Monday, April 25, 2011

No Woman’s Land

When I go to the city with my kids to do errands I try to allot some time for them to play outside in a park somewhere. We aren’t faithful to any one park and, therefore, get to check out many neighbourhoods and gaggles of children gathering in their play spaces. In these places we can be flies on the wall to see how other families live.

My favourite is when we go to the park that I went to as a child. I recall being a nine year old running barefoot down the hill on hot pavement to the very same park that I now watch my kids play at. I remember coming home in the summers just as darkness fell, sometimes near 10pm. The trees there are no longer saplings, they are 30 some year old giants that shade the areas where sun once beamed. Co-incidentally, I have work friends that moved to this area now too. Some of the parents are my childhood friends. Or their parents who own the same homes and bring their grandkids there. They don’t remember me. I’ve tried the conversation but I suppose I’m not that dirty, unkept nine year old anymore.

Watching these parents and children playing is like looking through a window into my childhood. And in many ways a window into a parallel life. Is it perhaps the life I would have lived if I too had stayed in the neighbourhood that I had grown up in? I don’t recognize these women/mothers at all, however. They are not my mother 30 years ago. They are not me now. Their children are not me then. The women are tidy and thin. They look like they spend a lot of money on their clothes, bags and strollers, make appointments for their hair and efforts on the shape of their body. They look happy. As happy as I feel, I suppose. I’m not quite sure if I fit in here though. My kids don’t look a whole lot different than theirs do.

As I sit awkwardly on the park bench watching the mothers interact with their friends and neighbours, I chat politely and engage in appropriate ways. But I don’t belong here. I keep wondering how many of these women have milked a cow before. Yet I come home to my farm and I am the ‘city girl’. The one that, no matter how much hands-on experience I gain, will never know as much as the one who grew up here. Although I feel at home in my space, I don’t quite belong here either. So I am left stranded between these two worlds. In No Woman’s Land. Forever, likely. As I won’t go back and in the eyes of many I can’t move forward.

A generation or two ago women fought and fought hard to put value on “women’s work”. We deserved recognition for the things we did in the home and we deserved equal opportunity and treatment in the out-of-home workplaces. Yet, as we climbed higher and higher into our niches as directors, doctors, lawyers, managers, supervisors and leaders, we had less and less time to manage the home front. Thank goodness for gadgets that could be put on a timer and laundry machines that worked for us in the wee hours of the morning.

As I am on the front end of my middle-aged years I realize I am also stranded in time. I don’t belong to my generation of women holding ground in their careers. I am most like my grandmother, wanting to build my life around my home, kids and the food we grow. Yet I have an incredibly different life than my grandmother, the farmer’s wife - I am educated, I need to travel, I have choices. When I was at work I would get really funny looks from my fellow career women. You make what???!? Cheese, I would say. They gave me the same smirk every time, leaving me confused as to whether they found it interesting or appalling.

I believe we have thrown out a little bit of baby with the bath water. We won the battle to give women opportunities with education and jobs – at least in my little corner of the planet. But we lost the basic skills that go along with ‘making a home’ and have come to rely on outside labour, factories or processors to do it all for us. Though I believe one can create a loving home and family life without being a stereotypical homemaker, with these changes came the unintentional devaluing of what women used to be known for. Weaving, preserving, tending, mending…essentially homemaking. Because doing these things felt like we were regressing. Yet the women (and men) I know love to cook or decorate, plant, grow, fix, rearrange or build. The desire is still there but many don't know where to start. The time to do it might be more limited and the urgency of the tasks less crucial (e.g. buy new pants instead of mending the old ones).

What I predict is that I won’t stay stranded in my generational abyss for long. Certain external factors will facilitate that. I'm not quite my grandmother and not yet a woman building the future. With the increase in prices of oil and the inability to continue moving food and materials frivolously around the globe will come the need to make do with what we have and what we can do with our own two hands. This is where we can turn skills into something as valuable as cash.

I’m ready for these changes. I value what I and other women do (and have done) on the home front. Most of those women in the park probably would too. Some wouldn’t. But many of these women simply provide a look at the life I would have had if I had taken a different road. And they are also probably trying to find their own ground.


  1. As a woman quickly approaching the end of her middle age years, I feel precious time slipping away in gaining one more invisible medal of honor,one more unseen with human eyes badge of achievement in preserving this honored and often disregarded call of duty called 'making a home". And I would venture to say if we could feel the burden of the world's recognition for it we would scarcely stand under the weight of it. That and of course the standard new shoes, purse, and oh yeah car that society pressures for the duly recognized. Hmmmm... I think I like it here in obscurity :)

  2. in my first marriage I was the " country girl" trying to fit in at the city playgrounds. I would comment on a dry July day that it was " good weather for haying" which was met with a perplexed stare.I canned peaches by the bushel I bought from an Amish family I knew, wildcrafted blackberries that grew alongside abandoned rail trails and dried my cloth diapers on a clothes line.I was very lonely at first but soon became the go- to source for information on DIY.Turned out a whole generation of moms were hungry for all the skills I had grown up thinking everyone knew.I taught cooking classes privately, ran canning workshops, started community gardening projects.You might just be surprised who else is feeling the ache of
    " something just doesn't fit here" but is scared to start the conversation!

  3. Oh boy, that's a good point! Obscurity is where the magic lives isn't it? I live in an area one hour from a fairly large city and because it is tricky to get to due to some escarpments and a river, we are nicely hidden away from the troubles of population pressure. Tell me more about the kind of badge of achievement you speak've got my wheels-a-turnin as always.

  4. Cargill - that's really inspiring. Many have asked me to do these kind of workshops. I'm glad you found a way to pull it off. I still have a hard time believing that this 'city girl' has anything to teach :) I'll get there...

  5. Oh dear I think I may be biting off more than I can chew, but here goes. My grandmother, the only child of German emigrants who settled in Missouri, selflessly chose to devote her life to homemaking. With my intinerant minister grandfather they accepted the call to pastoring a small church of about 20 African Americans in the chilly and mostly barren Northern part of South Dakota, and of which I have heard many stories of their humble existence. My grandmother extended herself beyond the raising and tending of this small church to the care and nurturing of the nine children God so graciously blessed her and Grandpa with. She was unwavering in duty. And even in her golden years she tirelessly taught and blessed many more children by way of a small school she helped create in the small and drafty old Lutheran church they attended. I guess I needed to share this as I have been the beneficiary of her example. She never knew her value would be championed one day. She never sought accolades, recognition, was never awarded a degree in anything that the world would deem worthy of such an honor. But if it was, her so deserving medal of honor or many badges of achievement would be as diverse as the developed skills and gifts she administered daily to those around her her entire life. And if they could be seen by human eyes would shine ever so brightly on her humble but tidy uniform of housedress and apron. If your predictions are right and the home front becomes the new front we'll need to be that example and provide the footsteps to follow.

    P.S. Hope I didn't give you a bad case of whirly brain. I've somehow never got the knack of a short answer.

  6. Wow - those are some boots to fill! I feel like I could quit writing this blog right now and be completely satisfied - I've been waiting for this missing piece - the bit about my need for praise and recognition, the need for 'thanks' that our grandparents didn't have - this brings it all home for me. If only I could do half of what your German Granny did. And to try to do it without complaining would be a miracle for me. She likely worked her heiny off and didn't even get a shiny purse to show for it. I am so humbled. I am so grateful for this story. It sounds like you've got some great boots to put on!


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