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?

 

 

Punk Homemaker’s Journal

Yes, I did get a good chance to climb back out of the hole I was in. I got time to be creative, finish a project, have dates with friends, and generally re-connect with myself as a grown-up. As I’d hoped, the break mellowed me back into a much better, more joyful and more appreciative mama. Thank goodness for the power of renewal!

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I did have a line-up of goals for ‘after the break’ when I would be a repaired and re-energized person. I have fallen into some serious sloth and indolence over the last few months, at every level, and I feel ready to do something about it. I know it’s not a good idea to take on too many goals at once, but what if they are all things that you had managed to do in the past and just need to re-instate? Doesn’t that make it a bit more realistic?

Number One on my list is screentime. I’m feeling okay about mine, but the explosive quantity of movie time for the kiddos over the last four months has been bothering me to the point of soul-destruction. I am sure that I over worry about it– plenty of kids watch 3, 4, 5 or even 6 hours of actual commercial-laden television every day and live to tell therapists about it. My kids watch 1-4 hours/day, 2-3 hours on average, of relatively good quality dvds. You have no idea how much it kills me to admit to that ‘4.’ Granted, four is a bad day, but nevertheless, jesus christ, how has this happened?!?!? We have gone in and out of better and worse phases, but I feel the kids themselves are on a better phase right now, and I need to catch onto their coat tails.

Because, don’t you know, getting them to shave down their movie watching isn’t so hard as getting me to shave down on my time to get shit done without someone hanging on my leg! I’m the one in need of weaning here. Mornings are the critical time too, the time when I most hate to see their beautiful wide eyes get sluggish with movie-hypnosis. The time when I most sharply want (need!) 40 minutes of relative peace to get my brain in order! (And then, since they’re plugged in anyway, another 20 minutes to get breakfast made and our bag packed with snacks, water and diapers for out morning outing. Oh god, it’s glorious to just be able to go about this simple task!)

But, it’s no good I say. I have called a pretty complete halt to the first-thing-upon-waking movie watching, and I am making an effort to cut out some from the rest of the day too. Although many of the mothers I most respect manage to do their job with no movies at all, I feel like if my kids averaged an hour and a half per day I would feel good.

Next on the list, and don’t ask me how I plan to accomplish both of these at the same time, is cleaning the goddamned house! This place has really fallen from grace. It’s not nearly so bad as it was this time last year, but I think I am ready to re-new a similarly intensive cleaning standard. For those of you who have asked, and I’m sorry it took me so long to respond, I did not keep up that 1 room/day schedule for more than a few months. But that doesn’t bother me. Turn’s out it’s a lot of work to keep your house that clean, and I am not a clean house person– I don’t feel the need to live in constant cleanliness. I just don’t like utter filth and oblivion. The massive overhaul of last January helped me to reign in a house that was completely out of control, and the following 1 room/day schedule re-programmed my brain to an expectation of relative cleanliness which carried me through most of the rest of the year. I was very grateful for it.

Now, it’s time to push that re-set button again.

Those are the two main things. Then of course there’s the perennial desire to get more exercize, do 10 minutes of yoga every day, resume my atheist prayer practice which fell completely off the radar a couple of months ago, and oh yeah… relax and enjoy my kids.

Wow. How to achieve so many things at once? Of course the answer is that I can’t. A thorough post on accepting limitation and setting priorities is brewing in my mind, but in the meantime there is only one thing that can possibly even nudge everything in the right direction at once, and that is being more organized and efficient.

I do love to make a plan. In some ways, sitting around planning to do is ridiculous. But for me it helps to have a spark, an inspired motivation. And if that takes a little time “wasted” with pencils and paper at the outset, that’s okay.

So when my friend explained the concept of a Homemaking Journal the other day, I was snared. Have you heard of them? I’m not sure what they really are, I did a quick g**gle search which was immediately co-opted by a religious, pink ribbons and needlepoint kind of homemaking. But my vision, formed by the description my friend gave me and built upon over the last few days, is a giant notebook where the specifics of everything I do in my day, all the kinds of things I write about here, are laid out in an organized and comprehensive manner. My friend had made one out of a 3 ring binder, which is of course what makes sense. Take papers out, add more in, move around. But, is it just me? I hate 3 ring binders. They are no pleasure at all to write in, and what good is a giant Life Planner if you can’t curl up on the couch and make lists in it?

As much as I should be using the time to actually do the stuff, I can’t resist this opportunity. I am designing my perfect Journal/Planner and it is going to be awesome. Lined paper, graph paper, calendar sheets and pocket dividers all in a spiral binding so I can get snugly with it. And I thought y’all might have some advice before I do this thing. Here’s my ideas so far:

The front section will be a weekly planner/calendar, followed by some lined pages for general notes, to-do lists, books I want to read, websites, inspiration, ideas, etc. The kinds of things I usually write on little scraps of paper and lose immediately.

Then a Kitchen section, with a pocket for snipped out recipes to try (even though I almost never actually do), lined pages for recipes I make up as I’m cooking (which I do actually do, a lot), notes on how things work, kitchen ideas, grocery lists, etc.

The Garden section will have graph paper for sketching layouts, as well as blank calendar pages for figuring out crop timing. Also lined paper for assorted notes, seed lists, etc.

Then, bane of my life, the Cleaning section. A slim little volume with lined paper to write out my various soap and laundry detergent recipes, and imagine more good cleaning schedules not to follow.

What do you think? What would you add? What are the things you like and need to keep track of in your life?

Since I am going to buy the paper and figure it out and do the binding (at Kinkos) anyway, I am incredibly tempted to make extras for y’all.  Wouldn’t that be a cool project! The annual Apron Stringz Punk Homemakers Journal. Ooo, I like it.

I’m afraid that zine-making was entirely too addictive.

 

Master of Fine (Homemaking) Arts

Each of us enters into this world of punk DIY housewifery from different angles. It’s easy enough to look down the street (or more likely, through the screen) at Ms. Jones’ new chicken coop, the handsewn banners in her window, the pie cooling on the sill, and compare straight across to our own shamble-stead. Assuming we ought to be even.

But there’s no reason whatsoever we should be ‘even.’ Everyone started in a different place, and took a different road in. People say this all the time. Start where you are. But I feel like we don’t give this fundamental truth the credence it deserves.

Adult jobs require training. Some jobs require years of schooling. Why is it we think we should be able to just step right into the kick-ass housewife role? Why do we think we should be able to cast off 20 years of academic schooling and suddenly, without training, become a super-hero urban homesteader? It’s yet another sign of how we devalue the work.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been, perhaps uniquely, well trained for this job. I grew up with hippie parents who fixed rather than bought, valued healthy food, believed in responsible action. They started me out with the values and the basic skills of the DIY lifestyle. When I left home, instead of going to college, I spent 3 years traveling around in rural areas, doing interesting, unusual and eminently practical work, and generally learning everything I could about the possibility of a more simple life. I spent the next 4 years with my partner on a friend’s land, building a sort of practice homestead, testing out everything we had learned. In the world of DIY/homesteading I am, I think, unusually well educated for this day and age. As far as more the classically ‘domestic’ skills go, I grew up in a restaurant and as an adult have cooked in professional kitchens where speed and efficiency rule. Cleaning and kids were my big blank spots (very big, very blank), the rest I had pretty well covered.

I don’t mean to gloat about it, but rather to say, look– I’ve had all the training a person could hope for considering the times, and I still think this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, still feel like I’m falling short every day. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you mamas who are just getting into all this stuff. I know the excitement of first love is heady, and hopefully it will carry you through, but damn you must feel overwhelmed! I just want to remind you to consider your training, or lack of it, and give yourself a break.

If you went to college and then spent your twenties working an office job, and now you are home with two kids trying to change the world one household at a time, you have just weathered an abrupt career change! Think of it as if you had lost your entire field of work and had to find and train for something radically different. Maybe you knew nothing about this new job. Maybe your family growing up rarely cooked, and a housekeeper scrubbed the bathtub. Gardening meant watering the rhodedendron. Maybe you hadn’t been around kids since you were one.

This is no small matter to brush carelessly aside, this is the crux of it really, because we have lost vast stores of knowledge about how to run an efficient, thrifty, coordinated home. It used to be that girls would learn this stuff before it was their responsibility, they would leave their parents home into their own new home having ‘apprenticed’ with their mothers and grandmothers. Not that those old days were so glorious, and I surely don’t want to be mistaken for saying women shouldn’t go to college, but what would it look like if an education in homemaking were a respected choice? Or perhaps available as a double major? Anything beyond a laughable elective in high school would help.

We have run in such panic from our past that now that we consider homemaking knowledge non-less, demeaning or even hateful. The cruel irony is that many women nevertheless continue to bear children, keep a home, run a budget and even cook for their families! But instead of proceeding with the confidence and success of training, we have to plunge in clueless. Without any real idea how to go about these jobs we all have to re-invent the wheel. What a waste of our (limited) energy! It’s sad, and as anyone reading this blog can identify with, it’s damn hard!

Several months ago, Harriet Fasenfest asked what we would look for in a “nuts and bolts” book about householding. The question has revisited me many times, partly because it was the bug in my rug before I had ever even heard of Harriet. What is it that would make our training? What exactly do we need to know? Is it the practical skills of cooking, preserving, cleaning and gardening? Or the less tangible skills of budgeting, time management and community building? But recently it hit me that whatever the knowledge base, information is only a part of training. Reading books and watching experts is valuable, but at some point everyone just has to dive in and get their hands dirty.

At the Foxfire Museum, on our trip to mountains last week, we got to watch the resident fiber artist for a while. She asked my girl how old she was, and then went on to explain which part of the process would have been her job at that age. “At four girls started carding, at five they made rolags, six they learned to spin, by seven they were using the loom.”

The beauty of a traditional “education” in homemaking arts was that it took place over ten or more years, under the direct tutelage of one’s instructor, and involved every day practice of a skill set which built on itself. How frustrating not to be able to use the loom till you’d put in three full years of fiber arts, but then again, how comforting really. Imagine if all the basic housewifing/homesteading skills were so viscerally ingrained in us. Imagine what we could accomplish!

My Man and I had a good long conversation on the train back from our trip. I am so envious of his ability to be flexible. He started out chaining himself to trees, and yet feels no regret about the way his life has changed since, no regret about his new vocation of paper-wrencher. He has this fantastic way of taking a distance perspective.

“It’s not a revolution right now. I wish it were, but it’s not. All we can do in a single generation is work for some degree of change in the right direction, and then trust that our work will be carried on by the next generation. Trust that eventually it will add up to something significant… Or just see us through until real revolution comes.” He added with a grin.

So, if you started your path in a mainstream, consumer household, spent years in the career world and are just now carving yourself some kind of responsible homemade life, take heart. Start small. Remember you are training on the job, with probably no teacher. Give your kids the values of thrift, simplicity, respect, conscientious living. Do what you can, as much as you can. Then trust that the next generation will continue our work.

Or start praying for revolution.

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.

Putting the Wife Back in Housewifery

Since I pretty much just chewed him out in front of the wide world with that last post, I thought now might be a good time to introduce My Man. Wonderful, loving husband. Fantastic, devoted father.

A few months ago, a friend pointed out a conspicuous lack of mention, throughout my blog, of My Man. I had to go back through all my old posts myself, and yup, hardly a word about him. Huh. Really?

First I’d like to say that I am, in fact, happily married. I feel 100% confident that my husband would say the same. And we are not, as you might have noticed about me, the types to gloss over, or rosy-glowify. We love each other, and even more than that, we both still love being married.

I truly believe in marriage, the old fashioned ’till death do us part’ kind. That is one of the main reasons I fell for my husband in the first place. It’s rare to find someone with the unique combination of old fashioned and radical progressive values that I have. But, there he was, dropped right into my lap.

So why then, I asked myself, is there a Husband shaped hole in my blog?

How could I be leaving the wife out of housewifery?

Well, for one thing, kids take over everything. EVERYthing. There just isn’t much room left for us grown ups. I know this will get better. This first year with two, in a new city to boot, is just bound to be one of our roughest.

And, I actually never meant for this blog to be as personal as it has become. The mama-desperation has just pushed it’s way out by sheer force. I guess when your marriage is good, there’s not all that much to talk about. Not so many giant piles of confusing tangled tortured emotions like motherhood.

But, there is another reason, and I’m a bit ashamed of this one. Marriage is not a popular subject. At least among the crowd I tend to run with. Like housewifery, doing your best to be a good wife has gotten a bad name. Even just the words– it took me over a year to get comfortable saying ‘husband,’ ‘wife’ and ‘married.’

Nevertheless, renegade that I am, feminist housewife, hippie armpit shaver, rule breaker, shouldn’t I step forth to take back marriage? Shouldn’t I stick my neck out there and champion the cause? Is there any issue more central to being able to work in your home and mama your own babies than a loving and supportive partner?

So now that I’ve explained why there’s a husband-shaped hole, I’d better fill it! Let me introduce My Man.

My Man is a monkey wrencher. He’s a thorn in the side of Progress, and I’m very proud. Since he’s very brain-oriented, he’s doing what he can to Fuck Shit Up (a favorite family term) on the paperwork end. Hence the lawyering.

When I met him, he was living in a tipi/shack of his own device, in the woods near our tiny Alaskan town. He drove an SUV, sued the Forest Service over timber sales from his a laptop, rarely washed his clothes, had long hair, a beard, a photo of his mom on his homemade scrap plywood desk, and a shameless love of Pop-Tarts. I always do fall for complex people.

Love is itself a complex thing. And as mentioned, I’m a nix on the rosy-glow girl.

Joining your life with someone else’s involves compromise. And here’s where marriage gets unpopular. We as a culture do not respect compromise. We think it’s weak. Feminism has, in my opinion, taken this male-made idea and run with it. We say ‘oh yeah, compromise, gotta do it,’ but secretly, when it comes time, we think compromising is losing.

After a few years with My Man his parents offered to give us the down-payment on a house, and he was excited. I was horrified. I was going to live in the woods. I’d been planning it since I was 12. I’d been living in the woods for several years already, and loved it, thank you very much. There was no way I was going to move into a house. In town. With sheetrock.

Of course, I did. And I find it very hard to talk about. Town friends just think I’m a crazy ungrateful witch. Woods friends think I gave up My Vision. I myself wobble between the two, and have a hard time giving myself the credit I think (with some part of myself) that I deserve for surrendering to compromise.

My Man is my partner. We share a common goal and we’re both working toward it, each in our own way. We have the same core values, but like any two people have different ways of translating them into our daily life. This seems absolutely essential to marriage, in my mind. Both those things– the shared values, and the struggle to synthesize two different translations into one life together. Compromise has come to mean losing a battle, settling for less. But the need to compromise makes us better humans! When we have to balance our own desires and opinions with someone else’s we learn humility, compassion, flexibility and true tolerance. Have you ever known any real hermits? They may have stayed absolutely true to their code of conduct, but they’re not particularly fun to be around. The life lesson of compromise has passed them by.

My Man does lots of things that drive me nuts. He doesn’t think twice about buying something made in China with half a pound of packaging. He drinks energy drinks, when he isn’t drinking Coke. He watches the NBA with rapture. He doesn’t do nearly his share of housework. He spends most of most days in front of a computer. He gives our daughter a pile of candy first thing in the morning on Easter Sunday.

But he’s also so fantastically wonderful that I chose to spend the rest of my livelong days with him. He’s that great. He has an incredibly strong sense of commitment, unusual these days. He is a devoted husband, and I don’t mean that as a cliche. He believes in ’till death do us part,’ and more importantly he’s not afraid of the hard work involved. He’s tenacious like you wouldn’t believe. He is cocky like any man, but also humble in the long run. We communicate, which is not to be understated! He loves the woods, and wild things. He even fights for them, hard. He believes (more than me really) in the possibility of true change. He gives me hope for the world.

The first time I saw him with kids, it was all over. I had already determined his excellent husband qualities (I was a calculating and analytical mate-hunter), but seeing how good he was with kids tipped me. He adores them, but more than that he’s good with them. Receptive, creative, gentle, playful and genuinely kind. He talks straight to them and listens no less than if they were adults. He follows their lead, and honestly enjoys it.

In her book Radical Homemakers, Shannon Hayes stresses that the decision to make a radical home must be made by both parents. It is so true. When my friend called attention to the Husband Deficit months ago, she asked how he felt about all my revolutionary housewifery. Was he supportive?

I can only say, if he wasn’t I sure as hell wouldn’t have time to write a blog about it! He helps with cleaning less than I’d like, as I probably mentioned. But he’s all in with the kids. He works hard to balance law school with being a Papa. And always errs toward Papa-ing. I manage to get a few things done while he’s gone, but really if he didn’t spend significant time with the kiddlets every day, I wouldn’t get anywhere! [Furthermore, I’d be in the crazy-house.] Home stuff isn’t really his thing, but he loves that I do it, and helps whenever I ask. He supports my work with his mind, heart and hands.

He’s My Man, what else can I say?

Wifely Duties

No, I don’t mean that. Us progressive ladies and our progressive hubbies/partners had better not think of that as a duty.

I’m talking about a few things I recently started doing that really Hubby should do for himself, and I’ve resisted until this point in our relationship because they seem so over-the-line wifely.

But when I resolved to start sweating the small stuff, I realized that waiting wasn’t going to help. At 35 he wasn’t suddenly going to start doing these things on his own. And so, I stepped in.

I now (gulp) pack my husband’s lunch, and sort his laundry.

In Cordova, Hubby worked at home, his office was upstairs. It just didn’t seem too weird to make enough lunch for two whenever I was hungry, and then shout up to him that food was ready. But here of course, he goes off to school everyday, without breakfast (he’s never been a morning eater) and doesn’t get home until 4:30. He either starves all day, or goes and buys lunch. Which at $10 a pop, adds up.

Here is a man who can barely summon the patience to pour granola into a bowl and top with milk. He was simply never going to start thinking ahead to make himself lunch.

To make the concept of packing my husband’s lunch swallowable, I am just making an effort to always cook extra dinner. Then I put the leftovers in a tupperware. All that’s normal enough. Then I just have to remember to set said tupp by the backdoor in the morning, with a utensil on top (morning’s are not his strong point).

$10 saved.

Now, the laundry. Here’s a question that’s always bugged me. Do ‘normal’ people wash their clothes after each wear? I notice they don’t wear the same clothes day after day, like I do…. So unless they’re washing them after each and every wear, what do they do with the half dirty clothes???? I mean, really I’d like to know. Because I just don’t think that ‘normal’ people have a pile on their floor that they sift through every morning for the fresher items.

My tack is, as stated, just wear the clothes. Day in and day out until they’re dirty (which for me, means quite some time). Hubby likes to change his clothes more or less every day, but will certainly accept that they’re not necessarily in need of a wash after every wear. T-shirts and undies, yes. Jeans and sweaters, no. But although he’s stellar at making The Pile, he doesn’t sift through to find a freshy, he just gets a new item off the shelf. The shelf of clothes that I have carried to the back shed, washed, hung to dry, carried back in, and folded.

He does do some of the laundry, I ought to clarify. But anyway, this is not a bitch-about-your-husband blog. The point here is that, aside from my energy, that’s a lot of wasted water, detergent and electricity washing clothes that aren’t really even dirty!

So I decided to bite the bullet and start sifting for him. Don’t ask me why this in particular was the hurdle, and not washing his clothes in the first place, but it was. Of course it takes less of my time in the long run. I pick out the pants and sweaters, check that they don’t have big spills on them (we do, after all, have kids, and he is, after all, in law school, to which some people suits). Then I fold them back up, return them to the shelf, and wash the rest.

That’s it! Easy! Money saved, energy saved, evil circumvented!