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.