Archive for the ‘Housework’ Tag
Everyone has been home for the past three days, and the skies outside are damp and gray. The perfect equation for a very messy house. Today in the midst of my spraying, scrubbing and sweeping I remembered what my friend Lisa said, which I quoted in my last post: “Dishes are no big deal.” I think hearing her say that resonated with me so much because I often allow housework to take up an unnecessary amount of my emotional energy. Not long after picking up my sponge, I find myself feeling a lot like poor, miserable Atlas, holding up the weight of the world.
Why do I allow housework to do this to me? I remember with perfect clarity the first time I suffered from housework-induced ennui. I was a newlywed wiping off the edges of a dirty toilet bowl. I felt so dissastisfied and depressed that I sat down immediately afterwards and wrote a pathetic little essay about it in which I cursed my sorry fate.
I’ve managed to come to terms with housework quite a bit since those early days. I’ve decided that cleaning my house is just something that needs to be done. Not my calling in life, my destiny, my raison de vivre. No. It’s no big deal. Like shaving my legs or going to the dentist. I don’t enjoy it, but I get it done.
And I do understand the value of work, whether tedious or not. Which is why I can’t make myself hire a cleaning service. I need work, and I know my kids need it, too. They don’t fight when they are doing their jobs. They are focused on working, and our home hums with industry and satisfaction. For five minutes. Maybe. But I’ll take what I can get, and keep reminding myself that the repetitive, mundane tasks don’t accumulate to equal the size and mass of the densest planet in our solar system. Poor Atlas, indeed.
I just returned from a four day trip to Cincinatti, Ohio with my eight year old daughter. Our reason for taking the trip was to visit some old friends of mine from Italy who are here in the United States seeking medical treatment for their six-year old son. While in Cincinatti, they are staying at the Ronald McDonald House. They are well taken care of by the volunteers at the McDonald House, and by the nurses, doctors, social workers and translators at the hospital. But they don’t know anyone in Ohio, and don’t speak any English, so I took my daughter with me to spend some time with them, and to give them what moral support I could.
A few days before I was scheduled to leave for Ohio, I received a phone call from a woman in Cincinatti. Her name was Lisa. She had taken my friends under her wing, picking them up at the airport when they arrived, visiting them in the hospital, arranging trips to the Cincinatti Zoo for them, and bringing them to her home for dinner and respite. She knew their case worker at the hospital, was working with the Italian Embassy in Detroit on some problems they were having with their paperwork, and knew every detail of their son’s medical history and current treatment. The reason she called me was to invite my daughter and I to stay with her and her family in their home during our visit to Cincinatti. I accepted her invitation.
During our time with Lisa and her family, my daughter and I were given soft beds to sleep in and warm breakfasts made from scratch. Lisa’s nine and eleven year old daughters immediately adopted my daughter as a special friend. They pushed two twin beds together so she could “sleepover” with them. They shared silly stories with her and taught her how to play badminton. “Mom,” my daugther said to me, “They are so nice. And they never fight.”
I was equally impressed. Every night the family invited us to join them for family prayer. They played games together, happily drawing us in to share in the fun. Lisa’s home was spotless, even while taking classes at a nearby university and baking chocolate chip cookies for her daughter’s soccer team, which she helped coach. One night I asked if I could help do the dishes and she cheerfully replied, “dishes are no big deal.”
This was a family that had made service a fundamental part of their lives. They did it naturally, cheerfully, and tirelessly. Over and over during my time with them I thought of this passage from the 25th chapter of the gospel of Matthew.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kindgdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
My daughter and I were complete strangers to Lisa and her family. Our Italian friends were strangers to them as well. But that didn’t matter. She took all of us in, fed us and cared for us. I remain so touched and grateful for all that she did and is doing for me and for my friends. I know I’ll never be able to pay her back, but I do hope that the next time I have the opportunity to help a stranger, I will remember her example and do my best to clothe, feed, and care.
I decided to wake up at 6:30 this morning to work on my novel. For the morning people out there that might not sound like a big deal, but for me this was a desperate measure. The last few days have just been too busy to squeeze out any writing time during more reasonable hours, and summer is coming soon. I’ll have all my kids home, which I am happy about, but writing will be hard. So 6:30 was my big idea.
Or, I should say, I failed. I was still in bed at 7:30 when my three year old came into my room, dragging his blanket behind him. So I recalibrated. I decided I would make time to write after lunch. But first I had to take my six year old to the pediatrician, buy crickets for our family gecko, fill the mini van with gas, and figure out what to feed all of us. With all of that accomplished, I put my three year old down for a nap and plopped my six year old in front of Yogi the Bear. Time to write.
There was the mess: dirty soccer socks, unwashed dishes, remnant Easter candies and wrappers spilled on the floor in my kids’ bedrooms. I knew I should write. I need to write. I get cranky and depressed when I don’t write. But I also get cranky and depressed when the house is messy, and believe it or not, laundry and dishes is much easier disaster relief than novel revision. So I started to clean.
Until my phone rang. It was my writer-friend, Jen. “I need a pep talk,” she said. She’d put her toddler down for a nap so she could write, only . . .
I could finish her words. We were in exactly the same place. So we complained and commiserated. We reassured each other that our novels do NOT suck. And we promised each other that we would hang up the phone and GO WRITE.
It was just what I needed. I left the messes behind and went to my computer. I tackled my novel. I even had a couple of ah-ha moments.
Thanks goodness for pep talks. And the friends who somehow know when you need one.
Recently my kids’ art teacher sent them home with a research assignment. She gave them an index card that read, “Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson,” and told them to find out what it meant. I had never heard of Robert Smithson or the Spiral Jetty, so I helped them search for clues online. This is what we found:
“Robert Smithson’s monumental earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) is located on the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Using black basalt rocks and earth from the site, the artist created a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that stretches out counter-clockwise into the translucent red water. Spiral Jetty was acquired by Dia Art Foundation as a gift from the Estate of the artist in 1999.” (From the Dia Art Foundation website).
I was surprised to learn that such an interesting work of art existed so close to my home, and that I had never heard of it. My kids and I looked at the images of the jetty, talked about it a little, and that was it.
Until last week when I saw another work of art inspired by Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. It was a photograph by Bastienne Schmidt from her upcoming book Home Stills. The photograph features the artist standing in her backyard in the apex of a spiral of laundry. The dirty clothes circle around her in concentric rings, seeming to trap her. The sun is setting, shadows are lengthening, and a solitary tree is an autumnal red. In the distance the artist’s young son is running toward her, but she stands in place, seemingly unable to move.
Schmidt says of the photo: “The spiral repsresents the repetitive, seemingly endless tasks that come with domestic life and motherhood . . . Rethinking the household domain as an artist allows me to see these tasks in a new and almost whimsical light, so I can mentally clear away the clutter to start each day fresh.”
I wanted to laugh and cry at the time when I read those words. I looked at the woman in the photograph and saw myself, trapped by the mundane but necessary tasks of a homemaker. I felt the frustration of spending my time cleaning or cooking instead of enjoying my children and their fast-fleeing childhood, so poignantly captured by the setting sun and crimson leaves. Those were the tears. The laughter came from the change of perspective the photograph allowed, and the artist, when she spoke about purposefully seeing household tasks in a new light in order to clear away mental clutter. Looking at the laundry spiraling around her, I was able to see it for what it was. Just colorful pieces of cloth carefully laid out on the lawn. Not chains. Not shackles. Just dirty clothes that need to be washed. Dirty clothes that maybe I take a little too seriously.
But even after laughing, the photograph still unsettled me. That feeling of being trapped was too profound. I went back to the image of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and saw something that was missing from Schmidt’s picture. The jetty. The tail flaring out from the spiral that connected it to shore. I got out my dictionary and looked up the definition for jetty: “a structure extended into a sea, lake, or river to influence the current or tide.” Smithson’s art work is more than something pretty to look at. His jetty is disruptive, in a way. It reaches out into the lake and impacts the current, changes it’s direction, leading it on a new path through the spiral.
It is a reminder to me that I am not trapped by the circumstances of my day-to-day life. I get to choose how I think, how I feel, what I do. I am in control of the currents. That is all too clear when I see how my words and feelings influence every person in my home, big or small. I am a jetty. And how I decide to shape my current is up to me.