"Doing work that has to be done over and over again helps us to recognize the natural cycles of growth and decay, of birth and death, and thus become aware of the dynamic order of the universe"
What a favor we do for our children when we show them the joy of everyday tasks. Young children love to mimic us in our daily routines. Sharing the rewards of our daily work now will help them enjoy their maintenance duties when they get older. It may also teach them that the goal is not to be finished, but rather to determine the right balance of work, play, and rest. About six years ago I realized that even if I could afford a cleaning person, they would not organize my things, do the laundry or do the grocery shopping. I was amazed to discover that even if we were “rich” I probably wouldn’t want someone else doing those things. (Ahh, but a great vegetarian world cuisine low-fat chef, that would be wonderful!) I got the unfortunate impression as I grew up that household tasks were chores. Somehow I picked up that housework and other daily maintenance were not a “real” activities.
There was no joy or sense of accomplishment in housework. It was drudgery I had to get done so I could do something I enjoyed. I have carried that sense of housework as drudgery into my life and it has been regrettable. As soon as I started living on my own I realized that I was solely responsible for the maintenance of my surroundings. And I resented that once a task was finished, such as dusting, it would simply have to be done again. I was never DONE! As the years have progressed I have learned that I (as an adult) am also responsible for maintaining my health, my family’s health, friendships, relationships with family members, my car, etc.
In short, “Life is Maintenance”.
So, if life is maintenance and I’ve been taught that maintenance is just the stuff you have to do before you get to the real living, how much real living can I get to in a day, especially as a mommy? This negative view of the mundane has given me a lot of stress. I have been tempted to “enrich” my life and look outside of myself for the good stuff. The fact is that the good stuff, the real stuff, is in my sink. It is in the laundry pile. It is in my refrigerator and on my kitchen floor. It is in cutting my kids fingernails, shopping for their clothes and shoes, and arranging for their many classes and social visits. It can also be in classes or at my computer, but it is most real here in the dust bunnies under my bed.
Just as there is a heady excitement to infatuation, new people and career opportunities, the true sustained contentment in life comes from the everyday. It has been an ongoing challenge to give my children a sense of joy in maintenance, and I feel tremendously inept. I don’t believe in pretending with them about my feelings (I’m too transparent), so I’ve had to address my dread head on. But I have been buoyed by the belief that this is important to their well-being as adults: To see the rewards of a clean kitchen, stacks of neatly folded laundry, a shoveled driveway. And, thus, to learn that the kitchen gets dirtied, the laundry gets worn, more snow falls on the driveway. These repetitive tasks do teach us the “natural cycles of growth and decay”. We work a while, we play a while, we rest a while. Each activity is worthy, joyful and necessary to our well-being.