Growing up, the necessity of equal opportunities seemed obvious to me, and I believed I could do whatever inspired me regardless of my anatomical equipment. I was definitely not raised with the belief that my primary, or even secondary purpose in life was to raise children and mop the floor, and in fact I considered those endeavors essentially worthless in many ways. I didn't like children and I was very career-minded. I wanted to go to medical school and study pathology. I was so driven and so anxiously overachieving that I eventually became sick from it, and my life took a turn.
I married Jeremy and had children right away. This was less like a choice than submission, trying to pour myself into a mold, and yet it was so completely right and good. These relationships challenged absolutely everything I believed about myself and the world, in absolutely necessary ways. And within this family I have learned this unexpected truth: there can be peace in a marriage, and between children and parents, and in the presence of that peace we can become more fully who we really are, and who we should be. And from this peace we can influence the world for good.
Still, I held on to those career aspirations. I felt called to do so many things and I did try to do some of them. But mostly I felt that I needed a career because I could not abide the concept of housewifery. To me, “housewife” translated to “kept woman.” A woman can't be truly autonomous, I believed, unless she has her own independent life, which pivots on her independent acquisition of money. Without this money a woman is implicitly dependent on her husband and that means their relationship is not as authentically loving as it could be. I wasn't sure what other options there could be. I didn't understand the fundamental problem underlying the money itself.
The basic egalitarianism that preceded industrialization was based on the serious load of physical labor that was required to maintain a household. First men were drawn out of the home to serve the industrial machine, and then women were pressed into service when corporations capitalized on feminism to fill out a cheap workforce. And what is left for a man or a woman to do if s/he decides to make a home instead? If we don't have a conventional job, neither do we grow food or raise animals, or wash our clothes by hand, or sew or weave or knit things, or make pottery or work with leather or build forges for tools. We have to fill our days somehow, so we buy things, scrapbook, obsess over our children, and drive everywhere.
(Lest you think I'm throwing stones, I confess to being guilty of all of the above, except the scrapbooking.)
What used to be known as home economics is now called “consumer science.” That's what it means to be a homemaker now. It's not “making” much at all. So I could never embrace it, that gilded cage of recent historical repression. I harshly judged self-described “stay-home moms,” even if I was, inadvertently, one of them. I stayed in school perpetually, mostly to set my mind to a future when I would be (to my way of thinking) contributing to society instead of folding laundry. (Although I always liked folding laundry, setting the world to rights in this small way.)
I realize now that I might not have felt so conflicted about staying home if I hadn't been doing so within a rigidly patriarchal religion that expected me to do this, and shamed me if I didn't. Now that I live in a progressive, non-religious area, I know lots of feminist women who stayed home with their babies, seemingly without ambivalence, because they wanted to do it, or because somebody needed to do it and they made less money than their partners. Within this context I can question the concept that I only have societal value if I'm paying payroll taxes. Bullshit! My kids are a goddamn gift to the world. And so is my sauerkraut. You're welcome!
I've been spinning my wheels for a long time, because I've been growing in the skills of true home economics, and finding that I loved it, while most of the things I felt called to do “just aren't done.” For the first time in over a decade, I haven't been taking classes, or working toward an ambitious career goal. I haven't planning for my life to change in significant ways. I've become a conscientious underachiever, which is ever so much healthier for me. I'm a homemaker. And if I can figure out how to render lard while sick with a stomach virus I'll give myself a gold star.
Right now, my part-time work at the school pays for our Broke Ass Farm projects. Without that income we probably couldn't do much of anything out here. Jeremy is a teacher, after all, and even more poorly-paid than is typical (although the perks are significant). His income pays for our regular living expenses, like rent and gas and food -- but just barely. My income keeps us in the black, plus extra for chicken feed and seed starts and electric fencing. But I've been wishing I could do something else, because we rarely get home before dark.
And so, despite all the naysaying in my head, I applied for the Development Director position. My interview is on Wednesday.
If I get the job, I'm not sure what it would look like, but I'm hopeful. This could be Living the Dream, after all -- getting paid to do what you love, work that reflects your values. I want to help elevate the school because I truly believe in the philosophy, the curriculum, and the teachers of Waldorf education. This wasn't always the case. My children came to Waldorf education by default, because their dad is a Waldorf teacher. I've always been somewhat ambivalent, but now I have embraced it with my whole heart. Maybe I'll write about this someday.
Change is afoot. Jeremy and I might finally be able to reach that sweet spot, in which we are financially healthy, present for our children, and sharing all loads. But I'm grateful for the journey so far. Maybe if I'd done everything I felt that I must do, while my children were unborn or so small, I wouldn't have my priorities so firmly fixed. I might still be willing to sacrifice whatever necessary to earn that extrinsic validation; I might still have a narrow definition of success. I might not understand the revolutions that can sprout from a healthy home.