Have you heard about those ladies who manage to raise two sets of twins while holding down a full time job involving international travel and still managing to host fabulous Martha-esque parties at their homes while running marathons twice in a year in their spare time? You know the ones. It is hard to praise them because you can hardly get your jaw off your belly button when you hear what they do in a day.
We don’t know how they do it.
When your pile of laundry looks like Mount Everest and the dust bunnies behind your toilet are starting to reproduce as if Easter is around the corner. You’ve got dentist appointments to get to and car repairs to coordinate and friends to drop casseroles with and somewhere in there find time to get a birthday present for the party on the weekend. You’re list seems longer than the constitution and yet someone somewhere does all that and still manages to tack on major projects and full time employment.
Have you heard tale about so-and-so’s grandmother? Maybe she is yours. She was most certainly mine. She carried water from her well by hand to wash the clothes. She got up early to milk a cow and then got her kids off in the direction of the schoolhouse - which she probably taught at. She tended a garden, volunteered at the church, knit warm socks and mittens and sewed up holes in clothes. She cleaned the floors, kept the home fires burning and likely took a shift or two on the tractor in the fields.
And we don’t know how she did it.
But upon further examination, I wonder whether life was easier back then. If I could give up internet commitments (finding used winter tires, checking for vegetable orders, RSVPing to the fair trade party) wouldn’t life be more straight forward? What about if I got rid of our vehicles and went back to a horse and buggy for transport? Then I wouldn’t need to get tires fixed and oil changed except for maybe on the tractor. What about if I didn’t have to worry if my cell phone was charged, if my electricity bill was paid, if my home phone line was on the right long distance plan?
What if my relatives lived within walking distance (a horse walk perhaps)? What if we shared tasks with the neighbours and leaned on each other as needed? It took a village to raise children and a community to work a farm back then. I think it still does. Except many of us are left to try to make it happen on our own.
What if I didn’t need to buy gifts for that birthday party – I could make them out of wool without feeling sheepish (tee hee) around the other Barbie Spectacular and Build a Bunny extravagant gifts? What if I had to make my own ketchup and relish instead of seeking it out in the store? What if I could live without coffee and sugar?
Somehow in all of this ‘making life easier for ourselves’ (and healthier, and more fair, and more environmentally and politically correct) we have complicated things beyond recognition. So much so that people are rushing to the grocery store and buying bushels of cucumbers from far away places to make preserves for the winter. They do this so that they feel closer to their food. We get memberships at gyms and spend hours there every day but drive instead of walking from box store to box store in the interest of saving time.
I have made an attempt to seek simplicity in my life. Instead I seem to have added the task of making relish to the long list of modern day complications. I also made an attempt to rid myself of luxuries that I hoped we no longer needed. I traded the new cars in for old. I got rid of television programming in our house. I vowed to buy almost everything second hand. Clocks, lamps, clothes, shoes, speakers, gifts, dishes, bikes, skis, art, toys, and whatever else I could find that was still useful. The only thing new coming into my home were toothbrushes and underwear and I couldn’t have been happier.
But life did not get more simple. To my surprise it just got more complicated. You see, I never gave up my modern luxuries. I’m not sure I ever intended to. I thought they would naturally be replaced with a full and satisfying lifestyle entirely contained in our house and on our farm.
We have not one family member within 100km of our farm. We have neighbours who are like family but a build-a-family is not always the same as the real thing. Our market for selling organic vegetables is entirely in the city despite attempts to sell and deliver closer to home. I have friends from past lives who now live on other continents or across this one on other oceans. We have siblings in England and in British Columbia.
Unlike my grandmother, my life is spread across the world and I’m not sure what I can do about it. I’ve come into this new millennium fully embracing all that it had to offer. I signed up for satellites and internet. Visiting family and even work has me taking airplane rides through multiple time zones.
I think my grandmother’s life was hard. Very hard. I think her knuckles were more swollen and her fingertips more raw than mine. However, the maternal border collie in her was able to keep her sheep within a small geographical area in a way that I will never be able to. There must have been some peace of mind in that. My wee tired brain is expected to get a handle on everything between the sun and the moon. A diligent feminist will make every attempt to carry the entire world, past and present, here and over there, on her shoulders. At least our grandmother’s roles were slightly more contained.
We cannot turn back time. I will never have access to the kind of life that was lived 100 years ago. I’m not sure I would want to. Even Amish people who forgo most of today’s modern luxuries have to wait at red lights when they bring their wares to the local shopping centres.
Life got complicated. And I think it plans to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
But here is what we have going for us. We don’t have to beat ourselves up for what we didn’t accomplish today. There is no need to run ourselves ragged as we attempt to be the best of every woman that ever was. Our world is ever changing. And we’ve all had to change along with it. Some stick their heels in better than others and insist on cutting their hair in the shape of a mullet and driving cars with hoods the size of cargo ships. But life is still ever changing.
So I suggest we choose who we want to be today and tomorrow. And never mind that woman who kicked butt with her incredible nineteenth century work ethics. And while you’re at it never mind Marathon Martha too.
Run the miles you can. Knit the socks that beckon you. Make relish if a pile of cucumbers lands on your stoop.
And let’s try to imagine that we’ve earned ourselves a little bit of repose from all of this hard work. Yup, girl, you are capable of getting up Mount Everest, even if it is just your laundry pile. But is that the biggest dream you’ve got? If not, save the pile for another day and put up your feet. Or do the whole pile before the household even wakes up. Whatever works for you.
It is quite simple, really. Be you, here, now, doing what you do. Leave the rest for another time.