Welcome to the Sideshow

Well, hello there new readers! That last post apparently hit a vein. After a small interval of cyber-sharing, we had a banner day here at Apron Stringz with 1,491 views! Holy mama!

I feel I must take a moment to introduce myself. I wrote that post with my regulars in mind, knowing that they know me and would fill in the other half of the story. Because that post alone could sound awfully high and mighty, and I usually do my damndest around here to keep it down.

First, full disclosure. I am a woman of many and varied sensibilities. I am married, happily, to a man of many different sensibilities. Our two firecracker kidlets are making their own marks on our family life, and this all adds up to a household that might surprise you new readers with it’s multitude of transgressions. I fear you might have been accidentally led to believe I am some kind of punk goddess, rocking the home like it’s 1999. I thought a bit of reality was in order.

As I mentioned afterwards in the comments, I spent days gestating and then birthing that post. For those days (and many other unrelated days in my life) I completely neglected those righteous homemaking duties for the more glorious job of writing about them. On the day I finally set pen to paper, as it were, I plugged my kids into dvds all morning and then left them with Papa all afternoon while I drove our car to the coffee shop to write. As I was doing the last edit in a rush at 5:15, My Man took the kids to Wendy’s for dinner. To unwind after our long half-sick day, we watched a dumb movie in one room while the kids watched another in the other room.

I would like to say such activities are rare.

I can’t.

I’m telling you all this because– if this ruins it for you, you might as well leave now. I understand the inspiration of voyeuristic perfection, I have imbibed myself on many occasions. But there is another kind of inspiration, much more subtle and possibly longer lasting. This is the inspiration of other real people, just like you. Fucked up and wonderful, just like you. Generally confused with bright moments of epiphany. Succeeding sometimes, failing often, but keeping at it.

With this blog I do my best to champion that radical punk housewifery I wrote about in Why Are We Doing This; to describe the mechanics as well as the psychology of my own particular trip. But my highest aim is the uniting of all of us. The kick-ass radical punk bitches, the harried just-trying-to-survive-two-kids-under-the-age-of-3 moms, the homesteader grandmas who remember and support us. I can jive with just about anyone who tries to make a change in this life, no matter where they started or how far they’ve come, no matter what canvas they work on. It’s that heart-binding intent that I believe in.

So, welcome you. Welcome to the sideshow. Take a seat and introduce yourself to your neighbor. We’re making this show up as we go along.

A selection of introductory posts for you new readers:
Why We Do What We Do -- the important other half of the question
Hello You Shy, Confused Feminist Housewife, You
Priorities, Compromise and the Privilege of Doing Good
Master of Fine (Homemaking) Arts
Is Your Sustainable Life Sustainable?

 

 

Someone Has to Wear the Apron

I used to scorn aprons, and everything they stood for. I thought women wore aprons because they didn’t want to get any real life on their fancy clothes. I thought cleaning was for fetishes. I was against immaculate houses, and when it came down to it, kind of against houses. I used to love how “putting things away” in our tipi just meant turning around. And when we moved into our first real house, I hated how much walking around I had to do to accomplish the same task. Let alone the actual cleaning required for such a space. The miles of floor to sweep and windowsills to wipe, and the whiteness of everything which revealed every little spill. Don’t get me started on vacuuming.

(I’m still annoyed by that prevalent whiteness. Who the hell came up with white for floors? Someone who didn’t clean their own home, I’d bet.)

Make no mistake, I hate cleaning. And as a mom of two, I spend a lot of time at it. I figure I spend two hours a day involved in the prospect of picking up, washing dishes and doing laundry. Note those are just the bare minimums of housekeeping– treading water. This does not a clean house make. While I am busy picking up toys so we can walk through the room, the edges continue to accumulate grime. And need I explain, it’s very discouraging to spend two hours a day cleaning and not have a g*&#*$#ed clean house.

Of course, if I could ever get on top of it, right? Then the same two hours would return the house to an actual clean state every day. I used to think that keeping tidy took less time in the end than being messy. But, being the analytical person that I am, I worked it out mathematically. If I spend five minutes a day sweeping the floor adds up to 35 minutes a week. If I wait, and just sweep it once a week, I can get the job done in 10 minutes, therefore saving myself 25 whole minutes! 25 minutes that I could be blathering on about cleaning!

Lots of things work out like that. If I wash dishes right after use then it’s one use/wash. If I let them pile up on the counter for the day, I may well find a second use for many of them. The morning’s biscuit bowl works quite serviceably for dessert’s cake mixing bowl. See the minute of washing I just saved? It might sound silly, but minutes have never meant near so much to me as they do now.

But, this is not a pro-dirty post. No, quite the opposite. I am just trying to explain my past thoughts to prepare you appropriately for the impact of the following statement: I’ve recently discovered a strange and unexplainable drive to clean.

Shocked? You should be.

It came, like all changes, out of desperation. Round about November is when I started to lose it. I mean, I always wished our house was cleaner, but suddenly I just couldn’t stand it. I looked around and saw the piles of crap everywhere and my head wanted to explode. When I say our house was dirty, I don’t mean just cluttery. I mean piles of crap that hadn’t moved in months, hiding a thick layer of actual filth beneath.

At first I thought I was just going crazy. Why should it suddenly bother me so profoundly? But at some point in November it suddenly hit me that when the Babe had started walking a few months before, he had quadrupled his capacity for destruction, and in doing so had become a full, card-bearing member of the house-dirtying force. Where there had been three dirtyers, now there was four. An increase of 33%! No wonder I felt like I was drowning!

Somehow this little epiphany helped. At least I wasn’t going crazy. But next was figuring out how to even begin to tackle the monumental task ahead.

I do think there is too much cleaning necessary to our lives today. It comes down to the fact that we just have a massive amount of stuff. Closets full of clothes that need washing, bins full of toys to throw on the floor. So my Heroine’s Journey started out with a thorough culling. Not perhaps as ruthless as I might have liked, but enough that I was able to take a deep breath and exhale relief.

There was one closet in particular, the Giant Junk Drawer closet. You know, the repository of all things ambiguous. Also, not coincidentally, one of the 3YOs favorite places to play. Over the course of many months, she had pulled most of the boxes out and emptied their contents onto the floor in front of the closet. Since it was partially hidden by a bench, I had managed to ignore it for some long time. But that time was over. The closet was my first Obstacle.

For some reason, this sudden outburst of cleaning fury just happened to take place at the end of November, when I should have been getting ready for our almost month long trip, and when My Man was extraordinarily busy studying for finals. I meant to just clean the closet. But of course that kind of cleaning makes the house dirtier. You know what I’m talking about. At some point My Man walked into the dining room, surveyed the table strewn with piles and boxes, and the rest of the room and house suffering the neglect of a Mama-Project, and said, “So…. You’re… Cleaning?”

In other words, although the closet was clean, I could hardly stop there. The house was a wreck in the name of cleanliness. It was too late to turn back, I had to keep going.

I tore open another closet, and ravaged the kids toy shelf. Working in my rare spare moments, it took me right up until we had to leave just to complete the purge. I took the boxes to the charity shop the day before we got on the plane.

Needless to say, I left the house anything but clean.

And left a husband to himself for 10 days of finals.

Act 1: Set the scene

Act 2: Reveal the plot.

Act 3: Resolve.

When we returned on Tuesday, the house was a complete disaster. The floor particularly was epic. I left the suitcases in the car, and started right in, hair afire.

I have been cleaning every day in this blessed window of time before My Man’s classes start back up. I am still nowhere near a clean house, but I can see the progress. The laundry piles are diminishing. The corners are slowly revealed and vacuumed of their bunnies. The suitcases have been unpacked all but one. The new toys have been put into the places of the culled toys. And then taken back out and thrown on the floor.

I find myself almost eager to do the work. I have some spark of hope I will be able to maintain, not a clean house, but a decent house. I don’t even aspire to an immaculate house, I like to see the toys of the day on the floor, and projects in process. I love a little clutter– the sign of life in progress– but I cannot, no matter how I try, love a filthy house.

Part of this new found drive and prioritization is yet another step of submission. To the task at hand. I guess it took me 4 years of full-time motherhood to accept that cleaning the house is my job. Not that My Man shouldn’t help (he does), and not that the kids shouldn’t learn to help as well (the eldest is getting there). But that, in the end, cleaning the house is part of keeping a Home, and is therefore inescapably a part of my job as Homemaker. I know it comes with plenty of controversy, but yielding to the realities of my chosen path has been a revelation for me. Cleaning the house is never so unpleasant as when you are pissed to be doing it. Letting go the gritted teeth and relaxing into my work might not make it fun, but it keeps my jaw from aching.

And the apron. Yes, that punked out lovely in the header. What I have come to realize is that aprons originally weren’t to keep the real life off your clothes. Of course. They were to keep the bulk of your clothes cleaner longer, so that you don’t have to do so much laundry. Brilliant.

Sometimes when I need a good boost of kick ass for a daunting cleaning project, I tie that little sweetie on. And think of you, dear reader. Let’s get our aprons dirty.

Submission

My one year anniversary for this blog came and went sometime in September. Looking over Apron Strings with a critical eye, I noticed my sidebar explanation is a bit… overzealous. Written from the vantage point of only one kid. Whilst I aspire to having my daily life be divided among ”digging dirt, tending vegetables, dumpster diving, punk sewing projects, making all our own bread, household fix-its, and salvage construction” I seem to be mainly (and occasionally entirely) overtaken by just the “raising up little ruffians.”

As I mulled over the feeling of shortcoming, I had an epiphany.

We neo-feminist punk housewives have started to bring back some respect for the lost arts of homemaking, but it suddenly hit me that even still we are leaving the most basic female art in a dusty corner, covered by a pile of moldering towels. Making and raising babies has not experienced any of the fad-ish comeback. Canning? Oh yeah, it’s hot. Baking, ditto. Knitting, don’t even get me started. There’s a blessed wealth of new energy in the sustainable living, urban homesteading fields. Thanks largely to Shannon Hayes, we can tentatively start to call ourselves homemakers in public again.

But you’d better have something to show for it. You’d better have your house littered with DIY projects and several kinds of ferments. You’d better have a big shiny blog detailing your obsessive late night crafting and cooking exploits.

What? You’re too busy peeling small people off your legs and circumventing disasters of flour and paint to can up that 20 lb box of farmer’s market peaches? How gouche. Get a babysitter.

Because really, raising babies into mature, adjusted, respectful, independant, happy people? Where’s the glory in that? Nothing to prove yourself at the end of the day. No beasts slain or monuments erected. It’s women’s work.

Suddenly the absurdity of it hit me. Sure I am bucking the social norm by forgoing the career world and choosing to make a home and a family instead, thereby honoring the female in my own neo-feminist way. But in the end I am buying right back into the patriarchal paradigm by disregarding the humbling and dirty mama work for more glorious objectives.

I am assuming the above paragraphs rings as true in your cultural ear. But, seriously? How in the hell did we get to think that birthing and raising human beings is anything short of monumental. Suppose there were a laboratory scientist who under microscope inseminated human eggs, grew fetuses in an artificial womb, then provided just the right environment for physical and mental growth into a mature human specimen. I can only suspect this would be lauded as the highest post in the scientific realm. Heady stuff. Playing God, it sounds.

But no. It’s just playing Mom.

Because birthing and raising kids is commonplace does not mean it is anything less than absolutely extraordinary work. The highest post in the human realm (to risk making enemies). Worthy not just of respect, but outright worship. And I don’t mean I expect anyone else to bow down, but that I myself need to bow down before my own power. Yank it out from under those dank towels and worship my mothering self.

Which brings me to the kernal my life has been folding around for the last year. What is worthy of worship is worthy of Submission.

We are not taught to respect submission. Domination, that’s our bag. But I will dare to speak against the grain again and say that we whatever-we-are kind of feminists might want to reconsider. Submission in it’s pure form, shed of the baggage of polar duality, is beautiful, useful, and essentially female.

Now, don’t get yer panties in a bunch. By “female” I don’t mean only for women, or that only women naturally submit. I mean that it is the female in all of us that submits, and the male in all of us that dominates. I think we are all of us twisted up combinations of male and female qualities.

Before I get off track, let me explain further what I mean by submission. Such a dangerous word merits definition.

Because I do not mean submission to a god, or submission to your husband, or father, or priest, or pope or any of that. I mean submission to your chosen path, a gracious yielding to something beyond self. It’s what marriage means to me, and why I wanted to be married. Submission not to My Man, but to the union of Us we have chosen to make. Submitting makes it so much easier. You can let go the constant questioning, the wondering, the judging. You can stop re-examining your relationship every time you have an argument and put that energy instead into solving the conflict.

I started ruminating on submission regarding motherhood when I was visiting with a friend back home. We were talking about a woman we both knew, a mama who has given herself over entirely to being a mama. I couldn’t help but feel disdain. My friend swore this woman was happy, blissful even. I narrowed my eyes,

“But don’t you think that in some secret dark part of herself she’s all locked up and screaming?”

“No. No, I really don’t.”

I felt blind-sided.

“Maybe that’s what true submission means. Really, actually, honestly letting go of all your shit.”

I’m still not convinced that some bitter poison of stifled self will not leach in later years. Nevertheless, this shard of possibility which rubbed so wrong at first has been gathering like a pearl ever since. I feel there is something I’m missing. A keyhole empty.

I have always harshly judged the chic, city “accessory mom” who wants kids because they look good with her Saturday leisure outfit, and certainly would never let parenting get in the way of her career. Yet at some point recently I realized that I had shockingly similar expectations, just with a drastically different looking “career.” I also expected child-raising to fit into the corners of my otherwise me life. I would just keep at my illustrious Woodsy DIY Career whilst my babies played quietly with sticks and rocks in the corner, right?

When the truthing point arrived three years ago, in the form of an angelic and opinionated infant, the hardest part for me was lowering my expectations of production. I understood I had to give some things up, but it was only through gritted teeth. I was relenting. I was not gracious.

Enter the second. A seeming clone of the first. Not the “easy second child” I’ve heard tell about. Another beautifully spirited, curious, passionate and yes, opinionated baby. It’s amazing how early their little opinions exert themselves on your world. Size is not relative, let me tell you.

Two kids is a world away from one. It’s almost hard for me to really get a mama of one now. They seem so spry, so peppy, like fireworks compared to the dragged out way I feel. I’ve heard that this close spacing will pay off later, but so far all I can say is that having a newborn and a two year old at the same time was complete insanity.

Submission in the loosest sense of the word is inevitable. There is no escape hatch, no side halls, and the ground you walk over disappears as you pass. The only way is forward. But the spirit with which you go is everything. No hour passes slower than an hour of gritted teeth. To resist with your mind what you are in body doing wastes precious energy.

I am continually surprised by how pregnancy and, especially, birth prepare us for motherhood. Did you read the hippie birthing books? Submission, man. It’s all about submission. I can’t remember if they actually use that word, but that’s the concept behind pages and volumes of birthing books. Fight the pain and the baby will stick in there like a barb. Let go your fear, release yourself into the pain.

This is of course a fuck of a lot harder than it sounds. And I’m not sure I did such a keen job of it, which might be why my first labor lasted for three days. Obviously this is my special little lesson.

In labor you learn, above all else, that you are capable of completely impossible shit. In fact, it seems impossible and then the pain doubles. And then doubles again. And then, if you’re like me, when it gets to the pushing part the double double impossible is suddenly dwarfed by a mind boggling infinity of un-fucking-believable.

Which is good in a way. Because you come out the other end understanding that you are capable of feats as yet un-dreamed. If you can push a baby out of your vagina, mothering is all downhill from there.

We can do it. It’s the hardest job I know, and maybe it doesn’t offer immediate and tangible rewards like the more glamorous homey arts. Maybe you have nothing to show for the end of another hardest day of your life. Nothing to tally, nothing to photograph in macro, nothing to blag about, but we’re making mother fucking people. Beat that sister.