Monday, June 4, 2007

So, I am not Catholic...

and as much as I love my pal Q, I have no plans of converting. But there is something that I think Catholics are better at than Protestants. Catholics, at least devout ones, revere homemaking. It is honored as hard, good work.

And you know what? It should be.

In my two years since leaving the classroom and devoting my life to my son, my husband and my home, I have really strengthened this skill. I have gotten better at it. I am a better cook now. I clean better and more efficiently. Clothes are clean, folded and organized. Like I have said before, I go a little overboard. I mean, you should see our sock drawers.

But, the point is, all this is hard work. It won't do itself. Someone has to do it and it does take skill. Isn't that weird? Last week, when we were gone for four days for Memorial Day weekend, I didn't catch up on "housework" until three days after we got back. It really showed me how much I actually do.

I feel like our culture looks down on homemaking. It seems cheesy at best, oppressive at worst. I can see how we've gotten there. There was definitely a point in our history when homemaking was sort of oppressive. When women were forced to be home and do everything just so. I absolutely see the bad in that. I can totally see how it is not for everyone. But, that doesn't mean that it is not for anyone. I find a lot of value in things well done. Even if it is a nicely mopped floor.

It is also interesting to me that I am improving. I know, mopping is mopping, right? And, at the surface, it doesn't look like I am improving. I mean, I used to do in a day what takes me a week to do now. But I am. I use less recipes. I know better how food works. I clean behind things and have found better systems for cleaning. The mere fact that there is improvement, that this is something that you can get better at, again, shows me that homemaking is: a skill. This should have been obvious to me when I started caring for my own home seven years ago. All I needed to do was compare my home to my mom's. She is the homemaking Rock Star. And, although I think she has a natural gift for it, she also has a lot of experience.

I wonder if there were more regard for housework...if it was commonly acknowledged as good and valueable...I wonder if that shift in thinking would change the way people go about their housework. I definitely find more joy and do a better job in work that others also value.

So, when tempted to think I am a total dork for finding joy in dusting, I remind myself of what Catholics have been saying for centuries: homemaking is an important skill. Just like teaching, doctoring, lawyering...

and then, I still sort of feel like a dork.


Goes On Runs said...

i could learn from you....and i do.

Firefly said...

Sometimes after a really hard day's work I go to my 80-year-old Grandma's house for no other reason than to rest and be there. I just sit in one of her rocking chairs and am surrounded by the sense of things well-tended. Her house is totally unpretentious, with a style fairly contradictory to the rules of Pottery Barn. She is frugal, sensible, practical. She keeps things clean and in their place. She has a cookie jar. Filled. She cooks wonderfully, by which I mean she prepares healthful, simple meals on a daily basis, for the most part without much reliance on convenience foods. I have never known her to be a gourmet, though she likes to try new recipes and makes her favorites a regular part of her cooking, baking, dehydrating, jellying regime. She keeps a kitchen garden and none of what she grows (or purchases) ever goes to waste because she will freeze it, can it, or in some way preserve it before it can rot. She always keeps up a current record of her accounts in a great, old-fashioned ledger at her desk so she can mind her money faithfully. She darns her own socks, and bemoans the difficulty of finding darning thread these days. She minimizes her dryer use to keep the electricity bill down, hanging her laundry on a line above her sage shrub. An eighty-year-old widow, she still prunes her own hedges, does her own mowing and weed-eating, and carries in her own fifty-pound sack of pellets to feed the pellet stove in the winter. She is a remarkably capable woman. I have rarely seen the likes of her.

Clearly, Grandma is an exceptionally skilled housekeeper who invests herself into her work, yet her household retains a quality of simplicity that is profoundly comforting to me. I think it is because I like knowing that she has not invested the lion's share of her domestic skills into lots of bells and whistles to impress people. Instead, the lion's share has gone into good stewardship and into caring for people. This is a sometimes subtle but definitely palpable difference that makes my grandmother's house feel very gentle, welcoming and restful. There are few homes that feel like that to me, and fewer still as my grandmother's generation dies away.

I write all of this because I think your house feels that way, Robyn. Your home feels a lot like my Grandmother's, in its own way. I love it about your Brooklyn apartment that for all your genuinely impressive confections of cooking and crafting posted on this blog, your home does not feel like a Martha-Stewart-showcase. I love that you know where everything is in your kitchen because you so regularly make use of what's in your cupboards. I love that you sharpen your own knives and take the time to learn how to wash your dishes in a way that conserves the most water. I love that you use a washcloth stuffed into a mesh onion bag to save the money and natural resources that would otherwise go into those little scrubbies for washing gunky dishes. I love that you hang your laundry to dry in your tiny kitchen, and that your laundry includes items you have sewn yourself.

You are a very capable and resourceful woman, and a very good steward of your home, Robyn. I admire you tremendously for that. I like knowing a woman fitting herself out to be a bit like my grandmother some day. And I am comforted by it, since I know very few people my age who are investing in the skills you are learning. I would like to be more like you.

I understand why you would feel like a dork for gaining these skills, since being like someone's grandmother isn't exactly the compliment of the moment in our culture. You just don't see that headline much on the magazone covers when you're waiting in line at the grocery checkout--in NYC in particular. It is a culture that often seems to prefer glamor to substance, convenience to care, and gloss to good stewardship. So I just wanted to chime in with my two cents to affirm your work, which is good and true, and tell you I think it speaks to your counter-culturally good sense that you recognize the value in it, find satisfaction it it, and celebrate it.