“And yet, I can not help but look around some days and wonder; as a daughter of the feminist movement, was this the endgame? Am I living the dream that they held in their hearts? Or, are my sisters working with their babies in daycare living the dream?” –Devon Corbet
Devon’s blog post on the rhythm of housework and the ever-present tasks of homemaking got me thinking about my own experience of what it means to be a daughter of the feminist movement. The long days at home, parenting and home-keeping, are hard. The sense of responsibility is ever-present. A toddler seems to have some 3-4 needs a minute, newborns need to be held and fed. There is a poop filled diaper to be changed every hour, or so it seems. The messes pile up. Toys are tripped on. Sleep at night is irregular and intermittent at best. Some days going to work part-time does feel easier. I can self-regulate with ease at work. I can get a drink of water right when I need one. I can choose to be my introverted self for a spell. Parenting young children and trying to maintain a sane order at home alternately tosses me into a cocktail of extroverted, non-stop output, where multitasking is a survival skill. There is always work to be done.
More keenly, Devon’s reflections on housework and feminism get me thinking about how I orient to being a mother and home-maker full time, since I am on a respite from work (maternity leave). I get to thinking about what ‘liberation’ means – in a day-to-day context (and in light ‘women’s liberation’). Since giving birth several weeks ago I’ve been HOME. Really HOME. In three weeks I rode in a car only once. Since my newborn caught a cold, we received few visitors and avoided all public places. On warm enough days, I took neighborhood walks. But other than these short bursts of air, I have been HOME.
During the long stretches of solitary parenting and tending of hearth I’ve found myself swinging on a trapeze amongst varied emotions. There is the ‘trapped’ feeling; the wanting to ‘get out’ – both literally and figuratively. Then there is the calm bliss of sitting quietly with my new babe. There is the complete overwhelm of looking around and seeing nothing but work that needs to be done. There is the clock-watching which involves anticipating something coming next (and incidentally wishing for something other than what is presently arising). There is then the surrender into the present moment, which comes with a peaceful appreciation of my children. The trapeze swings…Then frustration (“why do my oldest children have to be fighting again?”). Irritation. Acceptance. Love. Gratitude. It all happens, sometimes in a span of 10 minutes or less.
But here is what I want to hone in on: the way in which motherhood and tending hearth can prod us to contemplate escape routes or lose ourselves to the ceaseless task lists, OR settle in to an experience of utter freedom and fulfillment. I don’t know what the endgame of the feminist movement is, but I do know that as a woman I am given a profound opportunity to maintain a peaceful, sane order of my home. I know that there is an ever-present risk of losing myself to mere execution of tasks. I also know that sweeping doesn’t have to be just sweeping; it can be akin to cleaning the temple. The quality of attention we bring to what we do is essential.
If we see the tasks associated with being a householder and parent as “separate” from our deeper passions and yearnings, then we lose an opportunity to have everything we do be a full expression of our (full) selves. Herein lies a first insight about ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation.’ If we are always seeking something else, we are not free. If we assume one expression of ourselves is “better” or more desirable than another (professional work over laundry, a yoga practice over a dish washing practice, or a solo hike over neighborhood stroll to the playground), we miss out on a seamless experience of non-discriminating contentment. If we alternately give ourselves over fully to what is asked of us in the realm of parenting and homemaking (even though cultural forces and even personal preference might deem it less alluring), we can enter the free and clear realm of non-grasping and non-seeking mind.
I am reminded of the etymology of the Sanskrit word moksha: freedom, letting go, releasing, liberating. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, moksha points to freedom from the cycle of life and death, while also connoting self-realization. For me, moksha reminds me to ‘let go’ into the present moment, whatever it demands or offers. I am reminded to simultaneously release expectations of how I think something should be, especially if it looks different that what is. I am reminded that while there will always be social conditions requiring liberation movements, there is also always the possibility of an internal orientation of liberation, in the spiritual sense. Regardless of externals, we can bring a free attention to everything we do. We can choose to rest in the center of acceptance, which is ultimately a great expression of day-to-day freedom. We can embody a wild Love that fuels an experience of expansiveness, even in the seemingly ‘small’ orbit of nuclear family and home…