The Mama Monologues: The Summer of Domesticity

Recently, Amy wrote about the lazy days of summer she is having with her children. We're having a similar summer at my house: no camp or baby sitter or elaborate vacation. Instead, we're playing in the playroom and riding scooters around the neighborhood and going swimming. My children are loving it, all this down time at home, and so am I.

Because it's giving me a chance to be a housewife.

I don't know precisely how it happened, but I have succumbed to the siren song of the housewife. We're in a new house (or new to us, at least; we moved earlier this month) which may have something to do with it; I'm still in that dreamy phase where I am in love with my kitchen because it's SO MUCH NICER than the old kitchen was. I also have a steady stream of friends and family and neighbors stopping by to see the new house, which is a good incentive to keep it tidy and people-ready. But mostly, I am just enjoying the routine of the domestic.

I'm not a big housework person, and I can barely cook. But somehow this summer, I've been finding time to vacuum and dust and wipe up the bathroom counters and keep up with the laundry. I've been making real food for dinner, almost every night. Yesterday, just for fun, I cleaned the windows that look out onto the sun porch because the little sets of child fingerprints were driving me crazy, and then I made a cheese and cracker plate and served it on the porch, with some nice wine.

I have no idea what has happened to me.

Like Amy, I found myself, as summer approached, thinking back to my own childhood, when "schedule" wasn't a word in my vocabulary and there were always popsicles in the freezer. And I started craving that peaceful, calm, safe feeling that I remember so well. My mother stayed home with us when I was growing up and she was always at the center of that calm. She did her housework and took us to the park and the pool and ran through the sprinklers with us. She made our house feel like a wonderful place to be, welcoming and comfortable. I loved being with her, until one day I was a teenager and didn't want anything to do with her. My sons are still little, but I can see them growing up so fast, and I know that one summer soon they won't want to linger in their pajamas reading books with me on the porch first thing in the morning. And so I feel like I need to seize this summer with them.

But all this cooking and cleaning isn't just about my children; it's about me. I feel like I'm moving toward a new phase as a grown-up woman, partly because my children are getting older and partly because I will be 40 on my next birthday, but also, right now, because I am living in a grown-up house for the first time since I left home to go to college. This is a house, my husband and I say, that we can entertain in, despite the fact that we haven't "entertained" since graduate school. But this house has a dining room and a wet bar, which almost mandates that we start hosting dinner parties, or at least inviting the neighbors over for cocktails. I love that idea, really--that at any moment I could make you the perfect martini, or a really delicious glass of iced tea, and we could talk about grown-up things while the kids played in the yard. I feel like it's time for me to start acting like an adult again, not just like a mommy all the time, and somehow that seems to mean taking responsibility for my home. So I vacuum and wipe up the counters and look around happily at my nice clean house.

I'm surprised by how much I'm enjoying this June Cleaver lifestyle, by the deep satisfaction I get from folding the laundry or vacuuming the living room. I'm surprised by how peaceful my house feels when it is clean and orderly. I've spent years resisting the domestic because OF COURSE I had more important things to do, like read or write or THINK. But what I am finding is that when my house is in order, the other things, the reading and writing and thinking, come so much more easily for me.

This summer, I am cooking and cleaning and writing and thinking, and I am feeling peaceful and happy. And while I suspect that the romance of the housewife life will wear off at some point, right now I am enjoying it. But I'm drawing the line at wearing a dress to vacuum, in case you were worried. Because it's hard to run through the sprinklers in a dress.

column added on 2007-06-24 :: ::

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Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner has a masters degree in English, with a focus on 18th-century British literature, which makes her your go-to girl for all things Jane Austen. Before becoming a mama, she spent ten years teaching literature, writing, and rhetoric. Susan lives in Oklahoma with her husband and their sons, Henry and Charlie; she is constantly on the lookout for the perfect pair of pointy-toed flats. Susan writes about fashion at BlogHer and Friday Style, about parenting at Blogging Baby, and about everything else at Friday Playdate.

Read more of Susan's The Mama Monologues column.

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