I received a recent thank you from my daughter for her birthday gifts from June, and in it she included a light apology for what she perceived as a small housekeeping faux pas. During my recent visit, their home in southwest Minneapolis, like most, received some heavy rain (and a 12-hour overnight power outage). Not unexpectedly, the backyard had its muddy areas. My grandson likes to swing on his stomach, and throughout the weekend was often covered toes to knees in mud, which necessitated frequent baths, and she felt the tub could have been cleaned more thoroughly in between. I was more impressed by her ability to calm the kids (5-year-old George and 9-year-old Piper) in a noisy thunderstorm by making a game out of finding every candle in the house and camping out, indoors, than with the state of her bathtub.
Knowing my girl to be something of a germ-a-phobic, I assured her I never give the slightest thought to her house being anything but clean, and as a wanna-be farmer myself for all these years, I don’t blink an eye at a little misplaced black dirt. This short back and forth followed a conversation with some women friends last evening about housekeeping in general and how our attitudes toward it have changed. It has me thinking more seriously about the subject.
Those friends of last evening and I are all grandparents, all still working, still busy with life, but for one reason or another, move a little slower now. We concurred that like many women of our generation, we’d all been energetic housekeepers at some point in our younger lives, but now have other priorities that allow (or force) us to put housework on the back burner, the far back burner, in fact. Energy level is key of course, and as one ages one also quickly learns to pick individual battles within those limited perimeters. For me, it’s my kitchen and my garden. If my cupboards and refrigerator are clean and organized, my utensil drawers are free of crumbs, and my garden is watered and reasonably free of weeds, I’m pretty much on top of my game for any given day. .
I am also reminded of the late Peg Bracken, whose books reflected a high quality laissez-faire attitude toward domestic labor, and think I’ll read some through again just for the pleasure of her humor. Her I Hate to Cook Book was written before slow-cookers and microwaves changed the way we prepare our meals. In those days homemakers were encouraged to open a can of condensed soup in lieu of a carefully developed sauce and just get out of the kitchen. Given modern concern about nutrition and healthy lifestyles, cooking is an area I also find important, fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and all, but I still appreciate that fix-it-and-forget-it attitude whenever possible, still throw together a hot dish from time to time.
We friends also remembered moms from our own childhoods who didn’t clean much of anything, who spent their summers in the backyard on a lounge chair, hanging out with the family pets (such women usually had not one, but at least two dogs, and perhaps a cat or two) sucking on frozen confections and reading books while their children played in the pool. Yet they showed up at September PTA meetings along with the more meticulous mothers, perhaps dressed in pedal pushers and camp shirts instead of sensible dresses and day pearls, but their kids turned out just fine. My companions and I had to ask ourselves why we went to all that trouble if ignoring all we thought was necessary still worked in turning out good kids, and why it was so hard for us to let go of what we saw as societal expectations in the housekeeping arena. The end of that story for me (and for my friends as well, I think) is that for many years, I did my best to belong to the equivalent of the former day-pearl set, but now find pedal pushers a better fit.
So get out and enjoy your garden, get out and enjoy our short summer and your kids. I’ll share here the best advice my step-mom ever gave me, and I know many other women my age will remember the same if they were lucky enough to have been blessed with not one, but two laid-back moms like mine. Your children (or grandchildren) won’t remember how clean your house was, but they’ll never forget the time you spent with them. I’ll back that up with my own example.
As mentioned in an earlier entry, I spent Easter in California with my son’s family this year, and he and his wife arranged for a spectacular elongated weekend on the Monterey Peninsula for us all, lovely, luxuriously appointed cottage, visits to the awesome aquarium and other sites, time on the beach, wonderful food. It was a long weekend we South Dakotan’s dream of. On returning to their Sacramento area home for the remainder of the week, I had one morning to just sit at the dining room table, making some rudimentary doll clothes with almost 7-year old granddaughter Amelia one morning while her 3-year old brother Henry put together the fire truck floor puzzle I had brought him. We sewed scraps of felt with embroidery thread laced into huge needles into a doll-sized purse, another piece into a cape etc. for the doll I had given her for Christmas. At the end of the week when I asked her what her favorite time had been during my visit, she responded without hesitation, “Making the doll clothes.”
The garden is finally starting to jump! The tomatoes and peppers are taking off, and Piper’s small patch of carrots have just been thinned, as have both her and my yellow wax and green beans. She has zinnias with their second leaves, and I’ve just done a second planting of beets and beans—and dill! Hoping to stagger the bounty I anticipate and give me time to get it all put away. I have five over the railing deck planters I’m trying this year, most have herbs and impatiens in them, but I also tried a six pack of mild banana peppers in three and an overflow of beets in another, all strategically placed to catch what I hope are at least six hours of sun. The older I get, the more I gravitate toward raised beds and planters of any kind. Here again, one has to dole out energy in portions, and any labor saving move is a good one. My MPLS girl and her husband got innovative this year using horse troughs (these are a bit pricey new, around $200 each. They bought theirs used from a local famer who only used them for feed). You’ll see that pretty much anything will work as long as it drains well, so get creative and start saving your back.