International Women’s Day and Day Without a Woman

devalue

Today is International Women’s Day. This particular March 8th is also, in the United States, Day Without a Woman – a general strike to highlight the importance of women and how their contributions of both paid and unpaid labor are grossly underappreciated. I have been spending all of this week leading up to today trying to figure out how best to honor both.

The easiest way to support the day and the strike is to wear red, a show of solidarity with women fighting for equal rights, opportunities and recognition. Done. I’m wearing red, my two kids are wearing red. Easy.

red shirt

The next is slightly harder. As women purchase 70-80 percent of items and services for sale, women are asked to refrain from purchasing anything today, to demonstrate how much our purchasing power is worth. Another way to do that is to purchase exclusively from women-owned companies. I will be purchasing an item to support the wonderful online site The Establishment, a bastion of intersectional feminism and support for writers (they pay every writer for every story they publish-which is unusual and welcome in the world of online publishing). I won’t be buying lunch, or dinner, or groceries, or clothes, or books, or my kids’ haircuts or an oil change for the car today.

The last is the most difficult. Women are called upon to strike from all paid and unpaid labor today. Except for the once-a-month tutoring gig I do get paid for, all my labor is unpaid right now. I am a published writer who last got paid for an essay in 2007, and a stay-at-home mom. When my husband is not traveling for work, we already share household chores and child-raising tasks equitably. He doesn’t need a reminder of what I do, and I feel appreciated. And if I refrain from writing, I lose the opportunity to advocate for recognition of the work that women do. So I won’t be taking time away from unpaid labor.

I also never thought of it this way before, but I have women in my employ. I am a chronically ill person who functions most weeks as a single mother would, taking care of everything while my husband travels for work. We have a service come and clean our house every two weeks to help. Vacuuming, washing floors, dusting high shelves, scrubbing toilets: I can technically still do all these things. However, the pain and energy cost of doing these chores (my fibromyalgia tends to flare) leaves me bankrupt for days sometimes, unable to do other things that need doing. I am so grateful to have the three women who do this work for me. Wednesdays happen to be the days they come. I appreciate what they provide for me so much, and know I am a more productive person if I let this work still happen. If they do strike today, I am completely supportive and understanding. If they do not, I will try to make sure to tell them how much I appreciate the work they do.

But, most of all, what I want to do today is explain just how many women make my world possible. I have lived in the world of women for a decade, a world of stay-at-home moms, retail workers, grade school teachers, pediatricians, nurses and volunteers.

I will start with school. From the early intervention services that my youngest had at age two, to the fourth-grade teacher my oldest has now, almost every single educator my kids have had have been women. Since preschool my oldest has been taught by at least thirty teachers and four teacher’s aides, and only three of them have been men. Since early intervention my youngest has had four speech therapists, and at least twenty-four teachers and teacher’s aides, I think one of whom has been a man. We have a male principal, but the vast majority of workers at the school, from the school secretaries to the lunch moms to the volunteers who organize fundraisers and room parties, are women.  Grade school workers are notoriously underpaid and in a capitalist society being underpaid means being underappreciated. I love our school.

I went to work out today. Seven out of the nine receptionists I see regularly are women. When I peek in on classes, I have yet to see a male instructor. Most of the trainers are women. All of the instructors for early childhood classes at my park district are women.

I thought about spending time at our library. I have seen two male librarians over the course of nine years.

Where we get our boys hair cut, eight out of the nine hairdressers I see regularly are women.

Grocery stores, at least half the employees are women. Fast food and slower paced restaurants seem to be the same, at about 50%. So is our local post office.

Clothing and shoe stores? Almost 100% women.

Our local food pantry and community services administrators? 80% women.

Emergency room at our local hospital? The boys and I have only ever seen two male nurse versus about twenty female nurses. We’ve seen two male doctors versus at least ten female doctors.

The pediatrician’s office? All the nurses are women. Half the doctors are as well.

We would visit my mother when she worked at the offices for our local church. A full half of the support staff the offices, and roughly 90 percent of the teachers for both year-round parochial school and CCD were women. And these are just the paid positions. Mothers often volunteer to help even more. In fact that’s how my mother got her foot in the door for this job in the first place.

Most of the women I know, whether they work outside the home or not, do vast amounts of unpaid and unappreciated labor. I once had a conversation with other moms who were completely shocked that my husband did the grocery shopping for our household. I was told that to expect their husbands to do this task was completely unthinkable. Working women still do more household and child-rearing chores then working men. Stay-at-home mothers are still looked down on as if they aren’t contributing.

Most caregivers for disabled people and the elderly are women, both paid professionals and unpaid family members.

On top of all this, is the emotional labor that I have seen women do for free. The labor of keeping relationships healthy, families emotionally whole, communities functioning and working together.

The contributions women make to this country, to the world, are staggering.

The last other thing I am going to try to do today is to spend time not only thinking about how much would be lost without women doing the too-often invisible work of the world, but how much would be lost without their voices too. I have set my playlist to all the music I own either written or sung by women. I am reading I Am Malala for the first time.

women's voices

 

This is how I will spend today.

Tiny Bites

big bowl pomegranate

The bowl of little red jewels caught the light, the reward for nearly a half an hour of preparation. Pomegranates require patience. Once scored you can peel back the tough outer layer and begin to use your hands as claws pulling sections apart. Submerging the whole fruit under water, you can delicately loosen the gems from their white pith moorings and let them sink gently to the bottom of the bowl. Some will fall easily without bursting. Some will require finesse, like wiggling a baby tooth loose from pink-red gums. Some arils will split under too much pressure or when they catch the edge of your nail, but there are thousands upon thousands left to pick from. Like fish eggs, we assume so many are created because inevitably so many will be lost along the way. The whole lot is drained though a fine mesh, and the work continues picking out the blemished and the burst, rescuing the ones that need the last bits of white scraped off their bottoms. Then they are ready to eat.

I worried about this Thanksgiving. My body is dysfunctional in that way that means specialist doctors with extensive waitlists, daily confusion as to what healthy can look like for me, the possibility that something is very wrong or that no one will really know what the problem is. Until the cause of that dysfunction is uncovered, most of the canon of holiday food is actively dangerous to me if I lose my inhibitions and eat too much. Candied sweet potatoes and stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, cocktails and pecan pie are only safe for me in .01 parts per million, like arsenic. Turkey and green beans are acceptable. I worried about how empty and sparse my plate would look. That that emptiness might feel so much like sadness, or grief.

I worried that all the time it takes to make all these things, the hours and hours of peeling and mashing and sautéing would feel like masochism. Like deprivation. Like resentment of the people I love for being able to enjoy these things when I couldn’t. I worried that my love of cooking was purely selfish and greedy, that I was able to indulge my gluttony by it, but didn’t enjoy serving other people no matter how much I care for them.

Worse yet, I worried that my family would be able to see the sadness and selfishness flash across my face. The twin commandments I placed on myself, to be truthful and to be loving, were going to be compromised either one way or another. I didn’t want to lie, nor did I want to pout in envy, and I was quite convinced that at least one would be unavoidable.

As I worked through the process of freeing the pomegranate arils with my oldest son, as I shopped and cooked and cooked and cooked, I was happily surprised that I didn’t feel unhappy at all. The work was as satisfying as it had always been. I felt happy to make, and make, and make without hope of more than a mouthful of each treat. Without the expectation of tangible reward. And I was absolutely relieved to find out that I could be content that my loved ones could have something I couldn’t. The frustration I anticipated in myself dissolved before it materialized.

I had a beautifully happy Thanksgiving, where I got to find out that I still love cooking, I still love my friends and family more than my gluttony, I still can enjoy life with just a taste of this or that, I can be more than my self-pity.

Persephone, the goddess of springtime, spends part of each year as the Queen of the Underworld. We have one month of winter for each pomegranate seed she ate while in the keep of Hades, her kidnapper. As I allowed myself just a few arils out of the thousands we harvested for Thanksgiving, I let the juice burst into my mouth one by one. I was happy with my few, and thought ruefully that four months of winter was more than enough. Too many pomegranate seeds and spring might never come again. But the temptation to have at least a few is too much to pass up altogether, especially when winter, in all its coziness and closeness, is pretty wonderful.

4 pomegranates

Houswifery and Rage Against the Machine

housewifery

I have tried to like housework.

I really have. I have quotes scribbled into my notebooks about the Zen nature of caring for the objects that serve you well. One reminds me that caring for pots and pans we use or combing our tangled hair, is an act of self-care and should be done carefully. Another is a conversation on how to reach enlightenment, where the student asks the teacher how to do so, and the teacher replies, “Chop wood, carry water”. The student then asks what one does after enlightenment and the teacher replies, “Chop wood, carry water.” The act of cleaning, scrubbing, folding and putting away can be meditative.

I have more quotes scattered around the house and Pinterest boards about how women authors balanced housekeeping and writing. (This is not a question many male authors have had put to them, nor have many commented on it spontaneously) Agatha Christie found herself plotting novels while doing dishes. I think about the episode of Big Bang Theory where Sheldon takes a menial job to free his brain for a creative breakthrough.

I own books called The Hoarder in You, Love the Home You Have, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

I have bribed myself with clothing, and lunches out of the house, and new books to try to goad myself into the domestic duties are mine to tackle.

My husband is a neat and tidy person, an equal partner in shopping and cleaning and childcare when he is home. But four out of seven days he is not, and the entirety of our house’s functionality rests on me.

The only way I have found to prod myself to do the right thing, when all these other things fail, is The Housekeeping Playlist.

The Playlist is raucous.

I yell along to it instead of singing.

Head-banging and fists pumping in the air might be involved.

And it consists almost entirely of Rage Against the Machine songs.

People of the Sun. Bulls on Parade. Renegades of Funk. Guerilla Radio. Testify.

Sleep Now in the Fire.

Once I get a good dose of “F*ck the system” out of my system I am ready to tackle dirty dishes and wiping down stainless steel appliances. Maybe it’s my way of announcing to myself that it’s okay that I feel pissy and whiny and don’t want to be stuck doing this. Maybe it’s the deep down irony of yelling at the patriarchy and then looking like a stereotypical housewife perpetuating the system. Maybe it’s a way for me to remember that me not wanting to clean is a ridiculously small and petty thing, compared to what bigger injustices are going on in the world. Or maybe I just need a beat and some passion in my day.

We watched American Hustle last year, and there is a scene where Jennifer Lawrence is smashing around the house to “Live and Let Die”, yellow rubber gloves on, vacuum nearby and ready to go. I yelled out, “That’s me!” as my husband started laughing his ass off gasping, “That’s you.”

I really tried to like housework. I did. Once in a while, you’ll still see me staring off contemplatively while I wipe down a counter. Or peacefully sweeping up. Or on my hands and knees humming while I scrub like Cinderella. But, if it looks like I’m having some sort of seizure through the kitchen window, the playlist is most likely why. And the house might just end up spotless.

I Overdid It

Overdid it

I overdid it.

I was suddenly gifted six hours a day where child-care wasn’t my primary objective. For the first time in nearly nine years, I was responsible for the well-being and care of my offspring for only eight hours of the fourteen they are awake each day.

Or, as someone else might reference it, both my kids are in full-day school.

I absolutely did not want to squander this opportunity to do everything, everything, I have been meaning to get done for the last nine years. And apparently I thought that all should be accomplished within the first three weeks of the very first school year that this free time has appeared.

Goals, dreams, accomplishments: I would soon have them all within my grasp!

  • Showering every day-Check.
  • Exercising every day-Check.
  • Writing every day-Check.
  • Taking care of e-mails and phone calls in a timely manner-Check
  • Putting things away so that our house looked less like a clutter-bomb exploded-Check
  • Making a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner-Check.

They were good goals, attainable goals. But then I got greedy for more: more polish, more perfection, more poise. I have all this time now, don’t I? Shouldn’t I be capable of all these things and more? What, with all this free time and what-not. So I began adding to the to-do list, the accomplishments I needed to have under my belt by pick-up time.

  • Showering every day AND drying my hair AND shaving my legs AND moisturizing AND putting on make-up AND putting on a flattering outfit.
  • Exercising every day-but in order to count it has to be new and challenging and has to keep my muscles guessing and be intense and must lead towards the goal of becoming ATHLETIC.
  • Writing every day. Writing blog pieces and long pieces and cover letters and author biographies. Submitting to as many publications as I could. Researching and reading the archives of every respectable magazine I can get my hands on.
  • Taking care of e-mails and phone calls that both include current issues and issues one, two, three months out.
  • Putting things away, scrubbing all the floors, dusting every room, washing all the sheets and the pillows, going through the closets, cleaning out the car.
  • Making healthy breakfast, lunches and dinners, snacks and treats AND making the outrageous claim that I would try to make sure we never had fast food on a soccer night (which, by the way, is four out of five weekdays).

I bought blush for the first time since my wedding eleven years ago. I doubled my exercise sessions and tripled the steps I take in a day. I decided I should make the one free weekday afternoon I have with the boys a cookie-baking day, just because my youngest loves baking and we never do it and WHY NOT, I’VE GOT ALL THIS TIME TO MYSELF NOW!

And I am burned-out.

I forgot that I still take care of the boys at least eight other hours a day. I forgot that my husband still travels for work almost every week. I forgot that I have multiple chronic illnesses (hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia and hypoglycemia) that I have to carefully manage. I forgot that I was human. That I might have a bad night’s sleep, or a disappointing setback, or a moment where my body has just given up on me, or a minor argument, or even a just a pimple.

I seemed to think that this extra time to myself was a magic wand. If I coupled it with diligence and effort and not being afraid of planning and experimenting and rolling up my sleeves, I would be unstoppable.

Yep. Except for writing this, today I am pretty well and fully stopped. It’s a high pain day, and my hands and feet are cramped and curled up on themselves unless I push them flat. My head is pounding and my shoulders won’t un-hunch. My body likes to remind me when I’m being a bit foolish and unrealistic.

My body likes to tell me when I am being too hard on myself.

So, I’m going to try to find a few of those six hours today to rest, and regroup, and take a deep breath. Why not? I have all this time to myself now.

Standing Still-A Free-Write Response

Literary Mama had a free-writing prompt today asking, “Consider how you make space and time for stillness.  How do you slow down?” I decided to free write today, to answer that question for myself.

pizza

Home-made pizza is what makes me slow down. It is a ridiculously slow process for something I can get other people to bring to me, hot and ready, for a really nominal fee. I live in such a busy suburb of Chicago I can even get deep dish pizza delivered within the half hour. But scheduling in homemade pizza as a dinner is my way of saying to myself, “We are not bound by deadlines today, we are not going to try to make, eat and clean up from dinner in thirty minutes so we can rush off to do God knows what else that seems more important than just relaxing.” It takes time to knead the dough, to let it rise, to roll it out, to get everyone’s apron on and off, to let everyone put their own toppings on, to take pictures of the pizzas before they cook (always) to clean up the four cookie sheets and one glass bowl we need to use, to wipe down the flour-covered counter and floor and to let the piping hot pizzas cool off enough to eat. We eat on a blanket in front of the TV. It is a signal. We do not need to rush every moment of our lives. We have a luxury of time we either don’t admit we have over fears of looking too privileged, or don’t use because we fear we’ll be the only ones. This is a signal that the world doesn’t need to swirl around us, that pausing and taking unnecessary time together is necessary.

Not What I’m Supposed To Be Doing

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. I know I am not the only one who is balancing on that fine line between “okay” and “not okay”. This week brought one kid’s winter cold, another kid’s blood drawn, six nights of bad sleep for everyone in the house, a holiday, too much fast food, a day off of school for another holiday and most likely a day off of school for freezing cold. And my crown popped off in a Valentine’s Day caramel. All of these are small things, taken individually, but they’ve pushed me into “I am going to sit and stare into space until I figure out what to do or until elves come and solve every problem for me” mode. I have to say, I am always hoping the elves show up soon, because I am not the best at prioritizing what needs to happen next when everything needs to happen at once.

When overwhelmed, I tend to pick the most absurd chore I can find. I tackle it for one to two hours. I feel immensely better and more in control of my life, though in reality I’ve squandered a lot of precious time and energy.

Last week I cleaned every baseboard on the first floor of our house. Some spots were immensely dusty and grimy, but not anymore! Never mind that you can’t even tell now because so much clutter is obscuring it.

The week before I tackled personal grooming-I scrubbed and buffed and shaved and moisturized. I used every beauty product in my arsenal. The next night I forgot to take off my makeup so I had raccoon eyes and the clogged pore beginnings of pimples by morning.

This week I had been reading a book on decluttering which, among other things, suggested that socks have a very hard life, living as they do between foot and shoe all day. My socks need to rest, and should not be balled up so uncomfortably. Also, my t-shirts would be so much happier folded in a kind of a roll, not piled up on each other. So this week, I tried to make my clothes more comfortable.

folded

The winner, though, in the “This is the most unnecessary task I can think of at this point in time, and I will do it thoroughly and with gusto” award goes to…sorting through every single one of the eighty-two episodes of Wild Kratts that live in our DVR. About two weeks before Christmas, with almost every hour planned out to make sure we didn’t miss a present, an event, or a holiday memory, I started going through them. It had irritated me that some episodes were mislabeled, some were repeated, and it took extra time to find the one we wanted. So, I wrote down the name of every episode, I fast-forwarded to see if the title was correct, I deleted duplicates. I don’t want to tell you how long I spent doing this. It was longer than any other random project I’ve decided to tackle on a weekday while feeling overwhelmed. It feels silly to admit, but it felt good that something was in order.

wild kratts

Next week, I’m hoping things go a lot more smoothly. If not, I am wondering if I’ll feel like the most important thing in the world is to sort through my eight-year-old teaching materials, or research 101 dairy-free crockpot recipes, or maybe comb the DVR for errant Peg + Cat episodes.

At least we only have 30 of those.