|Little making apple pie|
I peek in the stove and see a bed of coals needing attention. I pull the damper on the stove, open the door, rake the coals over with a tool my dad made out of steel re-bar for just such a purpose when I was a young little thing and he and mom burned wood to keep our family warm during long, cold Vermont winters. The firewood is nearby, but the pile is running low. I make a mental note to have the children bring in wood after lunch. The floor is due for a sweeping, so the timing is good. I select a few smaller pieces of seasoned oak and arrange them on the coals in such a way to allow the air to flow around them. I’ll add more once they get going well. Pulling my iPod out of my pocket I set a timer for ten minutes. It wouldn’t be the first time I started the fire up only to forget about it and let it go nearly cold. Setting the timer reminds me I didn’t set one for the bread, so I pop into the kitchen and set the timer on the microwave for an hour.
As I clean up my bread-making mess I check on the wee ones. Royal has done a fine job, but needs help reading a couple of words on his last problem. We finish up, he dates his page then runs off to my office to put it with the other completed schoolwork. As for Blue, her sixes and most of her twos are backwards again, and her 21 should be a 12, but she’s managing her dyslexia better than she did when she first began writing. I gently and matter-of-factly point out her errors and she corrects them without complaint or discourage. For the millionth time, I experience a warm ache in my chest. I am so glad that this brilliant, artistic and tender girl is able to learn at home instead of lost in a crowd and teased mercilessly at public school just because written symbols dance around unpredictably on her. She’s learned to read, albeit with more work and over a longer time than her siblings, and she enjoys it. She loves to write and make up stories, too, illustrated with the most imaginative and colorful creatures. It’s a pleasure to work with her.
And so the day goes. Beautiful moments that make up the good stuff of this brief life. Warm sunshine highlighting the cold, bare trees outside the windows, complimenting the cozy fire inside. Bright, lovable children going about their schoolwork and play. The whole family gathered for a simple lunch of cheese, crackers, pickles and fruit, then back to our various activities. Some of the kids bundle up in their worn, torn and mismatched winter gear and head outside. After bringing in firewood they visit the frozen creek to enjoy its wonders. Those whose assigned day it is to wash dishes get started after I add some hot water to the sink from the pot on the wood stove. I turn on some music, do some preliminary prep on dinner, and water the houseplants while the bread bakes. When I water the plants in the back rooms Denny pauses his design work and gives me a sweet smile and a kiss.
Domestic: adjective of or relating to the running of a home or to family relations.
(of a person) fond of family life and running a home
Bliss: noun perfect happiness; great joy.
I can’t remember ever being unsatisfied with my role as a homemaker. Frustrated sometimes? You bet. It can be overwhelming, yeah, and demanding, but I have never desired another occupation. In my late teens I held a very pleasant and suitable-to-me job on a landscape crew at a local golf course. That lasted about a year and a half before I had to quit due to my unplanned pregnancy. My boyfriend and I moved into a 5th-wheel camper in my parents’ yard, renting for $100 a month. I stayed home, cooked, cleaned, crafted, managed the finances, and planned while he worked construction five days a week. We married and, with the help of a midwife, we welcomed our firstborn in those cramped quarters. Shortly before my twentieth birthday we put a down-payment on our first house; very small, but roomy after seven months in a camper.
Soon we were welcoming another child. And another. I had plenty to do at home. If my husband and I ever talked about whether I would stay home and raise our children, I don’t remember it. He wasn’t the communicative type. In the last years of our marriage I think he resented me staying home. He seemed jealous of my freedom to manage my own time and enjoy the children, but he didn’t see half of what I did around the house and his own time at home was spent much differently. A sad and classic story, I’m afraid.
When I was growing up my mom had mostly stayed at home and seemed to find much satisfaction in it, and Dad, a carpenter by trade, seemed to appreciate what she did there, so I guess I just assumed that since I’d started a family, I’d stay home and manage things the way Mom did.
I’d gotten a head start, but soon my friends were settling down and having children too. They weren’t all enjoying it as much as I was. “I’m stuck in Baby Jail,” one friend was fond of saying. “I’d love to go back to work and feel like I’m contributing. I miss it.” Interestingly, she'd spent two or three years working in a nursing home taking care of the elderly before coming home to start a family, caring for equally unappreciative droolers in diapers. I reckon the difference was that at “work” she earned a paycheck, had time off, worked alongside other adults, and was patted on the back often because she was truly good at what she did. It can be a little daunting, being alone with babies and toddlers all day, with no end in sight, especially if no one appreciates what you do.
I understand more of this now that I’m older. Not everyone is cut out for parenting and homemaking or enjoys the same rewards for their efforts. For the most part, that’s okay. Most families manage. There are extremes, however, and I feel more strongly than ever that people who don’t enjoy or find some satisfaction in raising children shouldn’t be bringing children into this world, but that’s a rant for another day.
I don’t know whether anyone in particular appreciated or cared at all about what I did—if my husband did he never expressed it and to expect children to is a burden I don’t believe they should bear—but I felt good about it. What I did and what I continue to do at home satisfies me.
Investing in my children with time, kindness, patience, firmness when needed, and thoughtfulness has resulted in a house full of interesting people whom I enjoy tremendously. Is it easy? Nope. I’ve shed more than a few tears, wondering if I was doing the right things, occasionally cracking under the constant demand. Let’s face it, some days are just demanding and we’re not always up to the tasks, are we? But I pull myself together and put the children first. As the days go by and I watch these amazing individuals grow, I know I’ve done something right, something worthwhile. Maybe it has something to do with my belief that relationships are the most significant factor in enjoying a full, rich life. This is a huge part of my domestic bliss. Deeper, secure, fulfilling relationships for all of us is one of the reasons I am raising my own children instead of sending them away five days a week.
My home isn’t always clean. I like to clean, I just don’t do a lot of it because there are other things I enjoy more. I like things tidy, but I’m not fussy. Dust doesn't bother me. With seven children and various pets there’s little in the way of home furnishings that don’t take something of a beating, and there’s a constant barrage of clutter that must be dealt with, but generally it’s cozy and inviting, warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and so forth. No one who steps foot in the door questions which we love more, each other or the material things, and if you’ve ever been in such a home there’s something lovely about it. There’s usually good food on our table and the place buzzes with life and vivacity. There are interesting things going on everywhere, always a project or two in progress; the natural outflow of nine creative people who love each other, love life, and love being at home.
In the past year I’ve experienced an occasional spell of frustration, realizing how much of my life I’ve lived in a bubble, shutting out the sinful world, ignorant of world affairs, of societal issues, ignorant of my part, just focused on the goings-on within my four walls and engaging with a few families besides, leaving the world in God’s hands and washing my own of such responsibilities. I studied the Bible and prayed instead. Granted, I had my hands full with a bunch of young 'uns, trying to make meager ends meet. But I have moments of regret, hating how caught up I was in my own things and knowing I missed out on a decade and a half of learning, understanding, being involved. I’m ashamed of my ignorance, but I’m learning to deal with it. And slowly to remedy it.
When I’m having one of those days I try to focus on accomplishments that I'm proud of. I think about domesticity. I realize I’m good at it. Damned good. I can turn out delicious, nutritious food three times a day, balance my bank account, juggle bills, wash clothes, milk goats, build fences, garden, build shelves, make soap, sew up a storm, teach children these things as well as to read, write and do arithmetic, while fine-tuning their attitudes, having a good laugh, and so on... and it’s all in a day’s work. Fifteen years of this; I do it well, I enjoy it, it gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. It takes the sting off that feeling that I wasted my life on God when I could have been doing something meaningful.
Yeah, I guess what I’m saying is that when I get down about my religious past, I fold laundry, bake bread, tend plants, teach my children about evolution, and remember not to regret the past because I love who I am today. And tomorrow's possibilities are limitless.