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.