The Stove Top

<grumble> Ohfergawdsake, can't someone around here wipe off the top of the stove?

My family members do help with the housework, of course; there is a chores list and it does get followed. Still, in the nature of things, I do do more housework than my husband and kids combined. Lest anyone be momentarily misled, this is largely my own doing. Writer-people need prolonged periods of chewing the mental cud in order to produce, and I find cud-chewing goes better when my hands are busy. So I volunteer for the shopping, cooking, laundry, ironing, and about half of the dishes, and (surprise!) the guys don't object. Oh, no, not in the least. (My prospective future daughters-in-law may, however, want to have a word with me.)

Most of the time, I like doing this sort of scutwork; I find it meditative, especially anything to do with laundry. I was surprised and delighted to find out that others feel the same way: Kathleen Norris wrote a long essay called "The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and 'Women's Work'" which gets properly into the spiritual aspects of domesticity. But there are times when, for no particular reason, doing this work really grinds my socks. And then I am up the creek, for I have told the guys that this is my work, and how am I supposed to tell them, yes, I meant what I said, but not the stove top, at least not today?

The dualism is all mine. Not surprisingly, it confuses my menfolk, who are left wondering which side of the universe Mum is on this morning. Meditative housework is a pleasure; non-meditative housework is a bore. Sometimes I can be meditative; sometimes I can't, and then not even ironing shirts with some good Brahms on the radio can settle me down. (Tidying is never meditative, at least not so far as I'm concerned.)

This is all over St. Paul: I want to be like this, but I'm like that. I get pushed and pulled, one moment the Lord's most happily devoted servant, the next moment racked by selfishness and self-pity; one moment beamish with glory, the next moment frumpish with discontent. Maybe this is what the doctrine of Fallen Human Nature is there for: not as a horrible warning or a theological construct or a psychological explanation of Evil, so much as a simple factual description of the way we all are. Sometimes, at least. Grumble.

But as Norris points out, especially for women, "to sweep a room as for God's sake" may be a genuine act of happiness, or it can be something we've been loaded with by someone else, someone who thinks we look sweetly pious while we're sweeping but who doesn't know the business end of a broom from Adam's off ox. Taking on scutwork as a form of chosen meditation is one thing. Always getting stuck with the dishes while everyone else sits around tucking back beer and pretzels and watching the game on TV is quite another, thank you.

Sometimes, however, I am going to get stuck with the dishes when I don't want to do them; or I will have to tackle the heaps of stuff on the dining room sideboard, or (horrors!) I will have to open that envelope from Revenue Canada, and all without the sweet pleasure of being meditative. Sometimes I will have to clean up when a cat has barfed. Sometimes I will have to face a mess I didn't make and don't want to have to deal with, simply because life is Like That, as life so often is.

Then it becomes my choice, whether to get all miserable about whatever-it-is or to say, oh well, _sic disintegrat biscuit_ ("so disintegrates the biscuit"). I have long since figured out that spending my time brooding about the Unfairness of Always Having to Clean the Stove Top is one way of walking into a small self-chosen hell. C.S. Lewis was quite clear and perfectly right about that one: hell is something we choose, usually by worshiping the wrong gods and what else, really, is flagrant self-pity than self-worship? I can spend my time worming my way into a nice, warm, fetid pile of resentment, or I can just clean the @#$% stove top and get on to something less depressing.

That being said: I am not talking about life-tragedy material here. Sometimes I will have to deal with Major Stuff, the big-time sorrows and horrors; and in that case, the prescription is very different. It is one thing to kiss a child's bobo and put a Barney bandaid on it; it's another thing to do that to a compound fracture. I do admire a certain decent stoicism and grace under adversity, but I also know (been there, done that) that sometimes, one's whole duty to God is simply to drop in one's tracks like Job and *howl*. For what looks like stoicism may, in fact, be a wholly unhealthy numbing-out, and grace under adversity may be some 1950s starlet, rigidly swimsuited, swanning in De Nile. And when Patience looks so meek under adversity, she may, in fact, be too much a coward to stand up to real injustice and say NO! (And then again maybe not; for who am I to know what poor Patience has had to live with?)

I have to decide for myself, then, what really is adversity and what is merely a pain in the butt, and I must understand that the two of them do require different things of me and of those who have to deal with me. In fact, I think most of the people I know are actually far more apt to downplay real adversity than to magnify the p.i.t.b.s into Tragedy Levels, but there are exceptions. It's a balancing act, as always, between "sensitive is as sensitive does, not as sensitive feels" on one hand, and, on the other, the understanding that real grief and psychological trauma are real and do happen and need to be properly dealt with, and that simpleminded bromides will not help or cure the very real aches of the heart. Not easy. But then, life rarely is.

Such a production over a dirty stove top... I slapped the burner grills into the sink to soak and went after the white enamel with a plastic scrubber and (perhaps mildly inflated, slightly synthetic) good will. I really do like chores better when I'm feeling meditative, dammit. Oh well. At least that's done. Put on the water for tea; where's that new magazine?

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 05 Aug 2000
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