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Donna Reed, Bree VanDeKamp, and the concept of wifely duties

I heard an interview with John Lithgow on NPR‘s Around Noon where he mentioned the early retirement of his mother from an acting career because she was raising four children and it was the fifties and that was what was done back then (super-paraphrasing there).  Seemingly innocuous comments like that usually get me thinking about a woman’s life, then and now.

I have found that at this stage in life (married with one small kiddo), I need some sort of outside stimulation besides playdates.  Therefore, I have held a few part-time and one full-time teaching job in the past year and I’ve been able to observe in my own small way the differences in my life (and my husband’s and baby’s) when I’m able to commit more to my homemaking and mommying jobs and less to my outside jobs.

Do I love ironing, doing dishes, folding laundry or cleaning the bathroom?  Not particularly.  Did I love office gossip, politics, snippiness or unrealistic deadlines?  Nope.

What I love is the feeling of accomplishment when the house is tidy and clean.  The look of gratitude on my husband’s face when dinner is ready for him immediately after a long day of work.  The tranquility of being organized and knowing that all things have a place and that they are in that place (for the time being).  Of being geshicht.

Tidy and Clean

I’m pretty good with the tidy part of the housekeeping.  I like to keep things in their place (see below), and I can make things look all nice and neat.  However, I have yet to get into a good routine of dusting and mopping and all that.

Okay, don’t get all grossed out or anything.  It’s not that bad.  I just don’t get to deep clean as often as I would like.  A few months ago I was able to get down and scrub the kitchen floor and it was great.  I loved it.

That’s the funny thing.  I really like to clean and scrub and get in the cracks and all that.  I just can’t seem to make time for it between the cooking, cleaning, baby-watching and relaxing that I do (ahem, blogging, facebook, etc).

If I could justify hiring someone to clean my house right now, I totally would.  But since I only have the one baby and there’s that pesky lack of extra funds, it’s really up to me to keep it all shiny and dust-free.

The kitchen has become much more manageable since I started washing the dishes immediately after using them as often as I can (no dishwasher in this apartment).  If I just don’t have the strength, I limit the dirty dishes to a small area of the (small) kitchen.  Then I can tackle them the next day (or the next) without them taking over the kitchen.  The stove gets wiped down a lot more (this negates the need to deep-bleach so much), and the floor swept and swifted not every night, but more than once a week (ewww).  So that’s the kitchen.  It’s not scary anymore.

The bathroom is also managed.  I got a new, bigger over-the-shower thingy which cleared up a lot of space.  Then I’m able to clean the tub and sink area without moving a bunch of toiletry items from here to there.  Check and check.  Also, the more frequently I have people over, the more the bathroom gets cleaned.  I just don’t want to gross anyone out.  Besides myself, that is.

So, it’s just the rest of the apartment that I have to manage more masterfully.  I’ll get there.  Just in time to justify a cleaning lady, probably.

Dinner’s Served

I’m not talking about making Peking Duck or Lamb Chops for every night or anything.  More along the lines of pasta and veggies.

Rabbi Chalkowski said that 70% of marital conflict occurs because dinner isn’t ready when a husband comes home.  Whoa, right?  Of course, at the very beginning of our marriage, I tried much harder to get it right.  However, after I got pregnant and started taking care of Little Man, I let it slip a bit.  After all, I was all tired and busy (and a little lazy).

I didn’t really get this concept of post-work hunger until I started teaching 5th grade English.  When I came home I was ravenous.  While I could’ve chalked it up to pregnancy, I realized that this must be how my husband feels when he comes home from a 12-hour (or more) shift.  Like he wants to gnaw off his right arm (G-d forbid).

Thankfully, we have settled into a nice routine of easy dinners that work and are quick.  We milk Shabbos leftovers for a day or two; and there’s the cheesy noodle dinner (always a hit); ground beef with Manwich Sauce and spaghetti dinner; Near East Rice (any flavor but Spanish Rice) with sauteed veggie dinner; fish with potatoes; pasta with marinara sauce and veggies.  And so on.

I try to keep it simple because 1) the plainer the weekday meal, the more special Shabbos meals become 2) Hubby doesn’t have time to exercise and I don’t want to overfeed him 3) simple and healthy is good for our family.

All Things in Their Place
Admit it.  Life is easier when you know where to find things.  Granted, I did function very well when my filing method was “organized mess.”  I knew what was in which pile and it usually didn’t take me long to find what I needed.  That was when I was single.  Now I have things that my husband (still functioning under “organized mess”) places around the apartment, in addition to dishes and laundry, which, I have found, are better clean and put away.

I have found that I’m not able to function as well when things are messy.  I have an innate desire to put things in tubs and drawers and boxes and cute containers that I found at Target.  So, while I was so busy taking care of my class’ preparation and grading and teaching things just got piled and put wherever was convenient whenever I needed a space.  There was a stack at least 2 inches high on top of my printer/scanner/copier until I needed to copy something.  Then the stack moved to the desk.  Until I needed the desk space (probably for grading) and then the stack moved to on top of the secretary.  Each time it moved, it grew a little, until I no longer knew exactly what was where.

It was all:
“Where’s the phone book?”
“I just saw it…somewhere….”
“Gosh, I really can’t find it.  I guess I’ll use the old one.”  (flips through pages, dials number)  “Oh, right, their number has changed and I wrote the new one in the missing phone book.”

I found the phone book in the 2 inch pile, when I eventually rifled through the mess.  I finally came to the realization that in a small apartment with a toddler (meaning that things have to be up up up and not anywhere he can reach), I needed some help with organizational space and stuff.

When I had a moment (when school was almost over), I ran over to Target and got a few containers to, well, contain the mess.  So now the office/living room/dining room areas are all nice and neat and tidy.  I feel all content.

Benefits
Now that I’m not working as much, what with summer vacation and all, I’m really looking forward to putting in more time and effort into keeping our apartment in tip-top shape.  I feel better when it is, and I can also tell that my husband feels better.  He has menuchas hanefesh (peace of mind), and since he’s so busy at work, I think it’s the least that I can do to try and give him a tranquil environment to come home to.

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4 thoughts on “Donna Reed, Bree VanDeKamp, and the concept of wifely duties

  1. SO DIDN’T REALIZE you’d been posting all this great stuff! Whew!
    I really wish I was better at running things in our apartment. Cooking and shopping I can totally handle, I plan ahead, and I’m on top of it. I knock out a lot of dishes every day, considering that I make and serve 3 meals. Laundry I can even put in pretty regularly.
    But… when it comes to hanging out that laundry, folding it when it’s dry, ironing what needs it, and putting it all away? There are major blockages in the system. I don’t mind sweeping and mopping, but it just doesn’t occur to me until it gets really, really bad. And general organization is like…spurts of choosing perfect places for things that gradually end up in a mush until the next spurt of organization happens. Humph.
    I have to trust that, just like cooking and shopping took time to master, the other tasks will come. I just hate that feeling of ‘I wish I took better care of my husband’.
    And I am due to give birth in 2 days, which means things will get worse before they get better. But after that…I have hope.
    Love, Shosh

  2. Yes, have hope, dear Shosh. I have definitely seen an improvement in my homemaking management abilities, and I’ve only been married two-and-a-half years. I figure if we keep working on it, it can only go up from here, right?

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