I know there's been moments of normality in there, but the last few weeks (month?) have felt a bit like the twilight zone. There's been sickness all round, which never helps, and a bunch of stuff going wrong and I've felt bad and sad and confused and all that, but sitting over the top of it all I just haven't felt entirely like me. I skirted the Sew it Together events on the weekend, something I fully expected to participate in, but between my mental distractions and the demands of a very challenging class to teach on Saturday I felt very monosyllabic and barely present. Like I'd been taking drugs but without the fun. I'm usually such a joiner inner but somehow I just wasn't there.
I've also been exceptionally tired as Wil's recent sleeping problems and illness have developed into full blown night terrors. There's lots of contributing factors and I remember Amy going through a similar phase but it's such a drain to be tending a screaming child in the night. Quite a few nights he has ended up sleeping with me - which doesn't reduce the number of times he wakes but does help him get back to sleep much quicker. And while I hate the sleep deprivation I get as a result, and it feels like I can't do anything to help the poor terrified lad, I do think making scared kids feel like they are less alone somehow makes a difference in the long term. He's had more trouble than usual getting off to sleep too so I've been spending my evenings in the work room where Wil can hear I'm around until he drops off to sleep and we've been leaving a light and the radio on in my work room so he gets the impression I'm around even when I'm not.
There also seen a much greater focus on the household chores side of my life. The sewing machine was packed away a few weeks ago to encourage a cleaner, neater, more home cooked kind of family life for us all and I have been blogging, photographing, twittering and blog reading a lot less. I can report the house has most definitely been neater and more home cooking has most definitely been eaten and there has most definitely been less crankiness from some quarters and less rush.
But a couple of things have bubbled up along with that, and I have to say I'm not so pleased with them. The first has been a return of the feeling I worked very hard to get rid of some years ago that in the end my life has amounted to how clean I can keep a house. The mountains of reading I did for my thesis about the ongoing imbalance between men and women around domestic work is like bile in the back of my throat, and when Amy informed me that I really should make her bed everyday because it was my job because daddy builds houses and I make beds, I felt for one dizzying moment like patriarchy was alive and well and breeding in my house.
The reality that raising children and doing paid work and balancing domestic arrangements are complicated and subjective is not at all new to me (after two years of postgraduate study I get that at the very least) but it also feels like a very fragile treaty not just for me but for pretty much every woman I know. And before anyone jumps in here with a balanced view I'll say I'm not saying men don't have their own issues, frustrations and so on, but simply that I see a lot of evidence of how the negotiation of these issues wears women down. And how the persistence of resulting unhappiness seems to be at the heart of so many relationship breakdowns, mental health problems and all manner of other manifest issues. You know, the I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore stuff.
So while I've been sitting on the domestic worker side of the scales these last few weeks a couple of things have percolated aside from a general anger and sense of injustice. And one of these is how bottomless the domestic workload is. I know this isn't news but I simply can't believe how many hours I can devote to shopping, washing, picking up, sweeping, sorting, putting away, cooking and so on. There is always, and I mean always, more to do. The second is how utterly invisible such work is. Not just in the no one notices a nice clean house or how could there be so little evidence for some much work kind of invisible but in the quite literal sense of standing in front of someone doing the work and them not noticing it is being done. I feel like a complete idiot saying all this - the most fundamental reading of history and feminism tells you this most basic of facts, but the living in a work of endless work with so little achievement or recognition drives the point home in the most unpleasant of ways.
And all that has been doubled by the loss of time for doing things that help to ameliorate those feelings. Not in a direct way - I haven't found myself dying to sew while I have cooked - but I have deeply missed the feelings of joy, engagement and accomplishment that being creative provides. In fact I have felt largely uninspired to do anything enormously creative. I have churned stitch by stitch through a thousand miles of stocking stitch in the round while walking and commuting and waiting for small boys to fall asleep, but that's not what I consider to be a really creative enterprise, and there is as yet no achievement.
All of this has led me to think very carefully about what it is I seek in a domestic environment. Because quite aside from the work of maintaining the home, there is also a question of what I would rather be seeing when I look around me. The problem I have with the clean and tidy house is that both directly and indirectly it discourages me from being creative or relaxed. It removes a sense of the need to create, it removes the inspiration to create and it creates an enormous overhead to create what with the getting all the stuff out and packing all the stuff up in the small amount of time one generally has in a single slot. I really don't crave that sparkly super tidy minimalist aesthetic because it makes me anxious not to mess it up. And even more, it's an active suppression of all the stuff I like. It's empty.
I'm not going to get into an enormous dialogue here about form over function but when I see an empty mantelpiece, an absence of toys, vacant tables and neatly stacked shelves I have to ask what they are for. Why have these spaces if they say do not use me, do not dwell here, make no mess? As though we must eradicate the evidence of the life we live the second we have lived it for fear it may pollute tomorrow - eternal vigilance! Instead of feeling more houseproud as the surfaces clear I feel increasingly disassociated, depressed and oppressed. And don't even ask me what I think this does to the way kids see their role in the family home or how it influences the way you spend time with kids. Let's just say there's been no pint size painting, crafting or even drawing here in weeks.
I don't know how you find the right balance, I mean no one wants to live in a pig sty and of course at a certain point mess itself becomes an inhibitor to a fun and creative life. But I feel like I've moved off a continuum and into a separate kind of reality. Between caring for wee ones, doing the unavoidable and trying to keep things looking schmick I have just kind of shut down the part of myself that makes the fuel that keeps the engine going. It all feels so much like performance and not at all like living, and really I just don't understand why people want to live that way.
Luckily in just over a week I am off to craft camp. I think I am looking forward to it like I have not looked forward to one before, I'm hoping to find some inspiration and some clues about how to get back to some kind of real life.