"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

26 September 2005

Longing for a Focus

{Note: The boy now has 4” on me; his voice on the phone is now mistaken for his dad’s instead of mine; and he has chosen the road to maturity instead of juvenile self-centeredness. So he no longer seems to be “the boy.” “Guy” is unacceptable because it denotes a physiological young man who determines to remain emotionally a boy. So while he may have a ways to go to fully arrive at it, he shall now be known as “the YM” – the young man.}

Quote from “Twenty Years After” – Betty Friedan’s preface to the 20th anniversary edition of her book The Feminine Mystique, first published in 1963:

“Women [. . .] who combine work, marriage, and motherhood [. . .] have more control over their lives” than women who are “just housewives.”

In the margin of my copy appears the comment “surely this is a sick joke!”

I will grant you I did not choose to combine work, marriage, and motherhood, which undoubtedly affects my response to this assertion. However, I have not spent the past 20+ years in continual resentment over it, and I have tried my best to make the best of it, to make it “work.”

It doesn’t.

The assertion is false, and while some women may be completely happy to live this way, I refuse to believe they have more control over their lives than the woman who chooses one or the other.

Of course, Friedan frequently refers to the housekeepers and nannies and various other servants that the career women she knows all seem to hire . . . but even with a husband at home who takes care of most of the housework “drudgery” (laundry, cleaning, etc.), I do not have any sort of “control” over my life. (I can’t imagine how women manage who have to do all that after a day’s work outside the home – which is likely a lot more women than Friedan admits.)

This past summer, one of my goals was to let go – not be consumed by anxiety over the to-do list but try to live in His time and in His peace. I found at least a taste, and it was good.

I got far more done than I ever have, I think. Research on family concerns; the YM’s high school curriculum determined, books ordered, and first semester of daily assignments laid out; a good deal of reading both fun and purposeful; an essay drafted (whose death was of value – at least I know now what was wrong with the concept); a trip to visit parents; syllabi completed before classes began (a first!); and more. I even cooked a few real meals and made cookies with the YM.

I never felt rushed. I got up when I felt rested (and napped if I needed to – though after the first couple of weeks I rarely did), went to bed when I was ready, responded to my husband and the YM without constant annoyance at being interrupted – because there was nothing I was being interrupted from. I was living for others and not just for me and my timetable, created by the fact of my professional position and its ownership of my time and mind, by virtue of that monthly paycheck and all its attendant expectations.

Now I am trying to continue in that place. I am seeing some victories in leaving behind the constant anxiety that usually attends the semester, even as my days fill with more and more “things to be done.” It is better than usual, emotionally, much of the time. (Lord, help me find it this week!)

But control? More control over my life than I had all summer? I collapse into bed when I can no longer keep my burning eyes open, to be jerked awake a couple of hours earlier than my body clock accepts, so I can shower and dress and rush away from my family with quick hugs, only to spend my day immersed in what others require of me. No matter how much I enjoy teaching – and I do – I have no meaningful control over my time or my actions for those ten hours.

And when I come home, I have papers to grade and classes to prep, and when I choose to spend the evening with K and the YM, I must stay up and do the rest late at night – I am being paid for it to be done – only to drag myself up with the alarm and do it all again the next day. And when the weekend comes, all I want is to catch up on sleep, and yet there are the never-ending papers, the constant class prep, and my annoyance at interruptions from the ones I should be serving with delight.

Perhaps some women thrive so much on professional work that they are not exhausted by this routine. Perhaps the rewards of pay and prestige are so welcome to them that lack of time to restfully enjoy husband and children does not disturb them. Perhaps their children don’t need the emotional and time investment that mine seem to.

But even if they enjoy such a life, they do not have more control over their lives than I had this summer. And I do not understand why anyone would choose a frenetic pace determined by others over the freedom of “just a housewife.” For me, no amount of money, no amount of professional acclaim could ever be worth this constant exhaustion, this constant pull in too many directions, this lack of control over my life.

(And yes, I remember what it was like with young children, and I know that women at home are not autonomous and cannot do what they please; but they can be focused on serving family and not trying to serve both family and the mammon of professional expectations. It is a place of service and not a place of “personal fulfillment” which cannot be found when sought after. [One must lose one's life to find it.] And there is much freedom in not being pulled in so many different directions, but having one's life directed by one primary purpose, so that all choices are made within that one context. [Yes, I am teaching the controlling idea in my classes! One's life needs a CI, too.])

I would do anything acceptable to the God who gave His Son, acceptable to that Son who died for me, to be in that place again.


amelia ruth said...

I too have wondered what drives a woman to pursue a career--when that career is not necessary to her family's financial well-being. The owner of the cafe where I work puts in fifty or sixty hours a week easily, works just about every Saturday and Sunday, stays later than all of us, and has a husband who is a chemist for a local company. I guess she just loves her work that much that even though she could stay at home, she chooses a highly hectic and stressful career; I couldn't stand to be away from home that long.

I am glad you are feeling less of the pressures of a time-table. I pray that the Lord continues to give you peace and rest, and supernatural energy to take care of all your duties and be joyful in the process. If it's any encouragement, I and so many others of your students have been so blessed by your sacrificial service to us.

alaiyo said...

Thank you, Amy -- that's one of the things that makes it bearable, that I actually get to see the fruit of it at times.

Enjoyed your last post at Over the Rainbow -- may not get time to respond there for a few days; essay 2 sits on my desk . . .

Love and blessings,


Pamela said...

Hello, dear Dr. I! You have the way with words. I miss learning from you close by. I am praying for your strength. I am only beginning to realize the countless hours you spent on us. Thank you for that sacrifice, for it is a sacrifice, often unnoticed.

Fieldfleur said...

You need to send this to the magazine "Working Woman" which seems to say to the woman that she can handle it all beautifully. Why not realistically look at some of the things that are thrown overboard and grieve them honestly if one doesn't have the option (or daring) to choose them?
I get annoyed at such claims that the woman can transcend all and not lose anything by a profession.
Of course, though, some of us are called (and obligated) to be in the mix of these things, to accept the loss and appreciate a different type of gain. I just appreciate your honesty about the loss. Lots of prayers for a fulfilling stress/less semester.


alaiyo said...

Thanks, Teri. Blessings on you, too.


Lisa (Froggyhead) said...

Thanks Beth. Just reading this made me tired! Sometimes I think I'd like to be more than "just a housewife" but you have reminded me of how hectic it is. I used to work 8 hours a day and then come home to laundry, meals, dishes, homework and children who needed more from me emotionally than I could give. I remember wishing I could be "just a housewife". It's a sacrifice of money and maybe a also of ego but you've reminded me that it was my choice. I think it was a good one (most of the time). ;)

Anyway, I do enjoy your thoughts so much. Thanks for taking time to post when you're so incredibly busy.

alaiyo said...

Hi, Lisa -- thanks for coming by, and I'm glad this was an encouragement!

It's the posting here that keeps me sane, actually. A writer needs to write, and I can see this as "finger exercises" -- I want it to be good but don't feel that it has to be publishable good. Then the process isn't totally alien when I can get to it for "real." I'm always most grateful when it is used for someone's good.