For many women of my generation, kitchens are command central, the headquarters from which the multi-tasking happens. And as much as we love the warmth and nurturing sentiment the kitchen represents, let’s be honest: the work required to maintain the hearth can start to feel like a chore. Indeed, the home in general, as we move through it with the discerning eye of the woman of the house, starts to take on the dread of a to-do list rather than a place of respite.
“At home” always felt like one of those dismissive boxes on forms offered to those of us without alternative occupations. As the mother and manager of the family’s domestic space, I have checked it hundreds of times, but always with a pang, a belittling affront to my feminist instincts, the doleful tone of those words.
When we were living in Zurich about a decade ago, I made a friend who asked, “Du bist eine Haus frau?” No!! I wanted to scream I am most definitely not a Haus frau, but my German was not good enough to describe what I considered myself. And when you got right down to it, I guess I was a Haus frau. Got to love the Swiss for being direct.
Well one thing I can say to the multitudes of stir-crazy people nine months into this home-boundedness is welcome to my world. Not so easy to keep it all going, is it? This is for all of us who WFH before WFH was a thing. If you’re like me, you’re chuckling that “home” has taken on a whole new importance. Home has been elevated in people’s esteem. The real estate market is on fire with people wanting to trade up into optimal spaces for work, schooling, relaxing. The old spaces were fine when it was just us and the kids, but now that certain people are home all the time, upgrades are in order!! A friend’s husband declared this summer that the wallpaper was driving him crazy — the same wallpaper he had lived with for twenty years. This sentiment has lit up not only the housing market but the renovating and decorating industries as well.
My management consultant husband is delighted to no longer board planes or sleep in hotels. He is delighted to dine on home cooking. But with our kids all out of college, this was the time I was planning to be free from the bondage of our address, the constant upkeep and list-making it takes to run a home. I didn’t want a home gym or different wallpaper; I wanted to hit the road.
But as COVID would have it, I had to settle for the next best thing, scrolling through photos and memories. There was a trip to the Himalayas, hiking in Bhutan where I admired the scattered huts housing monks in seclusion. They meditated and prayed in these small cabins for years at a time. Others delivered their meals. They literally never left. I recall fantasizing about the simplicity of such an existence as we hiked by. If only my obligations could be wiped off the calendar and I was allowed to sit in one place and meditate. Oh, be careful what you wish for.
There was a ski trip in the Wasatch when I bought Patagonia t-shirts for me and my son with the motto “LIVE SIMPLY” on the front. At the time I loved the concept of living simply, but I laugh now at the irony. I had no idea how much we would soon dial it back. Not only wasn’t I living simply, I had no idea how simple things would get.
During the spring of 2019, John and I traveled to Japan where we witnessed unparalleled hospitality, intentionality, and serenity. Again, I was drawn to the practice of Buddhist meditation. A wise, old monk must have seen something on my face as I gazed across a Zen garden. “Be Happy,” he said. And even though his comment was on point, at the time it was a directive I wasn’t sure how to act upon.
Scrolling through photos evoked memories of travel that was exciting and fast paced, and upon reflection during this standstill, I realized how tightly packed they were. God forbid I just sit like the monks I so envied in Bhutan. COVID has limited my ability to go and has forced me to do something way more difficult — to stay. Sitting and being with myself has brought up some difficult stuff. Over the course of the summer, I had to find a place for the worry and fear, while remembering happiness wasn’t going to breeze in through an open window and wash over me. Happiness and her sister gratitude were choices I had to make everyday. I examined myself and my relationships, giving up on ones that weren’t working. I prioritized my writing. I walked and observed and noticed. I listened. Most importantly, I listened.
I may have resented quarantine for clipping my wings and halting my rush to the airport. I may have resented being driven back into the kitchen. But as I was getting over those initial reactions, I did marvel over the quiet of everything stopping — not so different than the liminal state of air travel, after take-off and the wheels come up, no descent in the near future. I thought about the song lyrics “it’s not getting what you want but wanting what you got.” It may have taken a little while for me to come to terms with enforced domesticity. We had to make some rules and set boundaries for our pod to co-exist happily, but I came around to gratitude and a certainty that “I want what I got.” And man, the house has never been in such good order… But when I am finally able to travel again (maybe taking that epic road trip my husband and I have always talked about!?!), it will be with a spirit of curiosity and not because I need to escape.