Other Duties as Shall Be Required: A Mother's Work
Every morning, I pull out a 3 X 5 index card from a bulldog clipped deck, uncap my black felt-tipped pen, fire up my online calendar, and make my to-do list. Some items on the list are mandatory: keep a deadline or appointment, pay a bill, pick up kids. Others are more like the Pirate's Code; to be thought of only as suggestions. It's a given that some of them will be carried over to tomorrow's list, or the next day's, or the next day's, until the action has either been done, or done without.
While I was writing my book, the daily notation to "finish Chapter ___" loomed so large, it made the other to-do's seem manageable by comparison, even if I wasn't actually managing them very well. But with the focus off my manuscript--at least until I get the next round of edits--I've been amazed at how much work goes into keeping a household running--just functioning, I mean, never mind extras like decorating, entertaining, or deep cleaning. As Betty Friedan observed in the Feminine Mystique, housework will always expand to fit all available time and space. How ever much time you're willing to give it, is as much time as it takes.
I've had a little bit of time to give it these past two weeks, and I've mostly enjoyed the novelty of being able to check off a few more items from the list each day. But I'm well aware that the list is self-regenerative; that it's up to me to make sure big things don't get crowded out by the little ones. If you have to fill a jar with large stones and small pebbles, goes the analogy, put the large stones in first. The pebbles will fit into the spaces around them. It's harder to find space for the big stuff when you've already filled the day with inconsequential things.
Of course, the making of a home is not inconsequential. As Karen reminds me, it can be a profound discipline. I only have to sit in my friend Pearl's house to be reminded how essentially and immersively creative it can be. If homemaking is your vocation, I think it is a noble one. But it's not everyone's calling, nor is everyone who feels called to it, in a position to pursue it as such. I realize I am extraordinarily privileged to have the choice to be at home as much as I am -- or so I try to remind myself when driving around on a 90 degree spring day in a seven year-old minivan with a broken air conditioner. I could always be driving a new car back and forth to an office job, and working 40-plus hours a week. Lots of moms work outside the home full-time, by choice, necessity, or both. Like my friend Amy.
On Monday, after a full morning of making appointments, filling out paperwork, making the week's budget and menu plans, and the bare minimum of housework, I had an afternoon's worth of errands to run before picking up the kids from school. One of them took me near Amy's office, so we went for lunch. I told her how busy my days have been since wrapping up my book.
"When do you do all this stuff?" I asked her. I was genuinely baffled. I know she doesn't get home until six most nights. If you earn enough money, you can outsource some things, like the cleaning. But the administrative aspect of mothering --the calendar keeping, the appointment making, the planning, the financial management and the unbelievable amount of paperwork--you need to be a celebrity or CEO with a personal assistant to outsource that kind of thing. Or you have a wife who stays on top of it.
How do you it, I asked her. But what I meant was, how do we do it? How does any mom--whatever acronym she uses to describe her place of employment--manage the work of running a home, so much of which is taken for granted by society? How do you manage? What are the big things for you, what do you think of as the small stuff, and what's the stuff that falls between the cracks? What are the choices you've made, or the choices you wish you could make, about working inside or outside the home?
Bring out your jar of days. Show me how it's filled.
Labels: soul and spirit