(House)work, Part II

Part of the problem I have with writing a long, philosophical post like The Theology of (House)work is that it’s hard for me to get through it without a meandering digression every sentence or two.

This post is to take care of all those side-notes…so my apologies for the variety of topics and directions!

Kids are work!

First of all, the (House)work post oversimplified the situation in order to make a (good, I hope) point: it’s important for us, particularly as mothers, to be reminded that the people around us are more important than the housework. This seems to assume that there are two choices, kids or (house)work, and that they are different things.

We all know, of course, that it is also true that the kids are our work. Sometimes putting your children first means laying in the grass with them and looking for cloud animals…but sometimes it means changing diapers, and the pants that covered the diapers, and the carseat cover the pants were sitting on. So I don’t want to suggest that caring for our children is always as restful as a monk’s time in prayer. (Here comes the parenthetical statement, within the parenthetical post! The monks might point out that standing up and chanting for long periods of time can also be exhausting…but I digress.) Caring for our kids is both our work and our opportunity to praise and rest in God.

The Value of Labor

Then there’s a whole other issue here: the value of a woman’s work. Let’s imagine a couple. The husband has a high-paying job, which provides well for his family, and he prides himself on this. He ties his self-worth to his ability to provide for his family – to make money. His wife is blessed to be able to stay home and raise her children. On the other hand, she feels restless. She went to college to prepare for a good job; maybe she also worked for a while before staying home with the kids. Though she works hard every day, in an occupation she knows is deeply important and worthwhile, she makes no money doing it. It bothers her that she isn’t contributing to monetarily to the family.

The truth is, our society values people by productivity, and productivity is judged by how much money the person makes. By this logic, a homemaker’s work is worthless.

Obviously this is not true, but it’s incredibly difficult to tune out society’s messages completely. So whether it’s the cleaning or the cooking or the raising of children, women’s work is dreadfully undervalued, even by those of us who do it. (Sorry, stay-at-home dads, I know you’re out there, too.)

We can’t be reminded often enough that the job of raising children and creating a holy, beautiful place for our families to live and grow is a great and valuable work indeed.

It’s just not one that you can order on Amazon. Thank goodness.

Prayer vs. Progeny

There was also another false dichotomy lurking in the last post, again in the interest of simplicity. It seemed to imply that we had to choose: prayer (like the monks) or kids (like we have). While it’s true that we can’t spend the hours a day praying in a chapel like a monk or sister would, that doesn’t mean we have to neglect our prayer life. A few minutes when the kids are in bed (early or late) can make a huge difference.

There are also ways we can incorporate our kids into prayer, so that we not only refresh our own spirits, but teach our little ones to pray as well. I know several moms who will stop (with their very young kids) for just a few minutes in a local adoration chapel whenever they are passing (and not already running late!) And prayer that works well for kids is good for grown-ups too: use sea shells, a candle, icons, or other beautiful objects to help little ones focus. My mom used to teach RCIA for kids, and her classes always included both the parents and the children who were preparing for the sacraments. Her prayer table was rich with things to catch the children’s attention, and it worked for parents, too. Thinking like a child can open up a whole new dimension of our relationship with God, who after all, calls us to be like little children.

Finally, I was surprised, a couple of days after I uploaded the last post, to go to our Well-Read Mom meeting (we were discussing Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain) and hear Marcie Stokman on the audio introduction saying basically what I had said in the post, only much more eloquently. She suggests that for each of us, our home is our monastery, the very place where we can best meet God. In fact, she calls all the little interruptions of our days – snotty noses, kids fighting, late night talks with teenagers – the very bells calling us to greater sacrifice and deeper relationship with our families and with God.

Whew. It never ceases to amaze me how many side discussions one seemingly simple idea raises. I hope you find some food for thought in there somewhere!

Termite Invasion III

I hate this time of year.  The termites are swarming, and a few always manage to make it into the house, which is gross in itself, but sends the girls into a panic.  We’ll see if we sleep tonight.

Blame it on Spring Fever

In an attempt to make up for the long, long silence, here are some pictures.  First, the “man pit” that Craig build over the old (dug out hole in the grass) fire pit.  It is now an oven and stove.  I picked up the brick off the curb, in my church clothes, no less.  Dad would be proud.

The roasted (in brick oven) vegetable quesidillas (cooked on brick stove) were really, really good.

We have done a little planting.  We’ve had several dafodills bloom, and the tulips and iris are ready to bust.

In other garden news, an orange bell pepper, orange mint, dill, lemon balm, dill, and chives are in the ground.  The lettuce which over-wintered is going crazy, and some of it tastes like bacon.  I don’t know what it is, because it’s from a mixed lettuce seed packet, and process of elimination hasn’t worked it out yet.  But it’s bacon-lettuce.  Who knew.

In Lucy news, she is fiesty as ever.  Wants to watch a movie every day, and rarely gets to.  But she likes “writing” scribbles and “reading” books she has memorized, or just looking at the pictures.  And she loves the zoo.

In Samantha news, she is getting the last four pesky teeth through.  She is running.  And she has a nice long list of words now, including Da, dog (which also means cat), doll, bowl (which also seems to mean spoon and basket), Papa, Ma, banana (which is sometimes “ba” and sometimes “nana”), ball, no, diaper, book, door, open, hot…those are all that come to mind at the moment.  She has been walking around the house “reading” books out loud over the last couple of days, which is really, really cute.

So that’s the update.  Craig’s working a lot, and I spent the day baking.  Which reminds me, happy St. Joseph’s Day.  Here’s the bread I made:

It’s supposed to look like St. Joseph’s beard.  Judge for yourself.  I also made egg-free chocolate chip cookies (surprisingly delicious, once you make it past the cookie dough that acts like toasted bread crumbs), vegetable broth, two pans of bread pudding, and dinner today.  I wish I could say days like this were the reason I haven’t written in so long, but it’s really been more a combination of distraction and laziness.  So hopefully more interesting things will happen soon for me to share with you, and I’ll feel like sharing it.  In the mean time, here’s a pic of the girls with their friend Cylis to hold you over.

Holy Housework

I had been wondering where the burst of cleaning and ordering energy that I’ve had for the last couple of weeks had come from, and I now have a couple of theories.  (For two pregnancies I looked forward to the “nesting” phase when I would actually want to clean – it never came.  Maybe this is what it feels like!)  Freedom from the requirements of a job has certainly helped, since I have hours back in my days with no commute, no papers to grade or lessons to plan, not to mention the time I actually spent teaching.

But I have also been doing some “mommy” reading, some of which has dealt with home schooling, and some of which has been more in the homemaking-without-losing-your-mind-or-your-soul mold.  The later has been most edifying.

Essentially, I have bought into the idea that if God is calling me to be at home and raise my children (which hopefully I believe, since that is what I plan to do with myself for the foreseeable future), then He must expect my experiences in this realm of life to be my ticket to sanctification.  And as Holly Pierlot argues, and I think rightly, it is up to us to take our vocations by the horns, so to speak, and direct our efforts at doing our very best at our calling.  If this means homemaking, then I am called to be sanctified by doing the dishes, laundry, diapers, and more generally creating an environment in which my family can live as God calls us.  That means (I think) an environment without excess clutter and dirt, with order and calm, and with beauty, for starters.  So boxes are making their way to St. Vincent de Paul, shelves are getting dusted and reordered, and the real trick is going to be making the habits I’m trying to form – for prayer and housekeeping – stick.  And doing it joyfully, because it is what God wants me to do.  (Lots on this in Merton – also worth checking out.)  Pierlot talks about offering up each little task, and about following some sort of prayer rule, to help all this happen.  So far, this change in mindset has really, really helped.

In the midst of all this reflecting and reordering, I read the first reading for today:

“Brothers and sisters: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.  As it is written:

‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.’

The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God.”

-2 Cor. 9:6-11

Food for Thought, and Thought for Food

I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately.  I like to spend time in the kitchen, making good food from scratch (or close to it).  Unfortunately, that often means something else in the never-ending list of house and school chores is being neglected.  As much as I know I would miss all my kitchen comforts, some days I envy women whose work for the day is almost exclusively involved in preparing food for their families.

We’ve spent Mardi Gras at my parents’ house, away from all the festivities (and traffic) in New Orleans.  My dad grew up on a farm in Mustang, Oklahoma, which is now practically a suburb of Oklahoma City.  We were talking with him the other day about how his mother would provide a hearty, hot breakfast, a full lunch (fried chicken, potatoes, vegetable, etc.), and then a large dinner as well.  The men would come in from the fields to eat lunch during the harvest.  She got up before everyone else and started the stove on winter mornings.  She butchered the chickens.  I don’t envy some of the hard work she had to do, but I do envy having work with such a clear purpose.  

We’re working our way, very slowly, closer to the land.  Our little garden has produced well considering the neglect it has suffered.  We’re looking at joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) group out of Baton Rouge, so we will pay a fee for the year and get fresh, organic produce every week in April through August. (This takes out the middleman and supports a small farm which doesn’t destroy the land, not to mention cutting down on the effects of transportation.)

In many places just getting food on the table (if there is a table!) is an all-consuming daily project.  Where our food comes so easily to our tables, it is less appreciated.  One of our plans for Lent is to eat more simply, and hopefully more healthily, and stick to a tighter food budget.  Hopefully along the way, we can learn to be a little more careful in our eating, and a little more thankful for our bounty.

15 minutes

Fly Lady? (the architect of my one hope of ever having a clean house) has a wonderful bit of philosophy: ? you can do anything for fifteen minutes. ? This is usually applied to dealing with piles of paper clutter, laundry, putting away holiday decorating, etc. ? But with a two-year-old and an infant, I’m learning how to do things for only? fifteen minutes, since that’s about the average length of time my hands are free before one or the other (or both!) is demanding attention. ? Continue reading “15 minutes”