Tag Archives: housewifery

Different

I have been reading a book I’ve had for some time, and only used before as a reference: Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. She has this to say, which I found really mind-boggling:


“The sense of being at home is important to everyone’s well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor, and courage will decrease. It is a complex thing, an amalgam. In part, it is a sense of having special rights, dignities, and entitlements — and these are legal realities, not just emotional states. It includes familiarity, warmth, affection, and a conviction of security. Being at home feels safe: you have a sense of relief whenever you come in and close the door behind you, reduced fear of social and emotional dangers as well as physical ones.” (page 7)


 

As an abused and neglected child, I had none of those things. Home was, as I have said elsewhere, the place where they knew how to put the (emotional) knife so it hurt the most. And, if a person wasn’t actively hurting me, they were wondering wtf my problem was? So, I have no expectation of safety at home.

I also have no experience of someone as she talks about caretaking a home as a way of showing love.

DH’s circumstances were different from mine, but his childhood home wasn’t happy and protective entirely either.

I have been for years trying to figure out what makes a place “home” and the most I could come up with was cozy and safe, so that’s what I’ve been heading towards decorating wise. But it has been an ongoing problem for me, because I want something I have never had, and decorating magazines and books just do NOT talk about how to create a home-like atmosphere.

And then there’s this:


“…what a traditional woman did that made her home warm and alive was not dusting and laundry. Someone can be hired to do those things (to some extent anyway). Her real secret was that she identified herself with her home.” (page 9)


And that I’ve never done.

The panic attacks happen in at least one predictable way, or used to. That was if I set up something to please myself. I was sure others would see what I did as laughable, stupid, or just wrong.

That’s a product of years of conditioning as a kid. It’s part of the cyclic rant: “Someone will break it. Someone will steal it. Someone will deride it or make fun of me,” that is the verbal side of my panic attacks.

Standing in front of a bookshelf with palms sweating and near tears, because I displayed some of my favorite things isn’t an experience I remember fondly, but it used to be common.

I identified myself not with the space I occupied, but internally. Inside was my only safe harbor.

I feel rather at sea in some ways. Years ago, my therapist told me to nurture the wounded kid inside me. I asked, “How?”

She looked at me and said, “If you’d had a kid, you would have learned, because your instincts and the child’s needs would have taught you. But you never had a kid. And you weren’t nurtured. I’ll have to think about that.”

And we came up with some answers, but not a lot. Although I don’t see myself as an uncaring person, frankly, I suck at relationships.

I ruin friendships, put off people, and always have. Some of it was being wounded, because I said inappropriate things, but much of it was just that I never learned how to build community, closeness, not really. I try hard. I try to have integrity. I try to be of use to the people I know, but I’ve never been sure I do it right, and think I screw it up, all the time.

The house is much the same sort of thing. It used to be that every time I did some new decorating thing or worked on cleaning the house, what I said to my husband was, “Are you mad at me?”

And although that’s pretty pathetic, it’s still the truth. These days, by contrast, what happens is that I’m grumpy. I was this morning, when I cleaned the kitchen.

You know? I’d really, really love to outgrow my childhood. Maybe by the time I’m 70?

 

Rumination on Aunt Sophronia

Who is Aunt Sophronia?

She’s a mythical character, the narrator, of a 19th century housekeeping book, the Complete Home by Mrs. Julia McNair Wright (McCurdy, 1879).

The book is one of the older “housewifery” books I own. In many ways, it’s amusing, but in others, it addresses things which might be so, but its perspective I don’t share. There are various and sundry points which it makes me ponder.

First of all, she is addressing a white, WASP audience, which is talked about as the only right way to live. I guess if you’re a person of color or other belief system, well, you were beyond reproach. In any case, the book was not written for a multicultural, multiethnic audience.

Secondly, this is from the era when they believed that airing was important. It is, but not the way it’s talked about. However, it was the science available to them at the time.

Third, it is also an era where WASP folk of any substance had servants.

With all that in mind, here is a quote:


“Practice economy as a Fine Art: make a duty and pleasure of it: it is the mortar where in you lay up  the walls of home; if it is lacking, or is poor in quality, the home building will crumble. Don’t be ashamed of economy: study it; consult about it; don’t confound it with meanness: economy is the nurse of liberality. Meanness is going into debt for luxury: is keeping behind-hand the wages our work-people have earned: is making a show on the street and withholding charity: is presenting cake & confections to our callers, and stinting the kind or quality of our servants’ food.”(p. 65)


Almost everything we own/do would be considered a luxury by the standard of the late 19th century I think. The statement “meanness is going into debt for luxury” seems appropriate. It’s normal now to live beyond our means, but how could we live differently in this culture? Have we been sold a bill of goods? Is keeping up with the Joneses, imaginary or not, the marketing tool of mass merchandising?

complete-home-cover-and-spine

Have I been a sucker my entire life? Maybe.

Without the ‘net, a car, etc. you’re pretty much going to be in poverty, wouldn’t you? Yes, there are ways around some of this: libraries and public transportation.

Frugality these days means paying off your house early or having no credit card debt. If, as the book suggests elsewhere, our job is to pass a home (without debt) and some money to the next generation, how would we live differently?

I have no children, so my next generation is my husband’s nieces. My brother’s child has two working parents and is an adult, married woman, not needing (or wanting) anything from us. So — what would I change and should I?

I’m not sure, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

 

So, Different . . .

My helper and I tackled the kitchen, again. I started dehydrating veggies, again. And last night after dinner, DH and I cleaned up the kitchen, again.

The difference was that I wouldn’t let it go — just do the dishes. Having spent around 2 hours cleaning both sides of the sink and the large counter just wasn’t ready for it to be a mess, again.

This morning, when I got my coffee, I washed the few dishes in the sink — usually I’ve waited ’til there’s a lot.

When I was a kid, the most unflappable mother in the neighborhood was Mrs. Olson. She had FIVE kids and a doctor husband. They had a veggie garden out back, and she canned. The house always smelled fresh and clean and I don’t ever remember it being a mess. I know we’d make messes as kids, but it was weird, I also never remember seeing her actually clean anything, except maybe wash dishes?

She was phenomenal. They moved and bought a “ranchette,” with a swimming pool, barn, corral and house — big enough for all 7 of them, their grandparents too. It was still immaculate, she bred dogs. Then they moved up to their summer place. Visited them there, once. Still immaculate, big space for the now 3 or 4 people who lived there.

If I’ve ever had a role model as a housekeeper that I wanted to emulate, it’s Mrs. Olson. I’m sure there were messes. I’m sure she got flapped now and then, but the overall image was a clean/bright house, delicious food, and serenity.

How I wish she was around so I could ask how she did it!

less-mess

I ask my friends who seem to manage their homes better than I do (well, that’s everyone, or nearly everyone) for hints and tips. One person said, “I always start whatever I’m cooking with cleaning up first, so that what I’m cooking doesn’t make a bigger mess.” Another said, “I have to clean as I go.”

Seems odd at this stage of my life to be worrying about something so basic as learning how to order and maintain my space, but I’ve never done things the way others do. I guess that’s part of my “charm”?

The one thing I keep bumping into is that it’s two things: maintenance and consistency. You have to do the work to begin with then you have to work to maintain it. Since for years I kept myself from “seeing” the messes, the first one is difficult. But the second is harder. Every thing in me, all the PTSD bits that is, scream when I start new habits. And, I usually panic and stop. The observation about maintenance and consistency isn’t new for me, the being able to do it at all without the panic is.

I have no idea how long this will last, as usual — we’ll see!