The juggle is real.
Ok, so I don’t mop as often as I should. I’m more the sweeper, vacuumer and wiper-of-porridge-slop-up with the raggy dishcloth before it gets biffed in the wash. Yes, I scrape the dried remnants off first with my fingernail.*
Now when I first saw this puzzle I was charmed! I smirked to myself behind my hand,
“Oh, how quaint is this relic of the past! This was women’s lot once upon a time! A revealing antique offering a glimpse of life before the great Women’s Liberation! Surely made by a man! Look at how happy she appears completing her domestic chores! What a goose, her porridge has bubbled over! Oh look, she was expected to wear a head scarf whilst shopping! All praise be to Women’s Lib! Thank god I was born in 1984!”
All these thoughts passed through my head in a whir of curiosity, pity and relief, until of course I realised this was EXACTLY my life. Hang on a second, I do all these things now. I recognised her expression with the bubbling-over porridge because it is always so surprising how quickly it heats up and does that – I get the joke.
Yes, we have had women’s liberation. Yes, we can be educated. Yes, we can travel. Yes, we can live with who we like. Yes, we can dress how we like. Yes, we can live our lives as equals to men. Yes, we can be as independent as we like. Yes, we still need to fight for these rights… but yes, housework still needs doing.
In my “post feminist era”** Motherhood as a vocational craft wasn’t considered at all. We were raised and educated to be free individuals, to follow our ambitions, to enter the world and experience it and grow and find our own way. This didn’t usually mean settling down and having babies, it meant university, travel, careers, all these brand new options for young women, options never dreamed of for most of our foremothers. Our mums were of the feminist generation and they weren’t about to sit down and pass on crochet tips to us. The world just changed so much, and so fast.
I don’t believe there was any explicit reason for excluding the possibility of motherhood in this future we and others saw for ourselves, it was more something that came along after, like when you were old, say 25, 28 or maybe even 30 (although none of us had any concept of what life after 30 might be like!) If you had the maternal instinct, no matter how dull, then yeah, you knew you’d be having babies one day. All that stuff would just fall into place and you’d worry about it then.
It was a bit of a dream world really as some of us did have children, and reality was thrust into their laps very early on. And happily there are the young women who do want their children sooner rather later, in fact, probably more than the common impression of society’s would have us believe. We don’t all wish to occupy the phallic world of ivory towers – however much glass is strewn on the floors – and be forced to wear office attire each day.
But the frustration women must’ve felt, when Motherhood was the only option, for not having those choices, must have been immense. Let me elaborate upon frustration – anguish, despair, revulsion, panic, denial, resentment. All those too. In the early months at home with Leo I felt it. I felt definite twinges of suffocation as I realised I was the only one who could provide for him and there was no chance of “calling in sick”, “switching majors” or “taking a gap year.” Those moments when your body is so brutally haggard with fatigue… but of course you get up and tend to your crying baby. Those days when all you do achieve, is a pot of porridge or a toasted sandwich – my god it must take a lifetime to become as accomplished as that puzzle lady.
No sooner had I winced at my own experiences, did a huge rush of awe for all mothers gone before, flood me. All women, of every culture, of an infinite number of generations, suddenly with their baby, struggling to become a mother, blindly feeling along a dark corridor for something to recognise, something to orientate themselves in this strange new world. All those mothers who were young, those single, those with disdainful mother-in-laws, or no-body to help, those with a myriad of other children, with illness, with depression, with poverty, addiction, loneliness, abusive partners, distant partners, with painful wounds, infected mammaries, sickly newborns, traumatic birth experiences, noisy neighbours, those as refugees with no security, no running water, those in war zones, in famine, in drought, in blizzards, imprisoned, in polluted environs… honestly, how have we done it?
At least in olden times, societies were geared around the huge task of Motherhood and the raising of children. Hello, Whanau! We have come to this point where the nuclear family is supposed to suffice and now even Mum is expected back at work after 12 months.
In a way, Puzzle Lady represents the pinnacle of achievement for women pre Womens Lib. Despite all the crap, Puzzle Lady (whom I am assuming is a mother also) is running the household to a tee; she is thrifty, efficient, skilled, she can do it all basically, she’s got her hair done and she’s doing it with a smile.
Now, where I initially smirked, I lie prostrate.
This towering figure of competence in the home is a formidable player!
But of course running a household and raising children is not all we are capable of and we’ve proven that beyond doubt. I guess where we are at now, is a place in time where we must collectively remember our significance as a Mother, or “House Wife”, or Lead Parent***, if it indeed falls to us to have responsibility in these roles. Can we wear this mantle with courage, with pride, with humility, with confidence, with purpose, with inspiration, all at the same time?
Women’s Liberation and feminist discourse never truly abandoned the necessary role women had in raising children – although the topic of discussion was blown wide open to fully examine roles in society. The pieces must still be landing as I feel I’m one of those bits, drifting back down to earth and finding where I go, as I am.
I’m one of those women, who, while revering the opportunities I had as far as education, travel and employment goes, still wants to take her role as a Mum earnestly and treat it with purposeful vocational attention.
I want to bring my 21st century lifetime experiences to Puzzle Lady and say,
“Hey dude, you are amazing. You are able to provide wholeheartedly for your family, aren’t you? You are the keystone to the happy family under your roof. You provide a safe harbour for your family to anchor in, don’t you? You relish your role, aye? For the moment your task is to run the household with flair, raise your children to think freely and love ardently. You are working as a team with your partner, to fulfil so many dreams. They love you for it, aye? I know they do. Someone once said, peace begins in the home… you’re giving it a crack aren’t ya? This time will pass someday, your children will have grown and will be out living their own lives. You will still be energised to begin a new phase of life – you will have so much to give – you will be treasured! If you decide to work you’ll bring such a wealth of experience. You will know yourself even more deeply by then too, won’t you? You’ll truly know by then the most important things in life. You’ll be living your life by your own polished virtues. Young ones will wish to glean much off you. Young ones will someday want to be experienced and wise, like you. Thank you for your efforts.”
Sadly, Puzzle Lady never had this said to her. Well she may have, but given her era she probably just missed out on the fun of the revolution and was assigned a relic of the past even before her middle age – think Betty from Mad Men.
How to we repossess this role of, the Mother?
How do we resurrect the image of Puzzle Lady into a glowing, masterful, esteemed figure who arouses fearsome respect?
I know the answer to this now. Like peace, it begins in the home.
If we, as mothers, cultivate such an environment, one where love is foundational, where fun engenders mutual respect, where warmth and comfort anchors each soul each night allowing day time discoveries a haven to return to and assimilate, where new ideas are seeded, cultivated and harvested, where children can experience a microcosm of an ideal world, etcetera etcetera, then we grow children who do love and respect their mothers, their fathers, who in turn become mothers and fathers raising their children in such environments. We are our babies’ babies’ ancestors in motion. We are their Dreaming.
Thank you, Puzzle Lady. My smirking was naive, my sniggers misplaced. What you did for us, was amazing. Isn’t it funny how the porridge bubbles over so quickly? I just add more water and don’t have it up so high with the lid on, that’s all.
Waiting a bit longer for the perfect porridge is worth it.
* Must mop this weekend.
** By that all I mean is that the struggle was won by my time – now I do know that it hasn’t been entirely won – but us girls were raised on the rallying cry “girls can do anything” (and we have!)
*** http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/ditching-the-title-stay-at-home-mum-for-lead-parent/7248032 … https://www.ted.com/talks/anne_marie_slaughter_can_we_all_have_it_all?language=en
Remember what Nina says,
“I got life!”