What a Mess

This is a picture of my kitchen This used to be a picture of my kitchen, until it was lost in a camera phone update snafu, in more or less its usual state. Well, except on Fridays. On Fridays someone comes and cleans my house, and when I get home, the surfaces are empty and clear and clean. The rest of the time it looks like this. Or worse.

I post this here because perhaps your kitchen looks like this, too. (Or perhaps your kitchen does not. Perhaps you are recoiling in horror and considering whether to call DHS, or at least wondering how I can let my world slide into such slovenliness when I am so privileged as to have a cleaning person once a week, or perhaps you think no good Christian woman would ever let the world see her house in such a state — actually, if you think that, please let me know — I would be stunned to have such a reader.)

But let us suppose instead that you are like most of the people I know, and your kitchen does look sort of like this. I am betting that when people come to your house, you apologize.

“Oh, the house is such a wreck; I’m so sorry!”

“God, I have been meaning to clean, but this week has just been crazy!”

“I have to apologize — it really isn’t usually like this.”

I know you’ve probably said these things, because I’ve said them, too. And before I said them myself, I heard my mother and grandmother say them. I’ve said this before, and failed, but I’m resolving anew: I’m going to stop.

My great-grandmother, my mother’s mother’s mother was a woman I never met, but by all accounts, she kept an immaculate house. It was the sort of house, according to my mother, in which you did not dare to misbehave, and yet there was a great deal to do: chores, yes, but also games, and pictures of puppies and kittens glued to the interior of the cabinets when the children were small, so that they’d have something to look at. Her house could have been on Pinterest, had it existed in the first half of the twentieth century.

It was beautiful, from what I hear, and I’m sure that was true. My grandmother and my mother lamented constantly their inability to live up to Hazel’s standards.

But here’s the thing: Hazel did not work outside the home. And Hazel had help.

Yes, I am kind of a lazy slob, but I am not going to apologize for not striving to keep my house up to the standard of a time when one was expected to keep a house and raise children, not keep a house and raise children and have a job. And I don’t think you should, either.

A long time ago, when I wanted to be a writer, I spent a lot of time reading about writers (this is not a particularly good way to become a writer, but, see above, I am a lazy slob). In one collection of essays I read, I remember a woman who was asked about how she managed to write and raise a family. Her answer was, “I say no a lot.” But she also admitted that she didn’t write as much, that sometimes writing time went to children and to household, and that some days, an organized linen closet felt as satisfying as an orderly paragraph.

For someone who has little choice in the matter (well, I suppose I could stay home with my child, if I wanted to be homeless), I spend an inordinate amount of time reading “mommy war” (how I loathe that term) articles about that subset of enormously educated and priviliged women who choose to stay home with their children and populate the pages of Pinterest and bring their adorable children to programs at the library where I work, causing me, whenever they show up, to want to hide in my office or deep in the adult stacks because I miss my own child so much at those moments. Some of this is the never-ending fascination with the lives of the rich, or relatively rich. Some of it is pure schadenfreude — whenever I read about a stay-at-home mom who got divorced and finds herself broke and desperate, a not small part of me has small, mean serves you right kinds of thoughts, because of course I am a single mother and I do it all. But mostly I think all those of us who read these articles do so because we are fascinated and baffled by this business of life, of working and mothering, and because we keep hoping against hope that someday, someone will say something about it that is true.