the housewives of america would like their accolades

(sum spontaneous prose dedicated to every woman
who ever got the water of postpartum depression
up her nose)

while scrubbing the stovetop again with the baby strapped to my chest
it occurs to me:
June Cleaver kept vodka in the laundry room for the same reason I keep abandoning the dishes to go
stare numbly at the garden, hoping for a ripe tomato or
significant growth in the winter greens.
we labor at the same tasks
dayafterdayafterday
and there is no appreciable result
no skyscrapers
no accolades
no quarterly reports
no published works
only a maintaining of socially prescribed norms

thou shalt have a clean stovetop
thou shalt have a healthy, well-fed happy offspring
within the prescribed percentiles of height and weight
and neuronal development
thou shalt have a full cupboard of sterilized breast pump parts
and clean laundry in which to clothe your kid, daily
thou shalt prepare healthy wholesome delicious food, repeatedly, and
thou shalt look good doing it.
don’t take too long to shed those pregnancy pounds, now.
thou shalt not have a floor made filthy by the feet of dogs in the rainy season
thou shalt not have a flock of wandering dog hair dustbunnies
the size of actual rabbits
thou shalt not have a screaming baby around people
unaccustomed to screaming babies

why is it that i have to interupt this poem to assure you that i’m fine
that i’m not depressed?
that i love my baby and my husband and my life?
because i am, and i’m not! i don’t think, and i do, oh i do
i’ve never been happier
all of these assurances are true.
but the other day it took an entire ferry crossing for me to screw up the courage to admit to my husband that i was indeed,
sad
for no reason

i would like to say i don’t give a rip about social norms
but it turns out some of them exist for a reason, sometimes.
and some of them are just destructive.

its not that i’m a big believer in Results
I could care less about skyscrapers

now i’m remembering all the stories about zen monks
and the spiritual practice of sweeping
chopping wood, carrying water.
there are days when i take intricate joy in my routine
and others when i’m just too tired to get mindful with it
sometimes its just too depressing to see the dishes pile up again
mere hours later

i guess i don’t really want accolades
they don’t taste nearly as good as my calzones
or smell half as sweet as my little boy’s milk breath
or make me feel even a tiny bit as beautiful as my husband does

i guess what i want is a revolution

a revolution
in the way we think about the difficult work of daily living
the countless unglamorous repetitive tasks
undertaken by millions of women and men every day
not just in the home
but everywhere

on rainy days, someone ventures onto the rainslick freeway
-on foot-
to clear out the storm drains of leaves and debris, and keep the roads safe
as we fly past them in our cars
at night, long after we’ve gone to sleep, someone empties the trash can at work
and cleans the toilets used by hundreds
someone stocks the supermarket aisles
someone scrapes the gum off the underside of your plate
someone inhales pesticides in a poorly ventilated greenhouse, picking the thorns off roses
someone changes kids’ diapers in daycare,
again
and again
and again
we see only the clean kitchen counters
the well-fed baby
the unflooded freeway
the emptied trashcan
the thornless roses
it does not occur to us to see the labor behind these things
it does not occur to us to be grateful

why the accolades for politicians, who are millionaires, generally,
and accomplish so little, so much of the time?
why the accolades for athletes,
for musicians, who are paid to do what they love, after all?
not denying their efforts.

but it takes work to grow a baby
and so much love
it takes effort to procure food, and put it on the table
and struggle, to live in some semblance of orderliness
it takes labor
to keep each other safe
and well

so the housewives of america
and the blue collar workers
and the laborers who toil the world over
would like their accolades
cuz if we stop what we’re doing
eventually
all the roses will have thorns again,
there will be no clean dishes,
and there will no one to vote for you
or watch you hit balls on a television screen.

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15 Comments

Filed under blue collar, gratitude, love, marriage, motherhood, Ordinary, poetry

15 responses to “the housewives of america would like their accolades

  1. Emma

    I love you, and you are beautiful.

    And yes, your calzones kick ass.

    Sadness gives perspective, and love offers meaning. Breath in. Breath out. And realize all a clean counter conveys is that you really don’t use it that much.

    Reading this, I’m amazed out how long that list of unseen individuals could be. That would be an interesting project, to turn into a larger-scale poster. Last year, pulling all nighters and i’d fall asleep at school under a desk- I’d wake up at 3:00 in the morning when the janitor came in to empty every single garbage container under a student’s desk. Or this year, seeing all the unsung heroes that work at Eastern State Hospital, which is truly a miserable place. And don’t forget the people that have to go retrieve the grocery carts that supermarket patrons leave in every corner of the parking lot.

    Thank you for sharing awareness.

  2. Angela

    Thank you for writing this and makng me feel better! I am musing a 6 week old baby and loving life most of the time. Today. I did laundry, dishes,prepared meals, snacks, entertained invited guests, hosted uninvited guests, picked up toys, wiped the noses of children unrelated to me. I admired my robust body in the mirror and wondered if this is the new look for me. Will I be in maternity clothes forever? As I unloads the dishwasher for the second time today, my mantra was, “domestic bliss requires work.”
    I feel unappreciated. It is impossible to know the nuances of mundane action which unfolds to make our house look orderly. I understand this. But to do these things and have a four year old demand this and that.. Sometimes I feel like a servant & a sherpa. Each are noble tasks. May the noble inherit the Earth!

    • sarahalisabethfox

      Angela… thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing yr own experience. Isn’t it astonishing that there are so many of us having this same experience (generation after generation) yet its really not talked about at all, and the defining feature of this experience, so much of the time, is lonliness? Its astonishing, and I think its wrong. it is noble work. here’s to honoring it.

  3. Meghan Kaul

    I’m probably a big sap, but sometimes your stuff makes me cry! I sent this to my mom, housewife for a couple of decades, mother of three. (I never saw a dirty bathroom until I moved into my own place.)

  4. Mary Katie

    “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

    John W. Gardner, Secretary of Health Education and Welfare under JFK

    …Thanks for this, sweet lady. Great read ‘n think.

  5. Anthony

    Really enjoyed that. I have to remember that more often when I come home from a “hard day” at the office. I know my wife with three children…homeschooling them to boot…has actually had the hard day. And loves it. And hates it. You captured a lot of what she feels. And I feel, but forget. I need to go tell her that. Thanks!

  6. I stumbled across your blog looking for the June Cleaver photo. I loved your thoughts, your writing is excellent. I have felt that way, with my 5 kids, homeschooling, being a mother is sweet, and very demanding. Great sentiments. I understand.

  7. sarahalisabethfox

    Reblogged this on Overeducated Waitress and commented:

    no new words lately, but sometimes old ones need to be said again.

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