Thursday, January 11, 2018

Embracing my Inner Homemaker

Who am I?  My codependent upbringing handed me an identity that I never questioned.  Until now.  I'm an American Catholic wife and mother. But what does that mean to me on a daily basis?  This is what I will attempt to uncover.

To me, "American" means the sky's the limit.  Yes, there are cultural traditions, but I do not feel compelled to be bound by them.  Since the United States is not a monolithic society, there are at least four types (if you will) of cultures that are part and parcel of the history of US culture.  First of all, that of the various Native American tribes, which sadly remains mostly in the names of various places, both natural and man-made, and very little else.  Second, that of the African American slaves, which have had a significant impact on modern-day American culture, starting with music and food, and more recently (relatively speaking), media and sports.  Third, that of the original European settlers, which brought with it the language and religious traditions, as well as various socio-political norms that our country is based on.  Fourth, that of the vast diversity of more recent immigrants from literally around the world.  I cannot possibly fit into a single paragraph the myriad of ways that cultures vastly different from each other have mixed and mingled to form the modern day norms of the United States.  Essentially, though, what resulted is a wide range of "normal", with a strong emphasis on the choices of the individual to pick and choose what resonates with them and run with it. 

"Catholic" literally means "universal", which is actually a lovely segway from national to religious identity.  It's a way of being a Christ-follower, which is what being Catholic means to me; that I aspire to center my life on Christ.  I believe the Catholic Church has the closest interpretation of Jesus's message available to us, and I love many things about it: the authority with which it teaches on matters of faith and morals; the traditions of beautiful art and music; the social outreach it is known for (hospitals and schools in particular).  I also love the way the Church allows me to approach my Lord in a way I was never able to do in any other worship environment (and over the years I've tried plenty).  First and foremost, I am reminded on at least a weekly basis that God loves me so much, that He has come down first in the Incarnation and person of Jesus, and now in the Holy Eucharist.  I can not only "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8) when I receive Him in Holy Communion, but I can also "keep watch with [Him]" (Matthew 26:40) in Adoration.

I am a wife.  I am not just "a wife", but "the wife of Oscar".  Being a wife is something that by definition ties a person to another, hence we are "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 6:16).  We are of one mind.  We make plans together, we share our joys and sorrows together, we raise our children together, we offer each other unconditional friendship and companionship.  My #1 go-to person is my husband, and vice-versa.  There is no one I feel closer to than him.  Without a doubt, he is one of the best gifts God has bestowed on me.  So for me to be a wife means to be a life partner to Oscar, with all that this entails.

I am also a mother.  This role, too, is by necessity tied to the specific children God has allowed us to raise for His glory.  And that precisely is my job as a mother - to raise little saints.  To be a saint means to be happy with God forever - who wouldn't want that for one's children, or oneself for that matter?  It's quite the undertaking, motherhood.  I believe it is my job - our job - to educate our children, to protect them, to prepare them for life, to share the gospel with them, to help them reach their potential in any way I can.  I do not buy into the modern-day secular belief that pretty much all of these tasks can be delegated to others. In my mind, doing so leaves the parent with the role of "supervisor", supervising the job that others are doing in regard to their children.  Some situations necessitate such an arrangement, and I certainly don't judge those who opt for it.  But it is not what I am called to.  To me, being a mother *entails* staying home with them and homeschooling them.  I wouldn't feel like a mother without these factors in place. 

But how do I incorporate these four roles into my daily identity?  I believe that God has arranged the circumstances of my life so that I may best attain my potential through homemaking, at least in this current phase of my life.  Previously, He had tasked me with teaching English to immigrants and international visa students (I'm not aware of any of my students having had refugee or asylee status).  And I can never be certain where He will lead me in the future.  But right now - and that's all we can ever truly know and embrace - I am a homemaker.  I am tasked with making a home for my family.  I am painfully aware of the lack of homes being made, well, homes, in many American households.  Rather, the home is taken for granted as merely a place to hang one's hat.  With adages such as "home is where your heart is", it is easy to think that "home" simply means "comfort".  And while I agree that one's home should most definitely be the place members of the household feel most comfortable, it is so much more than that.  It is a place of togetherness, of ongoing learning, of building the smallest segment of society.  It is where proper adult roles are learned, and where daily tasks are taught to the next generation.  It is where a family becomes more than simply a group of people bound together by blood or by law, but rather a place where a family develops its own family culture and becomes a unit unto itself.  None of this happens by happenstance.  Someone must be charged with orchestrating the smooth running of the household, ensuring that these various goals are being actively pursued.

The first few times I heard "creative" job descriptions for stay-at-home moms (such as "domestic engineer" or "household CEO"), I chuckled.  But it wasn't because I thought it was funny; it was because I felt shamed for not getting a paycheck for what I do.  I in no way believed that these creative phrases were meant to value the role of at-home parents.  Rather, I felt it was meant as a way to juxtapose terminology one associates with the "working world" with the domestic sphere, as if to prove the utter silliness of there being any true worth in the work done by homemakers.  And even though I never doubted that raising one's children full-time was, well, a full-time job, I did reserve some of the same aversion to stay-at-home wives without children at home.  Actually, if I'm being honest, I even held a dislike towards stay-at-home moms of older kids who attended school.  What do they do all day? - I would ask. 

And this is the crux of the situation.  I had no concept of what went into "making a home".  I mean, I knew there was childcare for those with kids, and some general cooking and cleaning that goes into keeping house.  But I viewed it from the perspective of a child.  I was given chores as a child.  So I didn't see these same tasks, when done by an adult in charge, as anything more.  Not only that, but I didn't consider the various chores that simply weren't being done altogether, or at least not nearly as frequently as they ought to be in order to keep a truly welcoming and cozy home for the family. 

Now I see so many opportunities in this new role as homemaker.  I already mentioned that my husband and I opted to educate our children at home, so "childcare" remains permanently something that we do on a daily basis. And instead of having to manage the feedback of teachers and coaches from afar, trying to inc

There's cooking, too, but as someone who has struggled with a lack of talent for cooking, I can tell you there's a world of difference between, say, ordering food or buying microwaveable meals, and cooking from scratch or even making one's own [hummus, guacamole, jam, bread...] and harvesting ingredients from one's own garden!  While both extremes feed the family, there is certainly more time, work, effort, and planning that goes into the latter, and generally more money going into the former.  In addition, I'm discovering that meal-planning not only helps to keep a steady variety of food, but it allows for the application of nutritional knowledge to maximize health and vitality, not just satiety. 

And as far as cleaning goes... I now have a vision of what I want my family's surroundings to look like.  Organized, not cluttered.  Bright and airy.  Clean.  So the chores that go into cleaning the house serve a higher purpose now.  I aim for a certain end result.  I haven't yet attained it, but at least I have a vision I'm aiming for.  And there are so many chores that I don't remember doing, which doesn't mean they weren't being done... plus there are maintenance issues that also escaped my notice as a child.  When I first became a mom, I timed myself one week to see just how long it took me to do all the chores I was doing at the time.  My efforts amounted to roughly 8 hours - for the week.  So based on what I was doing in maintaining a two bedroom apartment, I seemed to have confirmed that being a "housewife" with no kids to keep you occupied was not a full-time endeavor.  But now I see that I was simply doing the bare minimum.  To truly embrace the role of homemaker, there is always something that can be improved upon, that will keep one busy all week long. 

I admit it - in a sense, I am trying to harness my own version of a June Cleaver.  I want the feel of something of eras gone by in my home.  Of course, I know better than to apply a blanket statement to the effect of "good old days", because I know for everything I wish was still the same as "back then" (and when exactly, that varies), there are things I'm grateful we have moved past.  But the American in me gives me the freedom to pick and choose what resonates with me from various eras, and those are the things I'm hoping to embrace in my home.

I am learning to make our house a home.  I am learning to be a homemaker.  For the sake of my children and husband, but also for my own sake of feeling like my own home is a microcosm of society, I am embracing the role of homemaker.  Not some lofty-sounding domestic engineer or CEO of my family - these roles imply professionalism that seems too distant and cold for my taste.  But simply - home-maker, maker-of-a-home.  What can be more important than making a home for my family, so that they have a literal home base to which they can return from their adventures into the world, a home base where they learn how to treat other people, a home base that serves as a domestic church.  This last one is a new concept for me as well, but I'll save that for another time.

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