Six things my sons have never seen me do (and two they have)

I was in the basement the other day, folding Mt. Laundry as usual, when my eye fell on the ironing board in the corner. I wondered when the last time was used it. I gazed at the rather crinkly blouse in my hand, and wondered how long it would be until I used it again. (Certainly not at 11 pm on a Sunday night!) Then it occurred to me that my sons had never seen me use it. Not once. It was unlikely they even knew what it was for.

What other things are there that I know how to do – that I was carefully trained for by patient parents – that my sons have never witnessed in their memory? As I gradually eroded Mt. Laundry, I compiled a list.

Iron clothing
I remember my mother in the living room on a Saturday night, ironing my father’s work shirts: collar, sleeve, fronts & back. I remember being taught how to do it myself – the hiss as you pulled the iron upright, the spurt of steam to ease out a particularly wrinkled patch and the moist warmth of the rapidly cooling cloth as you pulled it onto a hanger to join the rest. My husband wears button up shirts to work every day, but I discovered the wonders of “no iron” shirts. One or two of my shirts ought to be ironed. In response, I never wear those shirts. And even if I unburied that old ironing board and exhumed the iron we bought when I got married… I do my laundry segregated in a laundry room in the basement. (One of the few joys of doing the laundry is you get to watch WHATEVER YOU WANT ALL BY YOURSELF while you fold it.) So my sons would not be introduced to the phenomenon even then.

Clean the house – including vacuuming & dusting
I work full time. Lately, full time has been even fuller than 40 hours a week. I also have a 1 hr each way, each day commute, and I travel for work regularly. Once home, I cook for my family, do aforementioned laundry, schedule our summers, pay the bills, raise two kids, volunteer in my church and enjoy a rich social life. Sometimes I even make it to the gym to work out! About the time Grey turned two, cleaning the house on a glorious Saturday morning, I wondered how much it would take to hire cleaners to come once every two weeks. I have barely turned on a vacuum since that glorious day.

Now, I know *how* to clean a house. I can mop. I can vacuum. I can dust, and wash windows. I can polish. I’m not amazingly great at it, nor is it a great source of pride to me. But my sons have never seen me spend a Saturday morning truly cleaning the house. Magic fairies (we call them “the ladies” which is questionably accurate) come and make the house smell great and change our sheets and scrub the floors. I threaten the kids to pick up their room with the reminder that “the ladies” are coming and anything left on the floor will inevitably get put into a random bin. I think that – unlike ironing a shirt – cleaning a house is actually an important skill for a kid to have, so I’m trying to figure out how I’ll teach them this vestigial skill of mine before they become responsible for their own houses.

Lest this list get to be a list of ways in which I am not a housewife, I thought I’d add in one other thing that I would like to do, and don’t. Since I tore my meniscus night on four years ago, I’ve noticed I’m very physically careful. I have a back which is a challenge, and a zombie left knee, and I’m often sore and achy. And so… I don’t jump. I just don’t. I don’t hop or leap or generally move quickly. I’m active – I hike and climb. You wouldn’t think of me as a sedentary person – but I wouldn’t (for example) jump on the trampolines at Skyzone, and I often bow out of activities that require cutting and dodging. I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever rediscover my courage and flexibility, or if this will become who I am.

Sew a button – or anything
In Jr. High and High School, we were fortunate to have vocational education. There was a well appointed “Home Ec” classroom and quite an extensive shop with gear for woodworking, machinery, CAD and other practical applications. (Fun fact: my computers credit in high school was actually in CAD drafting.) In a sign that the ’50s were still going strong in that neck of the woods at that time, by default in Jr. High the girls would get one semester of Shop with Mr. Jones and three semesters of Home Ec with Mrs. Muir. I suffered through my required first semester of Home Ec, learning how to bake a biscuit and sewing an apron (seriously – an apron!?!?). I learned enough to sew a seam, thread a bobbin, put on a button and read a pattern. But although I cook often and regularly, clothing now does not reward the effort of sewing. It costs considerably more to buy fabric and sew it yourself than to go to Kohl’s and get something.

I particularly thought of this because Thane made a puppet in Cozumel and LOVED sewing it. Loved it. I think he’d really enjoy learning some sewing, but I’ll extremely ill-suited to teaching him. Also, let us speak of gender neutral options that exist in sewing kits. (HINT: THEY DON’T!)

After my first semester of home ec and my first semester of shop, I knew which one I preferred. There could not be a RULE that said girls couldn’t do shop instead of Home Ec and so I happily spent 8th grade as the one girl in a class of 26 guys learning how to put together a lawnmower engine and turning a bowl on a lathe.

Sit down & write a letter to my mom
I have loved writing letters for my whole life. I still do. I have boxes full of papers and envelopes, and stacks of pencils. I have written hundreds of letters in my life – to my uncle, or my penpal on the Island of Sumatra that I once met in Olympia and wrote to for years. I wrote letters in codes. I wrote them backwards. I wrote them and then cut them up to be a puzzle. I wrote to people I knew well and people I’d never met.

I remember my mother writing letters too. She wrote to her mother, mostly. I remember the envelopes with the return address from Zaire and lovely block pattern that were filled with regular missives – daughter to mother – and the return envelopes that came with beautiful cursive addresses.

But. Well. My mom reads my blog, right? And sometimes I call her on my way home. Periodically I send her emails or comment on her G+ postings. Once a year – on Mother’s Day – I write her a letter. (HINT HINT SIBLINGS!) But to my sons, that letter is indistinguishable from goofing off on Facebook, or being at work, or playing Minecraft. It’s just mom on her computer, again.

Chop wood
For a period growing up, our home was heated by wood. (This was true of many homes around us, and remains true for some.) My father, the archetypal good Boy Scout, knew all about the cutting, splitting, stacking and seasoning of firewood, as well as the tending of fires. I learned this art on hot August afternoons where there was no where I’d rather NOT be than in the “back forty” splitting, stacking & hauling with wood chips in my hair and splinters in my fingers. We’d get a cord or two of logs delivered off a local logging truck – which were were NOT allowed to play on lest they shifted. Then we’d gradually cut our way through them, trying to make sure no one got crushed or chain-sawed up or had an axe head fly off at them.

The Easter I was 13, my grandfather gave me my very own axe. (A Boy Scout axe, light and sharp, with a blue handle and gilt writing.) I know how to aim an axe, how to heft it. How to condense the space between your hands as the head flies towards to wood. I know where not to stand when someone else is splitting. I know what to do when the axe gets stuck. I know when you’ll need a splitting maul instead, and how to construct a woodstack that will be a pride to you among your neighbors. (Actually, I’m not really sure we ever got that right. I for one did not care about the opinion of my neighbors on my wood stacking abilities.)

Ah, the things that I learned to do that are of a time past. I doubt I will ever regularly iron my husband’s shirts during M*A*S*H episodes, sew a summer dress, heat my house with wood or spend an hour every week to write my mother a letter and put it in the mail. (I may eventually have to clean my house again, and I hope some day I’ll get to jump!)

But while my housewifery is clearly being called into questions, there are a few arcane arts I preserve. I often feel – when I do these things – like an archivist or a wizard. I think very much of my ancestors while I do these things. I remember their hands at work at these same tasks.

Bake bread & pies
There was a period of my life when my mother decided to bake all our bread. This was particularly true when she was struggling with her carpal tunnel syndrome. She said that working the dough made her hands feel better. I remember the countertop kneading, the distinctive slap as she’d shape the loaves. I certainly remember how delicious they were. (She usually made 2 small loaves, one of which was mine by right and tradition.) I mastered my mother’s recipe (although I make it much more rarely since my husband bakes bread for us weekly!) and still enjoy that same slap on the loaf!

I also learned to make her pies, although in all truth I have never mastered quite that pinch of the crust that she makes look so effortless. Also, it took me like 9 years to get my crusts to come out round instead of square.

My sons have stood in the kitchen and watched me in my apron – flour on the tip of my nose – wresting with dough. Just like I watched my mom. But better yet, they have also watched their father do the same!

Put up a batch of jam
I usually do this after they’re in bed, truthfully. But they have watched me transform a bushel of apples to gleaming jars of apple butter. I picked the crabapples during their soccer practice which I turned into delicate pink crabapple jelly. I remember my great grandmother’s crabapple jelly, made from the tree in our back yard. Every time I hear the “pop”! of a jar lid, I remember. And hopefully my boys with find the sound a keen source of memory too – connecting them through shared memory across generations.

So, what do you no longer do? What do your children not realize you even know how to do? And what relics of bygone eras do you hold firmly to

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want. As soon as I figure it out.

I was sad when the schedule came out so that Adam and I could not spend Camp Gramp week in wild hedonism together, doing things like “sleeping in” and “playing board games”. BOTH weeks this year where my parents would take the kids, there were gaming conventions. I could hardly ask Adam not to go to Gencon, so that was just the way of it.

Is this what relaxing looks like for me?

The brilliant upside was this: I would be alone. All alone. No one else in the house. No cat, no dog, no kids, no husband. I even decided to take a day or two off from work, to do whatever it was I wanted to do. Just me and my desires to attend to. I wondered, in the cold days of spring, what amazing thing I would do with my free time. I imagined driving up the Atlantic coast, stopping to stare out at the wild waves of Maine. Or maybe I’d manage to find a friend and go backpacking! (That is actually what I really wanted to do. The problem is with the find a friend part. I’m reckless, but not that reckless.) Maybe I’d finally hike Mt. Chocorua. Maybe I’d slip my passport and a change of clothes into a bag and just go wherever the road took me. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I had a tumultuous lead time up to my great liberty. It went something like this:

Friday – work full day, pick up farmshare, drive 6+ hours to New York
Saturday – fail to find Appalachian trail
Sunday – hike Appalachian trail and drive back to Boston
Monday – work full day then fly out to Los Angeles on the redeye
Tuesday – have meetings in LA, watch Elysium with the sales team, fly back on redeye to Boston
Wednesday – all day company outing at Crane Beach. Buy plums.

Thursday I had originally planned for a day off, but I was so behind on stuff that I ended up working. Thursday evening arrived, and I relaxed by cleaning the kitchen, buying a new weedwhacker, getting my nails done and making 2 batches of plum jam.

Pie, red plum jam and golden plum jam – two night’s of labor laid deliciously out.

Friday was supposed to be the prime day of my great relaxing. But. Well. I started with an earlyish morning appointment at the chiropractor. (See also: twelve hours of long haul driving and two six hour redeyes in a five day period). And then I came home to a house that was a DISASTER. The kitchen was a mess. The living room was a mess. The dining room was a mess. The kids’ bedrooms made the rest of the house look downright clean. My bedroom was appalling. The carpets needed cleaning. And so that’s what I did.

I mowed the lawn. (I still need to edge it. Sigh.) I cleaned out Thane’s room. I cleaned his carpet. I cleaned out the upstairs hall. I cleaned the carpet. I cleaned my room. I cleaned the stairs carpet. I organized the living room and removed stuff we didn’t need any more. I cleared off surfaces in the dining room. I did the dishes. I cleaned the kitchen. I picked up the farm share. I cleaned the ‘fridge. I prepped all the farmshare food. I made blueberry pie. I invited friends over for a glass of wine and blueberry pie. Then I was GOING to SIT AND WATCH THE BASEBALL GAME, but it was a bad game and I practiced my trumpet and guitar instead, while flipping between the Sox and the Patriots. By 11 at night, the house was cleaner, but hardly done, and I was completely exhausted.

Saturday morning, I cleaned Grey’s room properly. (That was the hardest of them.) I dropped off dry cleaning. I went to the bank. I did the bills. Finally, I left to New York to go pick up the boys.

So what did I do with my precious, precious time of liberty? I caught up on chores. In fact, I pushed myself HARD to attempt to get as many chores done as possible.

“What” says the extremely ardent reader who has made it so far through my litany of “ohmygosh am I busy!” – “What makes you think we’re interested?” It’s this, oh Ardent Reader. It was something of a revelation of my sense of self. I think it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that being busy and engaged in satisfying labors is part of who I am. It’s not a small part either, and I think it’s growing. That’s no bad thing, because I am satisfied with being satisfied by labor.

But I think it also sounds the warning gong of a person too busy. I may fully utilize my time to be productive, but in exchange for what? Would I have been better off reading a book on the (overgrown) back lawn? Would my life be richer if I had gone North and left my farmshare to fend for itself? Or would I be less happy, heading into my busiest time of year in a chaotic and unrestful environment? How many days would I have to have off in order to feel like I was done with what needed doing? Or is that a goal that can even be accomplished? How do I draw the line between true work that needs to be done, work that I think needs to be done, things that I do that are like work but are also hobbyish (like canning), and true leisure and rest?

I’m curious how you, oh Ardent Reader, navigate these decisions. How do you draw the lines?