Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Confessions of the Un-Domestic

Is a person born domestic? Or do they have domesticity thrust upon them?

This morning, I got a text from my cousin telling me she was starting to make felt ornaments for her children. Putting aside the fact that she is not in a position to have children, it struck me that I never thought about making felt ornaments for my future children. Mainly because I fully expect my future family's Christmas tree to be covered in a smorgasbord of ornaments like my own family's is - complete with thumb prints with smiley faces drawn on, laminated and then tied with yarn; pictures of us through the years; other creative endeavors my parents cherish dearly and even prefer over bought ornaments.

But back to making ornaments. Or making anything, really. A college friend of mine is sewing her wedding dress. I respect that, but am in no way capably of doing so myself. Another friend recently expressed interest in doing that as well, actually. Today I fixed tea; does that count for anything?

Me woman! Me make pancakes!
My mother is utterly undomestic. She loves her job and gets her kicks there, not in making a good meal or keeping house or sewing us clothes/ costumes (as my aunt did for her two kids-- one of whom is the aforementioned felt-ornament-making-cousin). My three younger sisters have more domestic tendencies. Kato learned to knit when she tore her ACL in high school and cooks; Muffy is organized and can keep a room/ the house spotless; Boo is a decorating master and is the cutest hostess. My sisters have real gifts in the domestic arts.

In this area, I wonder if I have more in common with my two brothers, only with more tact and graciousness. I think my brothers would live in a cave and not notice, as long as it had wireless internet, food and a place to sleep. Come to think of it, so would I... does that make me less womanly?

I've been thinking about this lately, mostly at night while I am up late reading and writing after work. I wonder if I am going to be pulling late hours to do my research after I get the bumpkins into bed. In high school, I received the nickname "Sally." One of the reasons (among the many) was because I was constantly carpooling my five younger siblings around, which apparently makes me comparable to a housewife. I think carpooling will be the least of my duties as a mother, but certainly one I have had plenty of experience in juggling alongside other tasks.

In college, my undomesticated side became ultra-exposed, when I learned I should have been able to bake bread or sew on a button by the age of 18. Allow me to express my yearning for a home education class or two now. Four years later, I graduated without gaining either of the above skills. I moved away from home and realized that I had my own kitchen to cook in. It was tiny. My mom called it a "Julie sized kitchen." I ate a lot of raw vegetables and fruits, grilled cheese and many bowls of cereal. My actual cooking adventures usually involved the smoke alarm unjustly going off.

Yes, this is how big my kitchen was.
Recently, I found a book called "How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew" by Erin Bried and it made me feel instantly better. A lot of the things she writes about, I already know how to do. Hooray! For other things, like cooking a turkey, she explains it well and even editorializes occasionally (she encourages drinking wine while cooking, which is five gold stars in my book!). I have not finished it (yet), but I am grateful for it. It gives me hope. It gives me knowledge. It gives me courage. It gives me directions.

I am starting to think, when the time arrives, domesticity will be thrust upon me, and I will like it because it will be my way of building a loving home for my future family. It sounds like a challenge, and I accept. I also look forward to the little people gripping my legs when the firemen come for their weekly visit and saying, "Mommy tried again!"

When I was growing up, it was always made clear that becoming a wife and mother was always expected, but secondary. Career first, and then you can have a family. Cooking is optional; hire someone to do it is better.

I am starting to see the flaws in this plan. Cracks really: I'm barely 24, have been published in multiple national papers and journals, and I completely freeze up at the thought of cooking pork chops.

Therefore, I would like to share an idea, born from the actions of my doctor, who went to medical school when she was 40 and her kids were more grown, and from my paternal grandmother, who got her Master's in English when my Dad was in high school.

Exceptions aside (my own mother, for instance, would be a very unhappy person if she wasn't working and thus fulfilling her purpose), I think it better to reverse that order: prepare yourself mentally so that you can teach your children and edify yourself and the people around you, be prepared to go back to school when the time comes, and perhaps work part-time. Later, when the children are grown or mostly-grown, there will have more than enough time to pursue something more full-time.

On the plus side, I can overcompensate for my lack of domesticity by sharing my voracious reading habit with the little minds; teach my children logic, reason and theology; play soccer, tennis, dress-up, cards and Monopoly; make homemade play-dough; correct their homework; take walks in the park; color alongside them with my own set crayons and colored pencils. Then we'll clean up our mess and play Simon Says until Mommy Say So.

Do any other [female] readers feel this way? A pressure to work first? Family "later"? Putting emphasis on what we do and not who we are?


  1. I know how exactly how you feel! I went through aspirancy in a cloistered community earlier this year, and cooking/sewing time mostly consisted of me going, "Umm...I've never done that." LOL

  2. Here's how it works: if you are a Cordon Bleu chef, your kids will only eat hot dogs and Cheerios. If you are a haute couture seamstress, your children will live in ratty jeans and T's. If you can clean, come to my house! Mostly, find a husband with a sense of HUMOR. It's the best accoutrement for a happy life.

  3. My Grandma tells me she did not know how to cook at all until she got married. Her grandmother and mother did all the cooking and cleaning at her house! Grandma makes great dinners, but only feels comfortable cooking from a recipe. So there is hope for us :)

    Is a person born domestic? Or do they have domesticity thrust upon them? Depends on what domestic means. Good at cooking, cleaning, sewing and organizing? I am far from domestic, then. But I enjoy seeing a sparkling clean bathroom and try to clean mine every Saturday.

    "When I was growing up, it was always made clear that becoming a wife and mother was always expected, but secondary. Career first, and then you can have a family. Cooking is optional; hire someone to do it is better."

    Reading that made me realize, wow!, despite our many similarities, we definitely come from different backgrounds. My parents did not go to college. Neither did most of their friends or family members. So there isn't really a pressure to "career build," if that makes sense. At the same time, everyone is 100% behind my current career hopes in publishing.

    I also come from a family where most of the women were/are SAHM, and they have always spoken highly (and frankly) of stay-at-home motherhood. Since they were out of the work force and the family income was lower, there was never an opportunity to have a cooking or cleaning service. Still, I don't feel pressure from them to be a SAHM if that's not what I feel called to be.

    Everyone is just hoping I'm able to be happy and successful, whatever that means to me. My dream is to be a SAHM, and one day I hope to give myself to my family that way.

    My mom has counseled my sister and I that marriage is not an obstacle to a career. The career doesn't need to be fixed in place for marriage to happen. What do you think of that?

    This was a very thought-provoking post, Julie!

  4. Love this post! My mom is ridiculously domestic now (homemade food, knitting, crocheting, quilting, altering clothes, etc) but says she hardly knew how to cook before she got married. When you're just cooking for yourself, why bother getting too complicated or time-consuming with your meals? It's definitely good to know some basics (of cooking and of the other things I mentioned), but never too late to learn. Moms, grandmas, aunts, and friends are happy to share their skills, in my experience. Plus there are local classes (like at Michael's) for all the sewing-related things.
    That said, I think it's possible for some women to find their whole vocational fulfillment in their families. My mom was a nurse *until* she was a mom-- and then she was happy (and busy!) just being a mom. It's not for every family, but her presence in the home and her dedication to my dad and us kids (driving us around, helping us with homework, cooking us dinner herself rather than hiring people to do it all) really shaped my childhood. I may try to do freelance work part-time depending on the circumstances, but if I have a lot of kids like my parents did, I'm going to try the full-time mom thing. It requires sacrifices but has its own rewards, says my mom.

  5. I can identify with the career-first-family-second mindset. Even though my mom was a SAHM and my parents understood that I wanted to do the same, they were always very insistent that I choose a college major that would make me fairly easily employable. And so I did. I enjoyed my coursework and the related job I had before having my daughter, but it wasn't my passion. Now I'm torn -- it's nice to have a decently in-demand degree to fall back upon if I ever need to go back to work, but I also wish I'd spent more time taking coursework in the humanities when I had lots of time to read and think. I desperately want to play catch-up now, and it's really difficult with a baby!
    As for the domesticity -- I definitely fall short in terms of textiles, as I can't sew, quilt, crochet, etc. Neither can my mom. However, I also never cooked a meal until I got married, and frankly, I don't think it mattered at all. :) I really enjoy cooking now, and at this point I've developed a repertoire of standby recipes (none 100% my own innovation, although some I've heavily tweaked). I'm also always up for trying something new. I must admit that Food Network taught me a ton! So I think there is plenty of hope when it comes to you and pork chops. :)

  6. Outstanding Julie, Outstanding! Well written, injected with humor throughout, a good read. Any time of your choosing I would be delighted to show you some easy & fool proof recipes that will thrill your family and dazzle your friends!

  7. I just say kudos for thinking it through already. You'll do the right thing when the time comes. That, more than the details, is what counts.

    You write beautifully!

  8. I love what Barbara B said! We know your kids will love to read and will love Christ. Like you said, keep Aunt Elizabeth on speed dial.

    Also, wait a little while and I'll buy you an economy-sized box of baking soda to throw on kitchen fires.

    Maybe your kids will be firefighters. (Just kidding, I'm sure you'll be just fine!)

  9. Having not read any of the other comments, I'll say this:
    I reject the notion that there has to be an sort of plan or structured set of events to dictate your path in life. I say this has someone who has moved 4 times in the last year, so feel free to dabble my comments with a spice of your choice. My parents were married five years before they had me, and even when myself and my three siblings were born, my mother continued to work a full schedule.I feel it was almost more for her benefit than ours.Work allowed her to keep her mind busy and gave a temporary escape from us.The money was/is good but I think she never really cared, as she is not one to really be concerned with money. Whatever little sanity my mother held onto in raising us was preserved by getting out of the house and putting her brain towards other endeavors.
    just a thought.

  10. It was a great post, Julie!

    BTW, Tip #1 from an old bachelor who's set off a couple of fire alarms in his time: The burner does not have to be on HIGH to cook your food. In fact, unless you're bringing a liquid other than milk to a boil, it's best to have it around MEDIUM.

  11. Julie,
    I am in my mid-40s, and place career first, and family a distant second. Frankly, it was what was pushed in my all-girl Catholic high school. Also, both of my parents were college graduates, so it was naturally assumed I would go to college. I was married at 33 open to life, but God showed my husband and I a differet way to start a family. At 45, I started a new career, the most challenging so far, full-time Mom to my two adoptive daughters. I am NOW using all my skills!

  12. Interesting post! My mom and dad both taught me many things about keeping a house - sewing, cooking, baking, crocheting, how to fix a lost button, etc. - but I think I became a lot more domestic after I moved out on my own... I was forced to come up with innovative ways to cook and clean and sew! All I can say is - thank goodness for the internet. Did you know you there is a youtube video of how to properly cut and slice a mango?! That is how I learned. I can't imagine how people learned things like this before the internet.

    I've never felt pressure to put my career first, necessarily, except that my parents keep saying, "You're young" and "you have a lot of life still ahead of you, focus on your schoolwork now" when commenting on being single for a really long time now. But I think it's helped me to better prepare for marriage, if that's where I am called, because I've had to deal with a variety of roommate situations (who cook and clean and live differently!) as well as get more creative in how to take care of myself and think how I could take care of more than just me!