When John and I were married in July 1978, we did so in a hurry with barely six weeks to get the wedding organized before we had to leave for Tarrytown, New York where he was scheduled to start training as a sales rep for Union Carbide. I was leaving behind a future as a Chicago Police Officer, having just been called to report for training. I had taken the civil service exam several years before and now, after passing some subsequent testing, the department was ready to hire. Instead I transferred from the Chicago office of Options Clearing Corp. to the New York office in the same capacity. After ten months in New York, we were transferred to Houston, Texas, officially ending any chance that I could take the job with CPD.
Shortly after moving to Houston I became pregnant, and since I had not yet found a job, I began to settle in as a homemaker. Unfortunately I miscarried after only three months. Even after I recovered from the loss of the baby, I continued to enjoy being able to keep up on household chores and cooking decent dinners for John. At one point, though, John hinted that maybe I should get back to work so that we could save some money for a down payment on a house. In 1979 you actually had to have 20% of the total price of the home as a down payment before you could qualify for the loan to purchase the object of your desire. So, back to work I went at a brokerage firm in downtown Houston. By 1980 we had the house and I had used my salary to pay off our car so that the mortgage was our only debt. Those were the days.
The next logical step of course was to start a family and so we did. I loved my job but there was no doubt in my mind that I would stay home to care for our children. My mother had stayed home and provided us with a wonderful environment filled with great food, arts and culture, discussions about history and constant political activity. I intended on carrying on with my job until the eighth month just like most women, but by the third month I was so exhausted I couldn’t continue. Little did I know I was carrying twins and, unlike most women, I didn’t find that out until the eighth month. On October 21st of 1981 my daughters Rebekah and Rachel were born by cesarean section and my life as a mother and homemaker began in earnest.
I left the world of careers and salaries to stay home with my girls at the same time that many women had decided to institutionalize their babies and toddlers in order to be Career Women. The feminist movement was very effective at preaching the gospel of self-fulfillment, which according to them could not be achieved as the primary nurturer of one’s offspring. Self-fulfillment had to be realized within the context of a career outside of any domestic scenario. I had heard all of this swirling around in the media, and I knew the indoctrination was especially intense in academia, but none of it even made a dent in my determination to be the best steward I could be of the children entrusted to me by the Lord. I never even felt a twinge of insecurity or doubt. My heart went out to those women who became trapped in the two- income economy that developed from the Great Lie.
The work of the woman in the home is vital to the health and well being of her family. Aside from the obvious need for an orderly and clean environment, there is the daily meal planning, and the never ending organizing of rooms, closets, drawers, etc. And these duties are less vital than the spiritual, emotional and psychological needs of children through every stage of their lives – although I believe that good food, lovingly prepared, goes a long way toward ministering to those same spiritual, emotional, and psychological needs. Along with all of the obvious tasks, there are also the responsibilities regarding the child’s education. Of all the things I did in as a homemaker, home schooling was the most intimidating but also the most enjoyable.
Housekeeping duties like any other duties can be rewarding, but can also be tedious. I was one of those kids growing up who liked to clean. Every Saturday I took it upon myself to help my mother with the chores. All the neighbors thought I was such a good kid, but the fact is, I just liked housework. When my kids were small and most of my day was spent teaching phonics, math, and doing puzzles with the toddlers, I trained my kids to do some of the housekeeping. Everyone had a chore to do which freed me up for the more important stuff. Now that everyone is grown it is I and I alone with all of the cleaning and organizing. I never seem to get ahead and I find myself suffering through some tasks that I avoided when the kids were around. One task that I hate is folding the white clothes. Nothing is worse than folding underwear and matching socks. I will stare at the basket for two days before I finally force myself to attend to it. Every career, every job, every vocation has its undesirable tasks and negative elements. In our culture today we operate at a breakneck speed and resent anything that is not immediate. We want what we want now and not later. We want our food prepared for us and available immediately. We eat it within 15 minutes many times while traveling between activities. We have no patience for slow foods prepared from scratch and even less patience for an extended meal at a table with family discussing the day’s activities or sharing opinions about the world. Every convenience designed to give us more time only allows us to fill that time with more activities. As hard as I tried to keep us from running to and fro all the time, eventually we found ourselves on the hamster wheel like everyone else. We did manage to be true to home cooking and family meals most days, but did our share of running to activities albeit later in each child’s life than most folks.
To keep myself focused I tapped into the lives of famous women who, even though they were always swimming against the current, were less exhausted than all of those women who went with the flow but really were being washed out to sea. I remember reading a book about my favorite illustrator and author, Tasha Tudor. She spent her entire life living in a log cabin without electricity or running water. She relished the life of a 19th century woman. She grew her own vegetables, raised and slaughtered her own chickens and goats and did just about everything, as it would have been done 100 years before. It wasn’t that she was afraid of or opposed to modernity. She simply desired a slower pace and took great pleasure in the details of the Art of Homemaking. I remember her writing that she liked to make her own preserves because she could read Shakespeare while she stirred the jam. This remarkable woman recently died at the age of 92.
Edith Schaeffer, who founded L’Abri with her husband Francis Schaeffer, wrote a book in 1983 called Common Sense Christian Living. She too encouraged women to simplify their lives by slowing down the pace of their family activities. Having raised her children in Switzerland where the European pace had not yet taken off like ours in the U.S., Edith did her best to share her ideas for keeping things in perspective. Her daughter Susan Schaeffer MacCauley’s book, For the Children’s Sake, was instrumental in shaping my approach to homeschooling. It was less about curriculum and teaching and more about an environment of learning. She introduced Americans to the 19th century British educator Charlotte Mason and her philosophy for instructing children. Both mother and daughter advocated for a more home based life style with plenty of roses for smelling.
The most humbling testimony was that of Mother Theresa. A woman who found herself in the most difficult of circumstances often with very few resources. I have a vivid memory of a PBS report in the 1980’s detailing the Siege of Beirut, which resulted in the exodus of most of the population from the city and standoff between the PLO in Beirut and the Israeli army. Beirut had been almost completely destroyed and even the U. N. did not know where to begin picking up the pieces. A United Nations ambassador asked Mother Theresa and her Missionaries of Charity to come to Beirut to rescue some orphan children caught in the crossfire. The sisters set up operations in the least damaged building in the area. None of the utility services were functioning so the task seemed impossible. While the officials were talking the nuns began to scurry around as they attempted to set up in the primitive surroundings. The camera focused on Mother Theresa as she determined to fill a glass bottle with water from a barely functioning faucet. For what seemed like an eternity she held the bottle under the spigot catching one drip at a time as the activity swirled around her. Every time I find myself ready to jump out of my skin at the tediousness of some task, that picture of Mother Theresa patiently holding a bottle under a faucet, filling it over the course of what probably took ½ hour, convicts me in any irritability that wells up inside. That picture comes to me as I fold the laundry. As I sit in traffic tolerating the undecided elderly driver in front of me. As I listen to the solicitor at my door attempting to sell me something that I don’t need. As I approach my local grocery store only to be greeted by someone who needs a donation for a cause. As I provide a listening ear to someone who needs to vent. The least I can do is be thankful that I am not doing what I do in the midst of a bloody civil war. Patience is indeed a virtue, but it doesn’t always come naturally