Alternative titles for this topic included:
My Life as a Character in an Edith Wharton Novel
Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all you know on Earth, and all you need to know.
You will notice that I went for the most self-deprecating version; as is my wont.
Today I went to a class to learn how to arrange spring flowers. When I entered the sunlit room, I was overwhelmed by the profusion of flowers: lots of juicy orange and vivid purple colors; beautiful pale green and cream roses that looked as if they were blushing; acid yellow rananculus; pussy willow, with its fat, silky catkins; fragrant mimosa; flowering branches of blossoms, pink and white; and frilled "parrot" tulips straight out of Dutch still-life. It was glorious; breathtaking, really. It made me feel giddy and joyous. And a bit decadent, too, because what says privileged lady who lunches more than a day in a flower shop -- learning to make one's own hand-tied posy?
When a friend asked me what I was doing today, I admitted -- perhaps with a slight shamefacedness -- that I was going to take a flower arranging class. Well, this woman (fellow American; former New Yorker) looked at me, aghast, and replied: "I would never do something like that! It would just confirm my worst fear: that I'm nothing but a dilettante." Of course I just laughed. (Of course I also thought: Honey, give it up -- you are a dilettante.) But the remark did give me pause.
In the past week I've been working on applying for a teaching job, and I'm not entirely sure that I want to. Most people go out to work because they need to make some money. But if you take money out of the equation -- and with teaching, you might as well -- you have to question why you are doing such a thing. Do I really want to trade my delicious bits of leisure time -- time to read and write and gather my rosebuds -- in order to grade another batch of disappointing juvenile papers? What will I lose? What will I gain?
In the past week I have been given a compliment, been asked a question, and been pierced by a criticism.
The compliment: we were out with some friends, and the mother/wife/full-time employed person told me that her children had voted mine the "homiest" house that they knew. I think this had something to do with the fact that I make my own "biscuits;" apparently, this is somewhat unusual in the houses they frequent. At any rate, they like to come over and hang out here; and I must admit that the hostessy part of me was touched by this vote of confidence -- no matter how narrow the field of competition.
The question: a very dear friend, she who first dubbed me Bee Drunken, asked me if I liked being a stay-at-home Mom. At one time, this friend and I were students together at Queen Mary College -- part of the University of London. She went on to be a journalist in New York City, while I went on to be the youngest mom of my cohort, move 13 times, and work sporadically as a teacher.
The criticism: when asked if she had read my blog about reading, my mother confessed that she had never looked at my blog -- and furthermore, that she considered it a waste of time that could be better used on "proper" writing.
One more anecdote, and then I will try to get to a point:
Not so long ago, my children -- tired and washed out from a long weekend -- told me how lucky I was that I didn't have to "work" or actually do anything. When I sputtered indignantly about having to go home and clean our house (a "tip" as the English say, after a long weekend of houseguests and slobbery), and do laundry, and grocery shop, and cook, etcetera --
my daughter replied, somewhat disdainfully, that people who work full-time have to do all of those things anyway. It was a pretty debate-worthy retort, actually; and while I could have argued that full-time working mothers often hire people to do their domestic duties it would have been just an avoidance of a certain truth. Once your children are at school, is there really any justification to be a stay-at-home mom?
But who's going to let in the workmen when something goes wrong in the house? In a 200 yr old house this is not an idle question -- but rather a need that arises on a nearly weekly basis.
But who's going to take the children to the dentist? (My youngest daughter got kicked in the mouth by a horse recently and has a more or less standing appointment at the dentist. But that's another story.)
But who's going to be the one who brings beauty and calm into our house?
I have been a full-time working mom, and furthermore, nearly a single one as well -- when Sigmund recently spent 18 months working and living in Holland. It wasn't quite Edvard Munch's "The Scream," but then I do remember the constant background whine of our lives as being: "Mommy is Sooooo Tired." The truth is, when I am not working full-time outside of our home, I am much more likely to want to work inside of our home. I cook more; I don't mind if a child wants to stir the risotto; I make risotto, for that matter; I throw parties and invite people over for the weekend; I plant baskets of flowers and herbs; I recycle -- everything; I am more likely to send a birthday card or a funny just-because-I-am-thinking-of-you card; I don't complain (as much) about ferrying children around; I am more likely to read a bedtime story; I am more likely to be patient with children; I am more likely to be smiling.
Since I live with a person who works long hours, and is not genetically inclined to good cheer, and since I also live with a teenager, it is my job to be in a good mood. If I am in a good mood, there is a better chance that everyone will be a good mood. Is this an equation, or just a corollary?
On the other hand, there is the fact that I was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" (what a poisoned chalice) in high school -- and "Most Outstanding Student" in graduate school. What part talent, what part ambition, what part hard work? Any part fluke?
Is aiming for domestic beauty and happiness too trifling a goal?
Tonight there was a beautiful bouquet of tulips, and roses, and mimosa, and rananculus on the dinner table. There were homemade biscuits; there were homemade lemon cookies. Do these things really enrich my family's lives, or my own, or am I just -- in the final accounting -- a dabbler?
But if you don't have to go out and slave for a wage are you a fool to do so? Are we a generation too devoted to the idea of Work?
I am turning these questions over in my mind tonight. I am listening to The Story sing "The Angel in the House." I am asking for some input: