I write these words not because I have it all figured out, but because I hope that in writing out my thoughts perhaps some clarity, wisdom, or understanding will come my way. This morning while putting clean dishes away, and my mind going a mile a minute making mental notes of my TO DO list, I started thinking about the value of my work as a “homemaker” versus Stephen’s work at the ranch. All my work right now pertains to keeping our home sort of livable (I write that as I look around at our cluttered home)–emptying out the dishwasher, loading the dishwasher, doing laundry, sometimes cleaning, taking care of Zane and Zoey when she’s home. But when Stephen’s home, he helps out with all of the above, too. And that’s when I started to feel pretty crummy. It’s not like I help Stephen out with ranch work. He does that all by himself–so why is it that I can’t seem to avoid feeling overwhelmed by my workload and ashamed that I can’t seem to keep my house in order–the only real job I have right now?
I know countless other women have written these same thoughts and frustrations before. This is not a new story, but it is a new experience for me. A few years back a good friend of mine shared her own frustrations, and I really didn’t understand until now. We mamas do the work that’s never done–that’s never complete. Stephen goes to the ranch, works on making the kitchen cabinets, the bathroom vanity, and he finishes them. Ta da! Work completed. On to the next assignment. I do the laundry–the next day more laundry. I do the dirty dishes–a few hours later more dirty dishes. I clean up the house, the next morning there’s stuff everywhere. (I don’t mean to blame you Zoey because I have stuff all over the house, too, but I did happen to step on your bath toys this morning, which were left on the kitchen floor by the dishwasher.) We never experience that feeling of accomplishment of a task completed because we know the next day, or a few hours later, will bring the same work as the day before. Maybe that’s why I get so much satisfaction from writing and publishing my blog posts because it’s something I’ve worked on and completed.
I was listening to Emily Freeman on a Hope*ologie podcast talk about a woman’s greatest fear–being invisible or feeling that her husband doesn’t see her. I can relate to that though I would word it differently for myself. My greatest fear as a homemaker mama is that my husband will think I’m not contributing enough to our family or not holding up my end of the line–that I’m slacking off. The truth is that I know how to slack off well. I can be lazy. I can rest very well. Just yesterday as Zane slept I was knitting away on the couch while listening to a podcast. My fear is that Stephen will see me as a “lady of leisure” all the time not just sometimes. I dread that when he comes home and sees the breakfast dishes still on the table and the dirty laundry still piled up he’ll wonder what I did all day. And all I’ll have to show him is a published blog post, which contributes absolutely nothing to our family’s well-being or our home’s orderliness. I fear that Stephen doesn’t value the work I do because often he can’t really see it. I know none of this is true if you asked Stephen. I know he appreciates the work I do at home. I know in my heart that’s true. The real question underlying all this fear is whether I, a graduate of Yale and UC Berkeley, a licensed clinical social worker, value homemakers and stay-at-home mamas. Was all my education worth being at home daily with my children to watch them grow and doing the work of Sisyphus–the housework that never gets done day in an day out?
I’ve really struggled with this question for some time now. And the answer for me is yes because I get to write. I can leave the mess for a moment and do the work that gives my spirit rest–I can write here on my blog and feel inspired to keep doing the housework that never gets done and change yet one more dirty diaper. I suppose it helps my family in a circuitous way. I’m a happier mama when I get to write, and therefore a more pleasant person to be around even with our messy, dirty house. I always think of Madeleine L’Engle writing in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, how she wouldn’t worry about all the housework needed to be done or else she’d never have time to write. I don’t remember her exact words, and unfortunately I can’t quote her because her book is buried in a box of books in our shed waiting to be opened up when we move, but that’s the essence of what I remember her writing. Parting words from Albert Einstein before I go load up the dishwasher (just replace “desk” with “home”): “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”