The Hidden Work of Housewives

What Didn't Get Done, © amomnextdoor, 2014

What Didn’t Get Done, © amomnextdoor, 2014

Periodically Mr. Banks says to me, “I just don’t know what you DO all day.” He can’t understand how he could possibly come home from a day at the office to find unwashed dishes, rumpled laundry, strewn toys, and cranky kids. As he recently pointed out, “You have fifteen hours in a day! How can you not have enough time?”

Hmmm. Well—setting aside that fifteen hours dedicated to house and home would take me from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. with no meals or tea breaks (and certainly no writing time)—how to describe the intensity of day after day with children to someone who’s never done it himself? I’m not sure it’s possible. But for my own gratification, for my own sense of self-worth, I found myself keeping track one summer’s day, of all that I did with my time.

A day with children is a day spent teaching and learning. Some things I teach them directly, some by expectation, some through modeling, and some by opportunity. All of it I teach with as much deliberation and thoughtfulness as this mama can. I find being present with my children in such a way both deeply draining and relentlessly rewarding. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Things I taught my children today:

  • How to exercise daily
  • How to commit to a goal and follow through
  • How to be patient
  • How to contribute to the family
  • How to play independently
  • How to play together
  • How to brush teeth properly
  • How to clean up after brushing teeth
  • How to give privacy to people using the bathroom
  • How to pursue one’s passions and interests
  • How to sew: how to plan a project, use pins, thread a needle, cut a thread, make a knot, make a whip stitch
  • How to share underlying feelings
  • How to listen deeply
  • How to take responsibility for one’s mistakes
  • How to be married
  • How to take time for oneself
  • How to give others space
  • How to respond to an invitation to connect
  • How to speak one’s mind
  • How to keep a house organized
  • How to tidy
  • How to reuse
  • How to recycle
  • How to roll out the garbage cans for collection day
  • How to core strawberries
  • How to break eggs
  • How to cook an omelet
  • How to load the dishwasher
  • How to close a sliding car door safely
  • How to treat clerks and service workers
  • How to behave at the checkout stand
  • The value of a dollar
  • How to negotiate
  • How to wait
  • How to notice the world around
  • How to give and receive love and affection
  • How to be an audience
  • How to hold back
  • How to laugh
  • How to be silly
  • How to create
  • How to imagine
  • How to have fun
  • How to love

That gets us to about lunchtime. I guess the laundry will have to wait until the afternoon.

What Happened Instead, © amomnextdoor, 2014

What Happened Instead, © amomnextdoor, 2014

Reverie and Reconciliation

I write to reconcile the life I think I am living, the life I hope to live, and the life I am actually living. Becoming a parent has put new pressure on this reconciliation. I feel as though my children demand a clarity of intention, an authenticity of purpose, a generosity of emotion and an urgency of action that do not exist in the real me. But all that can exist here.

In the real world, I do not have a room of my own. Even if I did, I have not yet learned to shut the door and ignore the pounding from the other side. In the real world, I write with my back to the sofa, the front door, the central freeway of my home, balancing on a ball and attempting to block out distractions with earbuds blasting. As soon as I sit down to write, the five-year old bounces onto the back of the ball, and the 23-month old reaches for the post-its, the mail, the space bar, whatever her fingertips can find over the edge of the desk.

Here, I can sink into the gift of reverie, let the grains of my days run through my fingers with soothing softness, find the glittering quartz or shiny pebble and set it onto the windowsill to admire the way it gleams in the sun.

So far, nobody knows about this place but me. It exists only as an invitation to myself.

And I accept.

Photo obtained from Google images. Please notify me of any copyright infringement.