When you smell the top of your newborn’s head, a bond grows between you. It starts as a little thing but the depth of it is true.
When you drink in the smell of your home, you bond with it. Yes, it’s messy and slippery and maybe, I will make bold to say, even a bit bloody (like a newborn!), but there is the potential for love there, if you press it to you and don’t hold it at arms’ length.
Long ago some women rejected the word housewife because it seemed demeaning to them. “I’m not married to a house.”
So this sturdy thought, that a woman has much to do and love in her home, nearly faded away from memory.
Well, here are a few housewifely activities you may have thought it necessary to scorn (like using certain old words). They might restore a sense of “woman of the house” where it is lacking — small gestures, but redolent of satisfaction and contentment.
1. Put on an apron.
Not exactly an activity, but… a housewifely thing to do.
There is a “girly-girl” resurgence in sweet, frilly, adorable aprons, and who am I to repudiate something fabulous with ruffles and possibly polka-dots, that you can put on over your party frock just before your guests arrive? That little number with the lacy pocket and the big bow is where it’s at.
Try a sturdy twill number for your everyday tasks. It won’t need to be starched and ironed, but it will protect the shirt that did need to be ironed (more on that below). And you can wipe your hands and even the occasional nose on it. Then toss it in the wash.
I remember once complaining to an older friend, a very elegant, soft-spoken, old-school lady with a passel of children, then nearly grown, none of whom betrayed no evidence of ever having given her any trouble, that my pregnant belly attracted every manner of stain as I went about my daily business in the kitchen. I’m sure it cost her, because she never gave a hint of wanting to offer correction (unlike some people I could name), but she mildly and gently murmured, “Why don’t you wear an apron?”
Why not indeed?
Lo! The discovery! When you put on an apron, you do not merely protect the garments. You also announce your commitment to the task at hand, your willingness to suffer the slings and sputterings of the pots and pans, your resolve to see the work out to the end. Cutting up raw poultry is not outside the realm of possibility. You can carry potatoes from the pantry to the sink in it, when you realize that in your haste you forgot a bowl. You can stow your clothespins in its capacious pockets. You can grab a hot handle with its edge, and also wipe out a pot with its clean underside.
When you put on a work apron, you put on your work attitude.
And when you take it off, your clothes are clean.
2. Make the beds.
I know, making beds is only a teensy weensy step up from cleaning toilets on the drudgery scale. It seems quite pointless.
Yet, when you make your own bed, your room looks amazingly better. You may even first change the sheets, and think what that will do for you when evening comes!
Children should make their own beds, it’s true. Still, you make your rounds to each one, pulling up a cover here, tucking in a corner there, placing the favorite stuffed animal just so on this pillow*, moving the trucks off of that one.
Some people suggest that you should never re-make a child’s bed, lest you damage his self esteem.
I contend that a child’s self-esteem is in no way tied to the actual result, the made bed, which he in fact takes no notice of at all; this particular task being a whim of yours that is utterly and completely irrelevant to his concept of the universe and its workings. There is nothing you can do to the bed that will affect his perception of having humored you (and escaped punishment) by a wholly perfunctory re-arrangement (for neither better nor worse, in his estimation) of the accoutrements on the mattress, and his subsequent erasure of the process from his memory.
Thus, you may pretty it up to your heart’s content, resting sure that the most likely result will be complete ignorance that anything has been tampered with. It’s possible that, when the children enter the room, they will have a subconscious sense that “things are as they should be” and are possibly even “nice” — without in any way registering that a change has taken place, much less sending any affirmation your way. As long as you are cheerful and have expressed, at some point, pleasure with their efforts (if efforts there were; I mean, don’t make things up), that is all they know. Do as you will.
The act of making/remaking their beds will quite naturally, in accordance with the laws of thermodynamics, propel you into a quick Blitz of the rooms, with which they may assist. No fear. Nothing more will likely happen. You won’t be caught in the snares of a Deep Clean, in all probability. You have too much to do at the moment. But a quick Blitz sets things to rights, satisfies your housewifely sensibilities, and gives you some interesting reflections on possible future topics of conversation with your offspring regarding Shoving Blocks Under Beds, Piling Clothes in Corners, and Storing Legos under Dressers.
3. Hang the laundry on the line.
Maybe it’s just me, but simply going outside — stepping out of the kitchen, to be precise — instantly refreshes my interior atmosphere. It gives me perspective. It grounds me (I do think there is something to “grounding” — the idea that touching the ground helps your body recalibrate — I often hang the laundry barefoot!).
When the dryer is right there it can seem utterly absurd to hang the laundry out on the line. I have no objection to using the dryer, especially for the eighty-twelve little undies and onesies (yes, we have those here again!) and socks, although of course, even such sundries can be hung out… The dryer is the most expensive thing you run in your household, so maybe that thought might be the impetus for discovering the added benefits of this time-consuming task.
You will save money. It’s silly to complain about high costs if you aren’t willing to do a few things to cut back. The little things add up.
But even more, the sunshine is good for you and the sheets and towels. It might take longer to get used to the stiffness of these things, when we’ve all been made to value “downy-soft linens.” But once you do, that very stiffness represents a job well tackled. And you know what, it doesn’t take that long to hang out even two loads of laundry. I always think, “I really don’t have time for this!” and nearly give in to the dryer.
You can combine hanging out clothes with giving the baby an airing — another old-fashioned idea sadly out of practice. Even the youngest baby benefits from the 20 minutes it takes you to get the washing on the line. He sits in his pram or on a blanket and watches you. He could even have a nap out there in the fresh air.
As soon as I’m down by the line, instantaneously my mood changes. The very pressure on my ears is different. My head expands. I hear the birds singing (or fighting, as in the case of the blackbirds attacking a large hawk in a tall oak until he flew away the other day).
And, as happens in the bedrooms, I notice other things… I see a few (ha!) weeds that can be pulled, I remember the mowing, I catch the cucumbers growing too big, I tear out the peas. I have often staggered into the house with an oversized basket of dried clothing and some beans piled on and slightly dirty hands. No harm done.
Get a good big laundry line that can hold at least two loads if you have the room. The pins can be found at any dollar or hardware store, if not the grocery store. But, if nothing else, get a rack for the kitchen corner. Or how about this type of drying rack, well known in other countries for apartment dwellers? Could you make use of it where you are? You won’t be outside, but you will experience the rhythm of hanging at least some clothes to dry.
4. Iron some clothes.
Apart from the serious frustration of finding a good iron (I have a new one right now that is going right back), ironing is an incredibly rewarding housewifely task, and also the least actually done.
Like other things, if you have it set up (or ready to be set up), you may do it. If you do it, you will find out something staggering.
The reason you wear yoga pants (or jeans, or jeans skirts) and t-shirts — and nothing else — is that you haven’t discovered the joys of ironing!
Yes, it’s dangerous to iron with a crawling 8 month old. So, once a week, during the baby’s nap or playpen time, just schedule in an hour to iron a few things that you have put in a laundry basket all their own. And then you will see.
The reason you think you need new clothes is (well, aside from the fact that you may need them) that new clothes come ironed and your old clothes need to be ironed by you. So iron them. Suddenly, especially if you also employ that magical substance, spray starch, something that seemed rather tired and not worth taking the t-shirt off for becomes a valuable part of your wardrobe. And if you also wear an apron (see #1), you may possibly be able to hang it up at the end of the day and wear it again. (See also Showering Every Day.)
If your husband and children have some ironed dress shirts hanging in their closets, Sundays will be much happier.
One trick for housewives is to have a clean surface on which to place your newly ironed items. Hangers are nice, but not necessary during the process for most things, which can be placed back in the basket. Maybe an ironing tutorial is in order, but for now, try folding the things neatly. After all, you aren’t in your manor, employing a servant for no other purpose than to press your garments. In fact, you are likely to put those same things on and immediately go sit in a car. So don’t strive for perfection. Just get them to the point where they would look like something you bought a few weeks ago and then folded away in a drawer. That’s dandy.
But ironing goes beyond all this.
You stand there just… thinking… and restoring order. Crumpled, rumpledness becomes smooth crispness. It’s quiet. The scent of the ironing soothes you. Even in summer, the warmth isn’t objectionable (and I’ve been known to enjoy the fan blowing right on me — no oscillation, no sharing! — while ironing). You can listen to a podcast if you’ve had the foresight to set the children up with a quiet game of their own. It’s the ideal rest-time activity if you don’t actually need a nap.
If these things seem impossible because you feel you truly don’t have enough time, it might be worthwhile to see if you can slow down a bit. Maybe you are trying to do too much.
These tasks, unlike the running around that we often feel forms the core of our main work, restore order, and it’s liberating to accomplish what could have been last on the list.
What could hold us back now? The mere cooking of supper seems laughably easy! Competence has its rewards.
Housewives know this secret.
*Wait, am I serious? Placing the stuffed animals on the pillows?
Before you give up on me as hopelessly out of touch, just consider. When our bigs were little and we were moving into our own home, we had to help our landlord by having the house we were renting ready to show. I was conflicted about it for various reasons, one of which was the desperate difficulty, to my mind, of having a show-ready, neat house when I had to contend with four young children and I was pregnant! It seemed impossible!
I felt that it was the height of sacrifice for me even to vacuum. And then my mother (Habou) would help me out with the clutter and bed-making a bit, and she would arrange the stuffed animals (which, like you, we had an inexplicable profusion of) on the children’s pillows. (Mind, we are talking about bunks and a crib, nothing fancy.) It takes literally five seconds to pick them up off the floor and prop them up on the pillows!
And then — this is the discovery — you know what, they are not on the floor! And — they are cute!!
Someone had to show me.
And you know what else? Eventually, the children come to think of this as how the room looks when it’s straightened up, and they do it themselves, or willingly allow the clutter to be given/thrown away. That’s another benefit, crazy as it all sounds. Five seconds’ effort by you, a sense of stewardship for them.