A tribute to Ann Richards in the Washington Post today cited several favorite quotes, including “A woman’s place is in the dome,” which she said after becoming governor of Texas. A great quip, to be sure, but there was also one that I hadn’t heard before, from 1995, “I did not want my tombstone to read, ‘She kept a really clean house.’ I think I’d like them to remember me by saying, ‘She opened government to everyone.'”
Hmmmm. The lady makes an excellent point. Not the first to do so, of course, by a long shot. There’s a plethora of feminist literature out there, from the early suffragettes to the era of Betty Friedan to the current Hirshman-inspired debate reminding us how important it is to do things besides clean house and keep the hearth warm for the male and juvenille members of our families. Not news to anyone. We’ve come an incredibly long way since then, and I won’t rehash it or pile on.
The odd part, though, is how many of us still, despite all that we accomplish each day in both work and child-raising, still obsess about the really clean house. Perhaps it’s the way we were raised — although, raised as a free child in the 1970’s, by a mom who went back to work the day her youngest went to school, I’m not sure about that. I know that people come before things. I know that achieving something comes before dusting. I know that a balanced life has both cleaning and calculating, making a home and making a difference in other people’s lives. I know these things.
And yet, the night before playgroup always finds me picking up and scrubbing frantically, lest a dog hair or a stray crumb betray the fact that my sole priority in life is not a spotless house to go along with my bright-faced child.
I wrote the first part of this post last night. This morning we opened the door to find EIGHT moms and over a dozen kids (counting toddlers is not unlike herding cats) at our doorstep, ready for playgroup. We had a wonderful time. We actually had an amazing time. I had just been to a new PT for my back pain, and he readjusted some things and really took away 90% of the hurt. (Note to pregnant sciatica sufferers — when looking for a PT, ask for someone who not only specializes in backs, but “loves treating backs,” as mom Rachel put it in our conversation today. You want someone who will actually check your alignment and readjust as necessary, since the relaxin is causing everything to slip in and out of joint with changes in the weather. Repeat after me — massage is NOT enough!) So I was in an incredibly good mood when the kids came over, and we had an incredibly good time!
We had planned an activity for today’s playgroup — fingerpainting. I have to say, it was perhaps the most messy fun we’ve had since our gardening playdate in the spring. Imagine all 10 toddlers in their paint clothes standing around an oversize train table covered with a big slab of cardboard (for easy cleanup), with 10 pieces of craft paper and 1o paintbrushes. Some had painted before, some only fingerpainted, and it was Matthew’s very first time. Boy, was it exciting! The toddlers just went to town creating masterpieces in all shades of brown and green (because of course it’s more fun to mix watercolors than use them individually), while infant brothers and sisters gleefully cheered from the couches. Moms were right there to help and admire, having conversations with and without the kids as they needed us (or not), swapping stories about the latest obsessions (trucks for the kids, part time work for a couple of the moms) and comparing notes about when to move the kids into toddler beds and how often the one-year-olds were napping. Everyone made a beautiful picture, and we set them aside to dry.
Since we were already a mess, I brought out the green jello and we all went outside to climb and play and have snacks. The kids got messy, the moms smiled and laughed, the babies nursed and got sleepy, and we all had a wonderful time together.
And the clean house was utterly and completely beside the point.