I turned 46 this month, and every year is the same. I always think back to my 25th birthday.
I spent my 25th birthday alone. In memory, it was a weekend. There was a red rose I’d purchased for myself standing in a clear vase upon my coffee table (life before cats). I spent countless minutes on my new green suede couch soaking in the flower’s beauty. I took an evening walk down the streets of Queen Anne in uptown Seattle and looked up at the apartment buildings and stars all around, thankful for the skin I lived in. I was fairly new to Alone and very greedy with my time. I wanted more and more of her as I understood her magic.
Alone often falls by the wayside when one is a wife and mother. She can become a badly handled package, carried through too many towns, thrown aside, only to become dented and dirty, her contents broken.
Alone becomes time spent doing dishes, paying bills, worrying, worrying, and worrying, and then doing laundry that doesn’t get folded. Then, your husband gets home (thank God), and because you greedily want time with him, you squish Alone further in between the couch cushions.
If you are like me, you have a constantly running to-do list in your head. This list sits right before your eyes in unwashed dishes; in trinkets and toys laid across coffee tables; in darkening shower floors, and so on. I am realizing more and more that this very list of unending tasks wreaks havoc with feelings of adequacy and fulfillment. Our individuality and sense of worth get lost in the kitchen drawer that holds old keys and receipts.
In Gemma Hartley’s book, Fed Up, she writes of the emotional labor women do on the daily, particularly those who are mothers. Within the average household, Gemma reminds us, we are the ones left to balance a hundred household decisions like what to cook for dinner and how to get to the store for needed items. We choose which doctors each member of the family should see and often make appointments for everyone. We make sure the furnace gets checked in winter, that cats get to the vet each year. We juggle decisions about holidays and dinner guests – and let’s not forget, invitations to birthday parties. The list goes on.
What’s worse: these necessary tasks get pushed aside as if they aren’t actual work. They become discounted among the labor we do.
After only reading a small passage of Hartley’s book, which you can read, too, I made a resolution for my 47th year (I mean, can’t we just call it my 46th?). I have realized how much time I burn in one disorganized state or another. When the socks and underwear aren’t folded, my glasses are misplaced, or the dishes are not put away, how much mental and emotional energy am I losing each day? I know I spend an inordinate amount of time running up and down the stairs, trying to remember where I have placed whatever it is I am looking for.
At 46, I aspire to have more mental space, to waste less time searching for a pair of matching socks, to appreciate Alone instead of feeling drained and falling onto the couch for a nap. What Hartley’s emotional labor calls for ironically is: housecleaning. Of the mental – and physical – sort. Here are some things I can do that would give me back some time and sanity:
- Create an actual space to leave my glasses. Have one on each floor of the house.
- Organize my sock drawer. Hell, organize any of my drawers.
- Clear out the walk-in closet so I am not stepping on old duffel bags and unused coat hangers.
- Schedule specific days and times in my week for exercise as I have done with writing.
- Stop shoving old plastic bags into a free rack on the door of my pantry. (Eventually, this turns into a pop-goes-the-weasel situation.)
- Pick out work outfits the night before. Do this every day.
- Remember to say “no” to friends when needed.
- Designate scheduled tasks to others who live under the same roof as I.
- Be a gentle, kind, but firm boss of my own life.
I see you, 46. I know what to do. Hold my broom.