Sunday, May 15, 2005

The weekend is over, and we are not yet saved

Here's what RW did this weekend:
  • Weeded the backyard, with MG's help
  • Took out all the garbage and recycling
  • Took MG shopping for a doll she'd saved up for
  • Did all the dishes and wiped down the counters
  • Washed the kitchen floor
  • Did several loads of laundry
  • Bought a new vacuum when the old one broke
  • Gathered signatures on 2 different neighborhood petitions, meeting several neighbors in the process
  • Vacuumed and cleaned and changed the bedding in the attic loft
Here's what I did:
  • Chauffeured MG to and from Hebrew school
  • Took MG shopping for end-of-year presents for her Hebrew school teachers
  • Straightened and vacuumed the living room and our bedroom
  • Swept MG's room
  • Cleaned the bathroom except for the tub
  • Went to the library and picked up several books for MG, two of which I have now read to her approximately a dozen times each
  • Changed MG's bedding
  • Folded a little laundry, but nothing like what I need to be folding
  • Made a start on cleaning my office, with MG's help
That's only a tiny bit of what was on both our to-do lists.

And I didn't count cooking, chivvying MG into her clothes and pajamas and through the bedtime routine, feeding the cat...other things I'm sure I've forgotten, too. We did some recreational things too, and I wasted a fair bit of time, but basically we were pretty focused. And we didn't get nearly everything done that we needed to.

This is the big revelation of middle age: how much of life is just about maintenance. Maintaining your body, your house, your car, your family. Your teeth. The dailiness of keeping things going. Who knew it took so much time and energy just to keep chaos at bay?

I don't mean all this to be a complaint, though maybe it's coming out that way. It just continues to astonish me, even though it shouldn't by now. So much of my life for the first thirty years or so was about change, newness, crisis; I think I just assumed, without thinking much about it, that once I got relationships, job, money, housing settled, things would just sort of hum along on their own, and I could spend my spare time reading and writing novels and changing the world and talking with my friends.

And now I've been in the same relationship for almost ten years, in the same house for eight, at the same job for seven, had the same one and only child for almost five, and I understand how foolish that assumption was. Even if neither RW nor I worked full-time, we could easily fill up our days just keeping things going. Taking the car to the shop, writing thank-you notes, cleaning out the basement, sending packages, matching up the CD's with their containers, getting the lawnmower sharpened, exercising, flossing...

When I was in college, I read To the Lighthouse for an English class. It was my first Virginia Woolf, and I remember being wowed by the obliquely beautiful language and stunned by the revelation halfway through the novel (which I won't spoil here).

But mainly, I remember a sort of dumb surprise at the lengthy description-- it takes up the whole middle section of the book--of an abandoned house falling apart through neglect. It had never occurred to me that such a thing could happen: that time, weather, dust, bugs, all by themselves, could destroy a solid structure like the one I'd grown up in. That it took constant work simply to keep a house in livable shape.

I was living in a group house with friends around that time, and it was also a shock--maybe this came from growing up with a housekeeper and a sort of class-based shelteredness, or maybe it was just my particular form of spaciness--to realize how much housework there was, and that it didn't just go away, and you kept having to do it over and over: the dishes were always there, and if you didn't shop and cook there would be no food, and the bathroom got disgusting after a while and something had to be done about it. I'd had chores as a kid, washed dishes and folded laundry and raked leaves and biked to the store for milk, but the relentnessness and daily reality of keeping up a house totally threw me.

I remember sitting in the kitchen one day, looking at the dishes in the sink and the shopping list up on the fridge, and the yellow-brown linoleum, and having an amazing epiphany: oh! the understanding came upon me: This is it! It's not like this is play, a game, a temporary thing like going to classes and writing papers. This isn't an exercise in pretending to be grownups: we are the grownups. And when we leave here it will be more of the same: another sink to empty, another fridge to keep stocked, another floor to wash, and all the rest of it. We don't graduate from this. It's forever.

And I was right.


Blogger liz said...

Remember when you thought being a grown-up meant doing whatever you wanted?


7:30 AM  
Blogger heather said...

i hate to sound like one of the bradys, but: i never really thought about it that way. but you're right. weird. i guess as long as you're maintaining something(s) you love, then it seems alright. if occasionally surrealistic.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

Wow...I think some of that most come with having a spouse and a child. I just wrote in my blog how I was frustrated because I do stay at home, by myself, and am going crazy.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Katie (WannaBeMom) said...

This is funny because this weekend we did a lot of house tasks too. I got about ONE of my tasks finished, which was painting the front door. It took so much longer than I thought it would.

Every now and then I look around our house and I think, OH MY GOD, I am an adult! This is MY house. And then I flip out. And then I pour a glass of wine.

3:43 PM  
Blogger RHD said...

Ah, I clearly remember the moment it struck me that that no matter how many times I washed them, someone was always going to create more dirty dishes. *sigh*

"Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water."

I sometimes think those Zen guys are really onto something, even if it can be a little depressing...

9:46 AM  
Blogger Jo said...

Yeah, totally. It's true. At least we have blogging, though, to stem the tide.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My god. This is my world. And since Ella came, everything takes fifty times longer, because I'm Not Getting Enough Sleep. I finally started paying my 11 year old neighbor $10 a week to do a quite abominable job mowing my lawn. It's like it never goes away. And the worst of it is that I think of all that advice about enjoying your child instead of cleaning your house, but if my house isn't tidy I CAN'T enjoy my child. Or anything else. I've been cleaning my basement 20 minutes a day (and setting the timer--am I the biggest goober ever?). Today at the end of yoga class I repeated to myself a line my first yoga teacher used to end class on: "with compassion in the belly, joy in the heart, peace in the mind...." Usually at the "joy in the heart" line I picture my partner, and now also my darling daughter, but today I pictured my clean basement. Which, of course, is already not so clean because I've already walked down there and just sat something down randomly instead of putting it away. What does it all mean?


5:06 PM  

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