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On Being a Homemaker
Even though I was born in 1955, I was not raised to be a homemaker.
Like many other women of my generation, the women's movement came along and convinced me that there were more important things to do than make a home for myself, a husband, and a family. In addition, my mother was a piano teacher and our house her studio. Her self-employment gave our family economic benefits, but she didn't make for us a home.
My early years, however, were not completely without role models. I had two grandmothers who were wonderful homemakers.
My mother's mother didn't work outside the home, but she knew about thrift. My grandfather was a truck driver, and on that meager income my grandparents owned their house, always had everything they needed, and had money in the bank. When my grandfather retired, they sold their tiny two-bedroom Arts & Crafts bungalow and paid cash for a brand-new three-bedroom house. They had no debts. My grandmother's wise management of money more than made up for the lack of a second income, and gave her time to make a home.
My grandmother prepared all their food from scratch. She tended a backyard vegetable garden where they grew much of their produce. Her home was always clean and tidy. She sewed dresses for me. There were always freshly-baked cookies in the Little Red Riding Hood cookie jar that now sits on my kitchen counter. And she still had time to volunteer at her church and to become an accomplished painter.
My father's mother was also highly skilled at homemaking, as were her sisters, my great-aunts. From them, I learned to bring beauty into the home. In their homes, the table was always set with fine china and silver and crystal glasses. They taught me table manners, how to arrange food beautifully on the plate, and how to look lovely in my own appearance, so as to be an attractive part of the home myself.
After many years of focusing almost exclusively on career, and with all the options open to me as a contemporary woman, I have chosen to be primarily a homemaker. As I began to be more aware of myself as a being of Nature, a deep natural instinct to make a home emerged within me. Though I also produce income, it is the by-product of creative work I love to do, and my life no longer revolves around my work. My home and personal life is central, and work exists to support that.
Home is the foundation that supports the rest of everything we do in life. It is the place where we rest and renew ourselves and receive nourishment. It is the starting point of every new day. Though other activities are more glorified in our culture, I cannot imagine anything more important than making a good home for oneself and loved ones.
Until the industrial/consumer age, both women and men worked together to make their home. Traditionally the man built and repaired the house and did the heavy work in the garden. The woman maintained the interior of the house, decorated, cooked, and grew vegetables and flowers in the garden.
In my home, my husband Larry and I continue this traditional division of labor because it works. We don't do something because it is "woman's work" or "man's work," we do what we do because we fall to it naturally. I prepare all the meals we eat together because I am a fabulous cook. But Larry prepares nourishment for me in other ways. In our backyard we have abundant citrus trees. As I write this, the trees are hanging heavy with ripening fruit. Every morning, the first thing Larry does is go out into the garden and survey the trees. He examines all the fruit and picks only the perfectly ripe ones to put in his basket. Then he brings them into the kitchen and hand-squeezes the juice, which we share together.
We also make home by working to improve our house together. We love to hunt for beautiful old windows and doors in salvage yards, and make our home more attractive and efficient as best we can. While it is up to me to choose the decor, Larry often has his tools out to put up shelves or paint walls, bringing my vision into reality.
As I drink the juice he has prepared for me or hang my broom back up on the pegs he installed, I feel his love for me and our home. And I know that he can make his contribution to our life because he is nourished by what I bring to our home.
I know that the word "homemaker" has come to be synonymous with demeaning household chores under sometimes slavish conditions. I don't want to diminish the very real plight of women past, present, and future that may be in such a situation, but the problem they face is not homemaking. It is enforced housework, and lack of choice, for whatever reason.
Homemaking very different than mere housekeeping. Home is more than an empty house. It is beyond a place for minimal survival. It is a dwelling that is filled with and reflects the love and care of the people who dwell within it. A homemaker, then, is one who fills the house with love and care in every action that is taken there.
In my home, there is no longer any such thing as menial housework. Preparing food is creating loving nourishment for the health of our bodies and the joy of our senses. Making the bed is creating a lovely place for us to be together in our deepest intimacy. Cleaning and tidying up the house brings the ease of life that comes when everything is in order. Making my home puts my hands to work after hours of the intensely intellectual work of writing.
Homemaking is a creative act, a work of art in progress. In fact, there used to be something known as "domestic arts". They are all the skills needed to manage a home--cooking, cleaning, sewing, money management, raising children, first aid and basic health care, the crafts of home decor, and home maintenance. We have lost many of these skills in exchange for lifestyles where we work outside the home. We buy our food, clothing, shelter, and health care rather than viewing what sustains our lives as integral creative acts. By being consumers instead of creators, we buy instead of do, accepting the creations of others instead of exploring and expressing our own values and creativity.
Before the Industrial Revolution, a mere 150 years ago, everything that we purchase today was produced in the home, by both men and women, or in local villages by artisans. We think that we have been relieved from tremendous drudgery, but we have also been torn from any connection we might have with the Earth and materials from which our household goods are made. We consume as much as we can buy, rather than the amount we need or that the land can sustainably provide. When you shear a sheep, spin the wool, and knit the yarn, you know where your sweater came from. You know you need to care for the animals and their habitat if you want another sweater.
Though it may be impractical to suggest that we return to a pre-industrial way of life, we can restore many homemaking skills that bring personal joy and satisfaction, as well as save money. I enjoy cooking, growing food and flowers, sewing some of my clothes, cutting my husband's hair, making my own music, and remodeling my house.
For me, homemaking goes beyond the four walls of my house and out into the world. Home is any physical space in which you dwell and bring your love for the purpose of well-being. Since my garden is part of my home, included in my household and loving care are all the squirrels, birds, lizards, and other animals and plants that live there. My community is included in my home, for I have an effect on my community and it embraces me. And, by extension of this logic, the entire Earth is subject to my care and love, just as it offers me habitation.
An ancient Chinese proverb says, "If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world." As we make our homes, so do we also make the world.
I believe that the pleasurable instinct to make a home is natural to all of us. It's time to reclaim homemaking as a noble and worthwhile pursuit.