Where’s My “Women’s Work” Medal?

women's workThere should be a special kind of swagger after you complete a shit ton of housework. Or a badge of honor. Whatever it is, it should be obvious, huge, and awesome.

After all, I just spent two entire days doing several loads of laundry, folding it, and actually putting it away. (We all know that it’s the folding and then the putting away that is the most difficult. And for some, remembering to move from the washer to the dryer without having to run the cycle again because you forgot and the wet laundry got mildewy. I confess: this has only happened to me once. I consider myself lucky and fortunate. We are in a drought.)

That alone took awhile, but the bulk of these past two days has been finally stripping beds of long overdue sheets, as well as washing the months worth of sheets that have been piled up in my upstairs hallway for who knows how long? We have a lot of beds. And I hadn’t washed my sheets or blankets or sheet protectors for at least two seasons and cycles (this is where having multiple sets of sheets and sheet protectors is handy for procrastinating).

I am not kidding when I say there were close to ten loads run just these last two days. There goes that drought thing.

And sheesh. Have you ever folded sheets and duvets and fitted sheets? Especially for queens and king sized beds? EXHAUSTING.

This past weekend, I deep cleaned my bathtub and shower. (Last time I did this, I was pregnant with Glow Worm.) I even cleaned the jets/pipes for our tub. That wasted a lot of water. I also cleaned our sink area and the bathroom.

I was sore for days. I’ve only recently been able to sit down without holding onto a wall. Scrubbing a bathtub is a really good butt workout, apparently. No wonder I avoid it.

Did I mention that I also vacuumed most of the upstairs?

Have I just spent approximately three hundred words telling you about how I cleaned my house and did laundry and did the stuff that millions of women and caretakers do every fucking day?

Yes. Yes, I have.

I don’t care that this is the stuff that doesn’t seem important and amazing. It IS important and amazing.

I know. I wrote about this already and often refer back to the book that changed my life: The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work,” by Kathleen Norris (Amazon affiliate link).

But truly, it bears repeating.

Why shouldn’t we celebrate doing “women’s work”? The menial tasks of life that are looked down upon but make a life of meaning possible.

Yes, I did just say that.

The shit work we do makes a life of meaning possible for ourselves, our partners, and our children.

It is a noble task whether I am like some of my friends who are always cleaning their homes or like me, slovenly and meh about it.

So, I know this post is shorter than my norm by about 65%, but I’m exhausted from all that laundering I did these past two days (as well as purging the house, taking the kids to their camps, and prepping for our trips).

Anyhow, today’s post is to give you, my dear friends, a place to brag about the shit you got done today (or recently). I don’t care if it’s as simple as making lunch for your kids or doing the dishes. There are few things I hate as much as providing three meals a day for my children. It sucks. I hate it. But for some reason, they get hungry and stuff.

Ok. Have at it. Tell me how awesome you have been! No task too small. Be shamelessly braggy. I look forward to reading and celebrating how fucking fantastic you are.

Wait, How Is This My Life?

When I was free and unencumbered with children, I would read articles by SAHMs about how they would have to do laundry every single day. I couldn’t fathom it. I only did laundry when I ran out of socks or underwear (my two limiting reagents). As a result, I had at LEAST a month’s worth of socks and underwear just so I only had to do laundry once a month. It’s not like I sweat a lot or was in any way physical so my clothes really didn’t get very dirty.

Fast forward to now and wouldn’t you know it? I do laundry almost every single day. Sometimes, multiple loads. I don’t even understand HOW? I mean, I wash the cloth diapers every day because right now, I have two kids in diapers and use a lot of them as burp cloths. Fine. That’s to be expected. But how do I have multiple loads? My kids have a reasonable amount of clothing. So do Hapa Papa and I. And yet, there it is. ME DOING MULTIPLE LOADS OF LAUNDRY EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Yes, that was CAPSLOCK worthy. Because seriously? WHAT THE HELL AM I WASHING?

And it’s not just the laundry. I am constantly doing dishes. Now, part of that is because I only have so many bowls and plates and utensils that are kid friendly. The other part is that I’m home all day so we use dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Occasionally, I’ll use the dishwasher if we have a lot of people over or I’ve been lazy all day and just wait for the end of the day. But usually I hand wash because there’s a much faster turnaround and if I waited until the dishwasher was full, I’d wait forever.

Now that I think about it, I am doing more dishes now because I am finally forcing my kids to feed themselves so instead of a communal bowl from which I shovel food into my kids’ mouths (and mine), we now all behave like semi-civilized people and all have our own bowls, cups, and utensils. I may have to rethink this strategy since it causes me more work. I just have to decide whether it is more work to wash dishes or to feed my children (who have perfectly functioning hands) while holding a two month old. *sigh*

Don’t get me started on vacuuming! Thankfully, I have a handheld vacuum that I can use to hoover up the endless supply of crumbs (I cheat and vacuum the table) that find themselves over EVERYTHING. And it’s not just because of the kids. I seriously can’t tell whether Hapa Papa or one of my kids ate somewhere because they ALL leave crumbs. I get why my babies do. It’s Hapa Papa that I’m having trouble accepting. Of course, I’m spotless and crumbs never fall from my lips. I am a swarm of locusts and all food is efficiently consumed with no waste whatsoever.

I know I tell the kids to pick up their toys (I’ve gotten a little slack with this since it’s hard to enforce while nursing), but lately, Cookie Monster and Gamera think it’s hilarious to launch their cars and planes and trains into the air and smash and crash them into EVERYTHING so they’re all over the floor, in couch cushions, under the couch, under the table, etc. Then, they’re obsessed with “Eggy prizes” (basically, stuff in Easter eggs) so now I have a bunch of old Easter egg halves and teeny tiny toys all over my carpet. WHY DID I KEEP THESE STUPID EGGS? Oh yes, because I’m cheap and intend to use them for next Easter.

I would read articles of mothers eating their children’s leftovers as their only sustenance and think, “That’s insane! I LOVE food! This will never happen to me.” And yet, now, I have their leftovers for lunch because they rarely finish everything on their plates and it seems wasteful to throw it away but stupid to keep because it’s not really enough for another meal. When my kids spit something out or drop something on the floor, I don’t even think twice about shoving whatever it was into my mouth because it is faster and easier than getting up to throw it away in the garbage. (Ugh. I want to gag just thinking about this, but yet, it doesn’t bother me while it’s happening. Laziness trumps yickiness.)

I’m not really complaining (I don’t think). I don’t really mind doing these things because I prefer an ant-free house that is reasonably tidy and clean and non-sticky. I also like clean dishes, diapers and clothes and not stepping on a toy in the middle of walking across my home. I see doing these activities as a holy thing (when I really think about it, not while I’m in the middle of wiping up another mess) because it is a way to love and serve my family.

It’s just that when I stop and actually examine my daily activities, I’m a bit bewildered. I went to college for this?

Two years ago, I was reading Christianity Today’s Hermeneutics blog and one of the writers referenced a book called, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work,” by Kathleen Norris (note: Amazon affiliate link). It changed my life and perspective forever about what I and millions of other women (and let’s be fair, men, too) do on a daily basis.

Norris calls all the cooking and cleaning “Women’s Work” because that is historically what it is called. What she addresses is that because this type of work has been historically performed by women, it is thus looked upon with contempt and deemed worthless. Norris posits that our daily work of laundry, cooking, cleaning is actually worship and holy. That what we do to take care of ourselves and others can be both an act of indifference or an act of supreme love. That the work which is looked down upon in the eyes of society is actually a beautiful and vital thing.

Our society values the grand, big gestures. The sweeping acts of bravery and heroism. But there is a heroism in the small, every day acts, too. In fact, I would argue (as does Norris) that these small, daily acts of cooking and cleaning are in fact, more necessary than the big acts of history-making. After all, whether or not you are doing something epic or mundane, you need sustenance, clean clothes, and clean living spaces.

I cannot tell you how happy and joyful this book made me. After all, who wants 90% of what they do all day to be deemed as lowly or simple? Now, to be honest, I’m not cleaning a toilet and thinking to myself, “OH JOY!! What wonders this be!” However, I do feel as if I am contributing something of worth to our household even if I’m not the one making the big bucks. After all, I may use Hapa Papa’s paycheck every day, but he damn well uses the toilet every day, too.

Anyhow, the beauty of these small, daily activities is that it is not limited to just SAHM or parents. Most people (unless you are so rich you have a housekeeper, chef, and someone to wipe your ass) have to do some measure of tasks that can feel like drudgery. Be encouraged. You are doing something important and nurturing, if for no one other than yourself.