Not long ago, a friend of mine was marveling that her grandmother raised nine kids and was still able to keep a clean house, cook three ginormous meals a day, and do other grandmotherly things like mending stuff. It made me think of my own grandma; she only raised two kids, but from as far back as I can remember, she's been at it like a workhorse from pre-dawn until dusk. Cleaning, sewing, gardening, canning, and cooking - massive, hearty meals, even at breakfast, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And though she may be shiny with sweat or covered by garden gloves and a sun hat, she is always dressed from the time she gets out of bed. My grandpa has been gone for almost three years now, so her daily demands have lessened considerably - but Grandma still moves around the house and yard with purpose, just as she has for nearly her entire life.
This really got me thinking. I see these women, my predecessors, as almost superhuman in their freakish capacity to get stuff done. I feel triumphant if I catch up on the laundry (for like two hours, until the hamper miraculously refills itself). My grandma hung hers out on the line and still had it caught up every day. I have a dishwasher, but there are times when the dishes still pile up in my sink. Grandma never had a dishwasher, but it's rare to find more than a dirty glass and a fork in her sink. I think all of our "convenient" technology has kinda made us lazy, but there's another reason - and I just put my finger on it last night - why I can't seem to get it all together like Grandma.
I'm not as proud of it as she is.
Think about it. A housewife was once something that most little girls wanted to be - and what they were encouraged to be. They weren't looked down on for that choice. As the women of that school of thought ran their Hoover attachments over the curtains and cooled pies on the window sill, they didn't feel like they were wasting their lives, that there was some other, higher calling they should be pursuing. They didn't need to aspire to more, because they already felt that they were in a perfectly honorable profession. So they took more pride in it. They got more done. They didn't slouch around in their sweats, avoiding the mounting laundry pile like the plague, too overwhelmed to know where to start. Why do we start neglecting things? Because we aren't proud of them anymore.
When people ask me what I do, I say, "I'm a writer." Yes, that's true - I do write and I do make
It's just because people so harshly misjudge women that choose to stay home. They're seen as bonbon-eating, soap opera-watching, mooching-off-their-husbands leeches. Either that, or as too stupid or lazy or unambitious to "make their own way" in the world. And that's part of the reason I get less done, I think - because in this day and age, it's hard to be proud of yourself for doing something that many people think is "beneath you" or easy. Besides that (or perhaps because of that?) it's pretty thankless. There's very little recognition or praise: no boss patting you on the back for a job well done, no promotions or commissions or award ceremonies for your hard work. Whatever the reason, when you don't feel good about what you do, you tend to half-ass it, no matter what profession you're in. Apathy is the enemy of productivity.
The more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. Why should I - or any other housewife, or SAHM or whatever you want to call it - be ashamed? I can honestly say that I was born for this, that it's what I always wanted to do. Some people want to be doctors. Some people want to be scientists, teachers, or athletes. They show interest in their profession from childhood, and I was no different. I wanted to be a wife and a mom; when I played, I wore high heels and pretended to cook and clean and cuddle babies and kiss my imaginary husband when he returned from work. I threw my heart into the dream that someday, this wonderful play world would be my reality. Then I was made to feel bad about it by the well-meaning "encouragement" of teachers and authority figures to go out and get an advanced degree ... pursue some lofty ambition ... anything but turn in my brain for an apron. Heaven forbid I "waste" one ounce of potential.
After high school I went to a women's college where feminism was highly praised, and felt isolated by the girls around me. They couldn't wait to hold elevated positions and public offices and own companies and win Nobel prizes ... and I couldn't wait to marry my boyfriend (who is now my husband) and establish a home. I was sure there was something wrong with me, that my lack of career focus was a critical flaw. I didn't stop to think that I indeed had a focus - it was just much more personal than professional.
Does this mean I'm suggesting that all women should aspire to this? No way. Not even. This isn't the fifties. There's no such thing as "a woman's place" any more; a woman should be doing whatever she damn well wants to do with her life, whether it's raising babies or creating software or lobbying for foreign policy reform. I'm not saying anybody should take on a subservient role and time her casserole to be done at the precise moment she finishes rubbing her husband's feet and fetching him his slippers and the evening paper. (Barf.) I'm just saying that women who have a proclivity toward all things domestic shouldn't be made to feel "less than" because of it.
Nothing makes me feel better than to transform my home into a warm, inviting haven for the people I love. And that's a full-time job, and it's hard, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. I may not be changing the world, but I'm enriching the lives of the most important people in my world, and that in turn makes my life more satisfying. I'm not missing out on a thing. That's the point.
Anyway, starting right now, I'm going to remember that my status is something to be proud of ... that the massive responsibility of keeping up a home and a family, when done properly, is hard work. That "I stay at home" isn't a statement that needs to be hastily followed up with, "but I'll probably be getting a job within the next couple of years." There is no apology necessary for striving to be the best wife, the best mother, that I can be - or for wanting my family's surroundings to be cozy and secure and wonderful. And once I realize that, I think it'll be a whole hell of a lot easier to give it my all.