Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's not rocket science

When I was in 7th grade, my school started a new extracurricular activity for girls only.  We would meet during our lunch period, and have special woman visitors come and speak about their lives, their jobs, and what it meant to be a woman.  The sole purpose of the group was to encourage young girls to think of themselves as special- special in their own ways, with their own talents, and their own gifts, free to pursue those gifts in any way they decided.  I joined.  I didn't want to sit by myself in a cafeteria full of boys.

This idea of being "special" has really got us duped.  I don't mean to say we don't have different gifts and talent, most assuredly, we do.  But we've taken this notion of specialty a bit too far.  So far, in fact, that we now think that it takes it special kind of woman to stay at home, caring for it and her family.  And that taking care of the children, house, and husband require special tools to make up for the gifts we lack.

Think of all the products we bring into the home to make up for our lack of talents-- magazines divulging the secrets the child-rearing and husband-pleasing, special mops and brooms promising to clean the floors better than the old varieties, packaged meals pledging to bring a tasteful, healthy entree to your dinner table--all because we believe that only a special woman could figure out how to do everything a house and home require, and we are not that woman.

It's no wonder that women are running from their homes and families so quickly.  When we're frustrated that our children pester us all day, mess our floors moments after mopping, and interrupt us when the dinner's almost finished causing it to burn, it's easy to look longingly at the neighborhood's We-Have-All-The-Answers! Child Daycare Center and dream of picking up take-out on the commute home from a job where children won't interrupt us.  But if an ordinary woman decides she'll stay home, she most certainly must invest in expensive equipment and purchase the specialized knowledge of child psychologists, or she will be a failure.

What we've forgotten is that ordinary women have been doing these ordinary tasks for centuries without Parents magazine, Swiffer Wet Jets, and Voila! dinner entrees.  I'm not saying these products are bad, in and of themselves.  They can most certainly be helpful in a pinch, and stave off frustration from time to time.  But what they've caused us to believe is that women, on their own, aren't sufficient to be running a household- that failure isn't acceptable. But to look back through history, we must acknowledge that ordinary women have been gardening, sewing, washing, quilting, cooking, nursing, pie-making, and canning.  They did it, not because they had been granted some unique insight on the workings of needle and thread, garden fertilizer, stain-fighting, or food preservation, but because their families needed blankets and shirts, food in their stomachs, and a place to eat that wasn't crawling with larvae.  And their husbands were busy making sure they could give their wives the tools they needed to carry out their tasks.

Now certainly every woman wasn't accomplishing every feat with the same amount of success.  Some were better stitchers, others made prize-winning pies.  Some were regarded as exceptional mothers, others grew beautiful produce.  But these woman continued to do the things their families needed them to do, even if they didn't do it very well, and they passed on their skills to their daughters, so that when their time came, they too could run their households.

Today's homes do not require more of a woman than they did before.  In many ways, they require less.  They do not require any more exclusive skills or knowledge than they used to, though my great-great-grandmother may have stared questioningly at my dishwasher and marveled at the frozen chicken breasts in my freezer.  Homes ask one thing of women, as they have in the past: that they be there, doing they best they can to care for their families.  For it is in the home that a woman becomes special-special to her children and her spouse, not because of the work she does, but because she does it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I haven't had a decent night's sleep since my second trimester....two years ago.  I'm sure it foolishness to hope that when he turns two he'll suddenly start sleeping through the night. After all, all things are full of weariness.  It's nice to know that, having only the one, I can still sleep when the baby sleeps.  Even if the baby is actually a toddler.  And the toddler only sleeps for 40 minutes in the afternoon.  Still, it's something.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The problem with "happy"

Whenever my mother comes to visit, she always surprises me with her enthusiasm for changing diapers.  She literally jumps at the chance to change my son's diapers.  Of course, I let her.  Most of the time, diaper changes are gross, and here, where we use cloth, they involve putting my hands into the toilet.  But as thrilled as she is to do such a dirty task, I would never go so far as to say that she enjoys changing a diaper for the mere act of changing a diaper.  Rather, I'm fairly certain that she sees it as an opportunity to bond with her grandchild, and she finds pleasure in taking care of him.

I have yet to meet a woman who would claim that changing a diaper for the sake of changing of diaper brings happiness. The act is by nature unpleasant. The joy comes from knowing that the mother is taking care of her child.

Likewise, the act of labor is by nature unpleasant.  No woman could (or, perhaps to be politically correct, as some would challenge me- few women can) could find any amount of bliss in the midst of the pain if it were not for the knowledge that she was bringing forth a new life.

And yet, we seem to think that perpetual bliss is attainable, and we set out to structure our lives in such a way that we eliminate the things that are uncomfortable, annoying, or gross, so that we can have the pleasure without having to do any of the work.

The irony here is that this requires us to push those uncomfortable tasks off on someone else.  We hire another woman to change the diapers, hang out the wash,  make the beds, and scrub the toilets.  We gladly cook the meals, but expect our husbands do the dishes.  Consequently the pursuit of happiness often comes at the expense of another's happiness.  Who could argue that a hired woman could find pleasure in the act of scrubbing a toilet?  While she may appreciate the paycheck, the tasks of her job prevent her from obtaining perpetual bliss. Structuring our lives in such a way that we force another person to do the unhappy jobs we've been given only results in a social hierarchy where certain people are allowed spend their days doing only that which brings pleasure, and the rest of the people are there to clean up their messes.

As Christians, we were never promised happiness.  We were encouraged to be content.  And, at times, we may find that being content is extraordinarily difficult, and that life is unfair.  But we were called to many and various vocations, and those vocations will require us to do the uncomfortable, annoying, and downright gross jobs that the people around us need us to do for them.  And it's because of that relationship we have with those around us that we find the satisfaction.  Our relationship with each other drives us to serve, and to serve contentedly, for it is through our service to one another that Christ is meeting the needs of his people.