When my children were small, I found the repetitive nature of the tasks required to keep them alive and healthy and happy--change a diaper, wipe a nose, fix a snack, clean up a mess, change their clothes, make a meal, clean and clean and clean--to be wearying. In fact, the unsatisfying, endless tedium of doing so many things that only had to be done again made me downright depressed.
But then I found that if I accomplished something that could actually be finished, with a real, tangible end-product that I could enjoy and admire--paint a chair, knit a gnome, bake a loaf of bread, redecorate or reorganize a corner of the house--that I could pull myself out of a funk and lift my mood. At about the same time I had this realization, I started reading blogs by mothers who were also crafters, cooks, gardeners, and home decorators. I was seduced by the siren song of domesticity and I threw myself into the work of creating a beautiful life wholeheartedly.
That's kind of a weird sentence to write, as a child of the seventies, reared on "Free to Be You and Me." But during a phase of life that can feel so very thankless and unsatisfying, there's real succor in holding in your hands the results of your own creative efforts. Homeyness was not entirely a blog-driven desire, out of character for me--my paternal grandmother knit bales of slippers, my maternal grandmother crocheted afghans and sewed quilts and kept an enormous garden, my aunts crocheted and cross-stitched and sewed, my mother knit, sewed all of our dresses, and dabbled in a range of 1970s-inspired back-to-the-land-type crafts from weaving belts on inkle looms to beading jewelry to stained glass to spinning wool to cake decorating to canning and jam-making. They all cooked and baked from scratch, skipping over the Jiffy Mix and Bisquick the rest of their generation depended on. I had always had a crafty side, and after college I taught myself to knit and sew, cook and garden, with some guidance from my mom, and a lot from books (back before online tutorials and videos).
Finding fulfillment in the domestic was part of my genetic makeup and upbringing, so it was in some ways natural to dive into that world more fully after I had children, and it served the purpose of creative outlet and emotional ballast when the redundancy of motherhood and housework and a boring job threatened to unmoor me. Until it didn't.
Maybe it was the schedule of older children that made cooking real meals impossible. Maybe it was years of hearing "I hate that!" when I put dinner on the table. Maybe it was the realization that even tasks that feel like accomplishments are never truly done--knit a hat, kid loses it, knit another; sew an outfit, kid outgrows it, sew another; paint a chair, paint gets chipped, kid outgrows it, put it out by the road; bake a loaf of bread, bread gets eaten, bake another; can a dozen jars of jam, jam gets spread on toast, buy some at the store until next summer when you can start again. Maybe it was my kids getting old enough that I don't have to serve so many of their endless needs anymore. Maybe in the internal struggle for my creative energy, writing is finally winning out over homemaking.
Whatever it is, I don't want to do it anymore. Dinner? How about frozen pizza again, kids? Sewing project? Dang, the machine's all jammed up. Garden getting overtaken by weeds? Sorry, I'm busy reading in the hammock.
I let rhubarb, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry seasons all go by without making a single jar of jam. I finally dragged myself to the stove when a bag of plums from our own plum trees threatened to spawn a new species of fruit-fly. I made the jam by rote--boiling water, one-to-one plums to sugar, some candied ginger, boil, jar, boil, cool. Pop. Pop. Pop. The jars sealed. Plums rescued. Beautiful, jewel-toned jars on the shelf. Jam weirdly astringent from the skins. Sense of accomplishment? Nil. Mood-enhancement? Nada.
Maybe this is just a stage. Maybe I'm just really tired from trying to do too many things for too long. Something had to give. I'm still laboring over words--which is not exactly satisfying, but it feels necessary. I currently get more of thrill from identifying a flower than from cooking a meal. And, well, as long as we manage to get something to eat, and as long as the house doesn't get overrun with cobwebs, I guess that's okay.