Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Starched Pillowcases and Chocolate Bon Bons


I’m not a slob. Well, not really. Okay, okay, already—I might have some junkyard tendencies. Yes, my walk-in closet is so flooded with abandoned shoes, too-tight jeans, and nostalgic Busta Rhymes t-shirts that you can’t walk two inches into it without tripping on something. And I’m sure that a fire inspector would shut my bedroom down if he got a gander of the taller-than-my-six-year-old pile of dog-eared books, half-filled photo albums, and thumbed-through O Home, Essence, Real Simple, and Domino magazines. But the common areas at the Millner/Chiles abode? The kitchen, sitting areas, dining room, and kids’ quarters? You could lick butter off the floor.

Especially if company is coming.

Oh, you can count on me sweeping floors, fluffing pillows, dusting the high shelves, laying out the good towels, ironing pillowcases—all of that—if somebody’s coming through the crib. Bad habit I picked up from my mom. Seemed like the minute she got the three-month schedule for Bible study classes, she’d circle her date on the calendar and then put me, my brother, and my Dad on notice that for the entire week leading up to her turn to host the Saturday Good Word fest, we would all be getting real cozy with the mop and bucket. The woman was generally neat, but if company was coming through, her house was impeccable. The deaconesses were watching. She had a rep to protect.

Be clear: Bettye was a working mother—toiled in a windowless factory room at Estee Lauder for 10 hours a day, starting at the cosmetics company as a lipstick flamer (she actually flicked dull tubes of pigment under Bunsen burners to give them their shine) and ending her 25-plus-year career working her way up to quality control, where she gave the nod to bags, umbrellas, and the like. She’d be dog tired, dragging in from work, barely in the door before she had dinner on the stove, and then on the plate, and then in a pan of hot, soapy water, and then herself in a bathtub of hot, soapy water, and then to bed, ready at 5 a.m. to do it all over again. Surely, somebody would have forgiven her if there were a little dust on the étagère. She never yielded to the excuse, though.

She just handled it.

So that her baby girl wouldn’t have to.

But on my worst days, I don’t—can’t—extend my own self such benevolence. I come from a lineage of women who went from the fields and the big houses to the factories and the office desks and yes, to the boardrooms, not because they wanted to, but because they had to. Wasn’t nary one of them talking about “work/life balance” and “having it all” and all the hub bub parent magazines and pop psychologists assign to today’s beleaguered working moms. You wanted to eat? You worked. And you kept the house and kids clean because, well, who else was going to? It was what it was.

And my situation is what it is because I made it so; I just walked away from a good job with benefits to do what black women for many generations before mine simply didn’t have the luxury of doing—stay at home, raise my kids, and work when the assignments come (and I feel like being bothered). This is called choice. And on more days than not, I nod my head and give thanks that my parents (my father, too, was and still is an incredibly hard working man), my husband (a fantastic provider), and my years as a New York journalist and editor afforded me the ability and the opportunity to make one—a choice, that is.

Still, I can’t help some days but to think that I broke the rules, somehow. That I hit the Pick 4—didn’t earn this great fortune the legit way, with blood, sweat and tears (though my DNA can be found in newsrooms and magazine offices scattered all over New York). Sometimes, I feel like I need to slip off and clock-in at the nearest factory—to prove I know how to do the honest, hard, back-breaking stuff.

But seeing as even the factory jobs are hard to come by, my self-reproach manifests itself instead in my perfectly starched pillowcases, and my sizzling pans of made-from-scratch smothered chicken, and floors clean enough for you to lick butter off of them.

I want to say this is just my own hang-up.

But really, it’s not. I’m constantly pulled in this direction and that—asked, no, expected, to just say yes. To classroom projects. And neighborhood functions. And friend obligations. My Dad, perfectly loving, sweet man that he is, has suggested on more than one occasion that I have plenty of time on my hands to do (insert your random errand/appointment/just-do-it-dammit project here). “You ain’t doing nothin’ no way,” he’s said matter-of-factly. Out loud. Of course, this is by no means true. Each request, though, confirms every sneaking suspicion lurking in the back of my mind—that though I toil away on the computer literally all damn day, nobody really thinks I, a writer, am working. Indeed, a writer works in silence and solitude and anonymity. I don’t get dirty and greasy or take orders from people I don’t like, but I do sweat and think and sweat and think some more. All the time. Non-stop. Even when nobody thinks I am.

For sure, I ain't one of those bon-bon eating housewives.

But on some days, I have a hard time convincing even myself.

The next time that day comes around, maybe I’ll tackle that closet.

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  1. just stop it girl...just stop beating yourself up...from one parent and writer (who did it from home for nearly 3 years, partly with a child)to another, I know the mind-numbing work that you regularly put in...when I come through and all is spic and span, pans are steaming and fragrant, kids are bright and beaming, husband is appreciative and proud, and the fruits of your creative labor are being praised from a kazillion blogs, friends, media and family, I know you ain't doing the damn thing poppin bon bons and handling the remote...as a matter of fact, take a damn break...do something for you...cause the grind (as joyoous and rewarding as it is sometimes) will be there when you get back. Take care of you, jd

  2. Do it only when you want to; and that's ok.

    That could be a little at a time or over a weekend.

    Maybe make a weekend project out of it with the family...????

  3. I hear you! Brain work recognition pales in comparison to brawn work. My years in corporate America..I'm sorry, "sitting behind a desk all day" were a constant pull on my intellectual resources. And while I live a life of my own design these days, hell-I'm harder on myself than they were. I feel in many ways the need to tire myself out, work harder than is necessary, take it just over the top each time is a tribute to those who paved the way. But, a bon bons in the bathtub with a book day doesn't sound half bad at all!

    (Your closet is supposed to look like that! It is part of your creative genius...just go along with it-it works.)

  4. ditto what joyce says. i don't have kids, but writing is back breaking in its own right. there's a famous quote: writing is easy; you just sit staring at the blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.

    that AND raising kids? and keeping the house happy? girl, let it go!

  5. You said it yourself, "it is what it is", so now you just have to believe that. You have obviously worked hard to get to where you are today so don't apologize for it... and might I add, its just crazy to feel like somehow you don't deserve it! It is true that work is never done, and what is more true is that a woman's work is never done, so why feel like you have to force it to be??

    If there is a place for rest/relaxation/enjoyment/WORK THAT YOU LOVE TO DO/ own it. In a society of always having to prove yourself... you don't always have to prove yourself =)

  6. I could never picture you as a bon-bon eating housewife. You are where you are because you deserve to be there. It's as simple as that. You're a smart and savvy gal and your baby girl is going to benefit ten-fold from what you have to offer. Embrace it. :)

    Hey, my word verification was reals. How funny is that? It doesn't get more real than this.

  7. oh, child please! you need to stop right now. don't be sorry because you're blessed enough to be able to work from home. listen, i work from home one day a week, and you best believe when i finally get those other four days i won't be thinking of cleaning a closet. no sireebob, i'm going to buy a big ol' box of bon-bons so i can pop them in my mouth one-by-one as i sit at my laptop typing away while sideways eyeballin' maury povich and guessing if i think dante is really the father or not until my son comes through the door with my husband. that's when the real work starts anyway.

  8. Denene, I completely understand what you mean. I rarely go into the office since I've begun homeschooling. I question all the time whether I am doing enough, but then inevitably I am overwhelmed for trying to do too much. I still handle all necessary business tasks right here on my couch, and I totally ignore the fact that now I'm a teacher, a managing partner, a house manager, & a church volunteer because I tell myself that I spend all day blogging.

    I realize just now that it's not true. I work just as hard as anyone else. I don't have to fight traffic, stress out over co-workers and clients, or stand on my feet all day to prove I'm working.

    Thanks for this post. P.S. still working on keeping this house clean though.

  9. Denene, Denene! As usual, I wish you would stop stomping all through my brain and pulling out thoughts only to put them on blast here on MBB!! That "Pick 4" comment is straight outta my mindscape! As I've mentioned before, I tend to think about my grandmothers' work and compare it to mine, which often results in a "dang, maybe I should be doing more" thought. But, I shake it off, because Creator saw fit to put me at home w/ my babies and ma baby-daddy, and my two computers, and my gazillion journals, and my spiral notebooks, uh, sorry...got carried away. You get the drift. Let's wallow in our versions of working motherhood and hope that your beautiful daughters and mine have big enough ovaries (lol)to dare to do the same!! Great post!

  10. Strumming my pain with your fingers....for real! Er...uh...except...I am a slob! I've been telecommuting to the same tech marketing gig (that I so don't love beyond it's blessing me with some semblance of financial stability and soccer fees) for seven years. My friends and family still have not a clue what I do for a living, if I do anything. To them, I'm like Tommy on Martin. For real. And, don't get me started on my son's father's perception of what's really going on. LOL! I feel you on that...But, dammit, give me some bon-bons, a DVRd episode of Heroes and a solid case of insomnia, and I"m on the couch...not doing laundry! Hmmm...maybe I need to check my own work ethic. Nah!

    So, like the choir says, please be kinder to yourself ...an' git you some bon-bons! Hell, eat 'em off your sparkling clean floor if it pleases you!

  11. This is very interesting. As if all of the books that you have authoring taking on this blog and all of your activities with the girls are not enough - you are adding self-inflicted flagellation to the list? Cut it out. My whole house is a mess - I said it yes I did. Working at home is a luxury that our ancestors enabled us to have. AND it is actually harder in many ways than working in the office.

  12. Can I get a AMEN! Wow. Have you been to my house? As a woman who walked away from a lucrative career in the music industry - babysitting artists - to work from home and babysit my own little superstars, can I just say I feel you.

    Oh, and clean closets are overrated.

  13. I definitely share your pain on this one. I picked up that bad habit of making the house spotless for company from my mother too. Not that the house is a disaster otherwise -- but for company, I tend to go the extra mile. And hubs, of course, wishes I would do it all the time. And I really should...

    As for the "work from home/people think you're not working" dilemma, I'm there every day. Even my husband, who KNOWS what I'm doing on the computer all day, sometimes questions whether I'm really working. Not often, but he has done it. As for everyone else who expects errands since I'm "not doing anything anyway," I've kindly told them all to kiss me where it counts :)

  14. First off, thanks for commenting on my blog!
    It's so weird to read this because I just had this conversation with my best friend the other day. She's a mom and I'm not. She stays at home with her 7 month old daughter and really toiled over that decision. She sometimes thinks she took "the easy way out". Ha! That girl's schedule is tighter than mine and I work 40 hours a week. I told her, and I will say here, don't feel guilty about your gift of Choice. You obviously made some smart decisions along the way that allowed you to be able to make the choice you did. Not everyone has that blessing. Be happy in it on both the good days and bad.

  15. Jamani! (FOR REAL) You are the hardest working person I've met in ages. The apple does not fall far from the tree, jamani!


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