I don't want to be ugly or angry. So my prayer as I write is that I might communicate clearly and lovingly the feelings of my heart.
I believe that motherhood is valuable. I believe in the art of making a home.
The purpose of The Student Whisperer is not to defend motherhood or homemaking skills. The purpose of The Student Whisperer is to show what it is like to be mentored and then to teach how to mentor. I did not open The Student Whisperer searching for mothering tips or philosophical encouragement. I am not complaining that the authors fail to defend motherhood or homemaking.
But I am so very disappointed at the damage I feel Tiffany Earl accidentally does to both.
In pages 105-108 Ms. Earl actually makes a strong case for motherhood and the homemaking arts. She concludes, "The idea [that motherhood and homemaking leave women unfulfilled] has reached the point that most young women actually believe that being a homemaker is more unfulfilling and personally damaging than an army at the door . . . I want to embrace motherhood with all its duties intact, even that of finding the simple models that all generations of women through time have known." (p. 108)
It is this excerpt from her journal that leads me to believe that she has no intention of doing damage to motherhood. Sometimes it is hard to keep our day-to-day actions in line with the ideals we hold dear. There are also extenuating circumstances that can cause a gap between what we believe and what we do.
I'm in the middle of one now. I'm struggling with morning sickness and fatigue. I am not cheerfully caring for my home and family. Every moment I spend upright costs me. My family is doing 10 times the work I am. I become withdrawn when I feel ill, so being touched and talked to make me want to shout in anger or weep in despair. I grit my teeth and set my jaw in determination not to push them away when my little ones climb in my lap or even gather close around me in the big armchair. When my big girls want to talk and talk and talk, I have to close my mouth and repeat in my head, "Let them talk. Let them talk. Let them talk." It hurts my ears and brain right now to have so much chatter constantly around me, but I cannot hurt them by telling them to go away--even temporarily. I am not planning outings or helping the kids with projects. I am not spending quality time with my oh-so-wonderful husband (because when he's not gone to his work, he's stepping in and doing mine). Our meals of late are barely tolerable, and the good ones are the ones the kids make. I have retreated into books, because books distract me from my nausea and make no demands of me.
I am not living up to my ideals right now.
But it is temporary. I will come back. (Though if I am honest, even on a good day, there is a gap between my ideals and my reality--it is just usually not as large as it is right now.)
Perhaps I can be more patient with Ms. Earl than I am inclined to be. Perhaps I am picking at her when I want to be picking at myself. Perhaps what she describes on pages 124-126 is only a momentary aberration--like I am having now.
Her husband comes home to find her distressed. He asks what it wrong, and she points out the household chores waiting to be done. She cries out, "Rick, when will I get to use my brain? When will I get to use my talents? . . . When will I do anything besides folding laundry, cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, and reading to the kids?" (p. 125)
She continues. "We'd had this conversation many times. Rick knew me too. He knew I loved our family. He knew that it was the most important thing to me. He knew that I wasn't trying to complain about being a mother and a wife." (p. 125)
I believe she is sincere.
What confuses me is how can her family be the most important thing to her if she wants to be doing something else?
And how can she think she's not using her brain and talents when she's caring for her family?
I think it is easy to dismiss the argument that home and family are useless. I think some small part of our spirits know that is a blatant lie. I the worst damage to the calling of mother and homemaker comes by those who profess to believe but who then claim that the essential work is mindless. Because it is truth and lie mixed together, so that the truth is hard to find.
Cleaning does not have to be mindless. My children turn on music when they clean; they fill their minds with poetry and song--some of higher quality than others. They dance and laugh and think and become better friends as they sweep and dust. I have a friend who turns on books on tape; she listens to great writing, great ideas as she scrubs toilets and tubs. I am usually teaching someone small how to do the work with me. My mind is forever working at explaining, correcting, and encouraging a young helper who thinks helping mommy is the coolest thing ever. Cleaning does not have to be mindless.
Cooking is an art. People devote their lives to cooking. People accept the making and serving of beautiful food as their specific calling to serve their fellow man. I work long and hard (when I'm not pregnant) at buying the best ingredients at the best prices. I plan menus with a variety of tastes and textures and nutrients. I prepare them carefully--adding a bit of this or a splash of that when inspired and find delight in the nuances that I create. I teach my children about fractions and volume and chemistry as I cook. I let them cook so they can make discoveries on their own. Cooking does not have to be mindless. Cooking can be the height of mindfulness.
Changing diapers? Sure it can be just one more thing to do and miserable for both changer and changee, but it can also be a challenge. Who has not had to get creative to keep a busy infant still? Songs, stories, games, and silly faces are often essential to negotiating a successful diaper change. And it can be a sweet, tender moment when mother (or father or sister or brother) and baby laugh together--perhaps teaching/learning a body part, perhaps sharing a tickle or a raspberry blown on baby's squishy soft tummy. Changing a diaper can be an intimate moment of gentle touch and service given to one incapable of self care. Changing a diaper does not have to be mindless.
Some books get boring quickly, but good quality children's literature is food for the soul. Reading to my children is one of the jobs I value most in the day. Even though talking (which includes reading aloud) makes me gag, I still sit down and read a chapter or two to my kids. Our reading sessions are far shorter than they are when I feel well. Our literature is lighter and sillier than when I feel well. But we read. We share laughter, tears, incredulity, awe, suspense, and great ideas. Sometimes we share boredom, but at least we share it. I love reading with my kids more than any of my other chores. Reading to my kids is a privilege and a blessing.
Writing has brought clarity. My strong emotional response to Ms. Earl's words come because I feel she has denigrated what I hold dear. I feel put down--as if she thinks what I value above all else is useless.
But then what she holds dearer than all else is not of the same value to me.
I guess we're even.
I love to study. I read and write every day. Even when I'm not posting on my blogs I have journals in which I'm copying inspiring ideas, organizing my own thoughts, and recording the stories of my family's days. I love books. I love great ideas. I love a good story. I love to study.
But studying is not the most important thing.
I am at peace now. I have written this post with a small boy on my lap. I have paused to change his diaper and share a laugh with him. I have paused to prepare him a snack to nourish his body . . . and his spirit because he knows he can trust me to take care of him. I have paused to help my husband find paperwork and answer his questions. I have paused to hug my youngest daughters and welcome them to a new day. I am content that I know what is most important and that I am doing the best I can do follow knowledge with action.