You see, I bought into the cultural programming around that word, programming, which I would like to add, that had nothing to do with my mother. I watched TV, read books, listened to songs, and read magazines that all characterized homemakers as some throw-back caricature of the 1950’s, before feminism, before women’s rights. I truly believed that if I wanted to do right by womankind that I had to fight against the marginalization that was the only fate that awaited women who accepted that roll. To be a whole and happy person I had to do something else, anything else. I believed that the home was the place for women who just weren’t smart enough or talented enough to cut it in the ‘real world’. Boy howdy, was I wrong.
When my daughter was born, I realized that I didn’t want to miss her childhood. I wanted to be a part of her world, and I wanted to give her the connection to her family that my mother worked so hard to give me. So I stayed home. I stayed home and threw myself into the June Cleaver stereotype with a vengeance. I was smart, I was educated, I was talented, so surely I could do this perfectly. After all, women had been doing this instead of really living their lives for millennia, right? How hard could this possibly be?
I had a nervous breakdown when Susan was 6 months old. Turns out it’s pretty hard. I just couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t keep my baby perfectly happy, and my house perfectly clean. I could not get dinner on the table every night without fail, and greet my husband smiling at the door perfectly groomed and dressed every evening. To my surprise and delight, Shawn greeted this news (shouted at him at the time) with relief. “Good.” he said, “It’s about time.”
“What on earth does he mean by that?” I wondered. To add fire to this internal conflict, I felt empty, without pride or purpose. I spent my life in struggle every day, only to stand still. I yearned for release. In my despair, I did what I should have done in the first place. I reached out to my womenfolk, my mother, my aunt, my grandmothers, my friends, all of the wonderfully wise women who had seen to my survival and upbringing. I asked for advice. I am absolutely sure that in some quarters my coming to my senses about my inability to do everything on my own was met with arms and voices raised in thanks. In short, I had not just been driving myself crazy.
My mother gave me the best advice I have ever received in my whole life. “Operate from a place of love.” Because you see, that which we build from pride only ever falls down, but that which we build from love endures forever. I had approached my home, my marriage, and my mothering from a place of pride. “Surely I can do better than all of those who have come before me, because this cannot possible take more skill than I can acquire in a weekend.” I thought. Like I said, boy howdy was I wrong, and it was the beginning of a very long road for me.
Now 76 days into our farming adventure I am re-learning skills that it took my great-grandmother a lifetime to earn. How to tell when chickens are too cold or too hot, how to herd ducks, how to build a stone fireplace. I am quite literally learning how to chop wood and carry water, and I am loving every minute of it. My life is full and happy. Why, you might ask? Because I am a homemaker. That’s right, I said it. I am a homemaker. Because you see, I’ve made my peace with that word, it’s what I do. I make home. I make this place a home to the creatures that live here (sometimes quite literally), be they humans or animals. And you know what? It’s a vital function. My family simply can’t do without me. I ensure that every being in my care has its basic needs met, be it safety, food, shelter, clothes, water, or love. And for the first time in my life, I feel a great peace in that knowledge. I need not be perfect, I need not have all the answers. We are learning together, all of us. We are learning what it means to live as human beings as surely as the ducklings in our care are learning how to be ducks, and in both cases the process is nothing less than miraculous. In the meantime, I will facilitate that process, because that is what it means to be a homemaker. I facilitate the process of life. That’s a pretty big job, and it’s one that society has been pretty derisive of lately. It is not for the stupid, or the faint of heart. It takes every ounce of my intelligence, experience, endurance, and courage to do my job. Yesterday I put my body between my child and a hungry black bear. My mother was standing right next to me. Today I’m researching and engineering a way to keep the bear out of the compost pile, and thus hopefully, out of the yard. These are things that my great-grandparents knew, and we, in our ignorance, have thrown away. We believed that we knew better. We believed that the only education worth having came out of a school, out of a book. We believed that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers wasted their lives. Boy howdy, were we wrong.