" have not ruled my life. That your MIL would make up a bed while her husband went to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Maybe that's more love than a love of housework...or she just had this thing about messy sheets!! There is so much more to life, to being a whole person than keeping house!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Becca -- I was presented with a Make My Day Award by inlandempiregirl and I have so enjoyed reading your blog that I wanted to pass it on to you. The post that I wrote is here.

Anonymous Teresa C said...

This is my first visit to your blog and darn if you didn't make me cry.

Recently I was at a funeral with my mother. I was a singer, studied it formally in college and probably could have been something, but I had kids and got married and passed my love for it along (one of my daughters is now a voice major). I always believe that a person should be sent off with strong singing voices, so if the music is there I sing along strongly. As my mom and I were leaving she stopped me, tears rolling full down her face as she said to me, "You should really record a collection of hymns, your voice is so beautiful." It said everything. She also loved to sing and put all of her dreams in me and I let us both down a little I guess. Oh darn. Here I go, crying again. Thanks for this post.

Blogger Inland Empire Girl said...

I want to spend my time in my gardens, not inside with my house. I am fortunate that my husband is retired and volunteers to help with the domestic chores. That way we can enjoy doing more when I get home. I have lowered my "perfect house" standards also. I can always blame the dogs and cats!!

Blogger GreenishLady said...

For me, what's important is that our homes - neat or not, super-clean or not - serve us, rather than the other way around. It is so sad to see someone who sublimates their dreams to look after a house, but to look after a family - may be a different story.

Anonymous June said...

I've never had a domestic life and have often wondered what it would have been like had I been a stay at home type. Would my roots be stronger? I guess it's just natural to wonder about different lives and living them in different places. I find having just one to be the great frustration of being human. I refer again to "Desiderata".

Blogger Tammy said...

The part about your MIL made me giggle and your mom made me sad that she could not talk about dreams. I'm glad you have other passions to kindle your flame.



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