A Relaxing Afternoon
I had just cleaned my house, and it looked great. I must have been getting ready to go somewhere, because I was wearing one of my favorite dresses. If the house looked great, I looked fantastic. It must have been winter, because I remember that there was a fire burning in the fireplace. I had a few minutes of free time, so I grabbed a book and sat down on the sofa by the fire to read. It should have been a wonderful experience. The house looked good, I looked good, the fire was warm, and the book was interesting. But it wasn't a wonderful experience. It was nice, but not wonderful. There was something missing.
An Elegant Dinner Party
This is something I've relaxed about somewhat in recent years, but when I was a new homeowner, this was my experience every time I had people over for dinner. I'd clean the house and choose the menu. I'd lay hors d'oeuvres out on the coffee table and brew a pot of coffee. I'd purchase assorted teas and boil some water so my guests would have a variety of hot beverages to enjoy. And then they'd come. After having done all of the preparations I should have been delighted to see my guests arrive, but I wasn't. Again, something was missing.
A Simple Pleasure
The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. It was warm, but not too warm. I had just washed a load of laundry and was taking advantage of the perfect weather to hang it on the line to dry. When you have to hang your clothes on the line because it is the only method of drying available to you, it can be quite a tedious chore, but if you choose to do it because it's a perfect day to be outside and you might as well get some chores done while your out there, then idyllic is the word that comes to mind. I should have been deliriously happy, but I wasn't. Something was missing.
A Little June Cleaver
I remember watching fifties television shows as a small child (in re-runs, of course) and being struck by the beauty of it all. The houses were perfect, the clothes were perfect, the hair was perfect, and I naturally assumed that the world these people inhabited was perfect as well. I wanted to grow up to be just like that. I don't just mean that I wanted to be a housewife. I also wanted to wear fifties clothes and hairstyles. I wanted my house to look old-timey (which it does, by the way). I wanted to know all of my neighbors and I wanted to have a bridge club. I wanted to enter cake-baking contests and do all of the things that, according to the television, all women did back in the day. I wanted to be June Cleaver.
A Pioneer Girl
I started reading the Little House books because I had seen Little House on the Prairie on television (also in re-runs). The show was good, but the books were amazing. I read them and reread them, and again I fell in love with the world that was depicted there. I wanted to make my own clothes and my own cheese and my own bread. I wanted to live a simpler life, doing without certain material things and working hard for the few things I did have. I wanted to raise my children to appreciate what was important in life and to not care about having video games and all the latest toys. I wanted to be Ma Ingalls.
A Little Lady
Two of my other favorite books from my childhood are The Secret Garden and Little Women. Like the Little House books, these two books also show a picture of life in the 1800s, but instead of the simplicity of the pioneers, they show the elegance of the rich. Of course, the family in Little Women is not very rich, but they are certainly better off than the Ingalls family. I wanted to wear beautiful dresses and go to balls and be courted by handsome men. I wanted an old house in the country with acres of gardens to explore. I wanted fine china and tapestries hanging on the wall. I wanted to be Mary Lennox.
A World That Doesn't Exist
I spent my early adulthood chasing the dream of living in my favorite books and TV shows. I learned to cook and I learned to sew. I rescued several old pieces of furniture from my grandmother's house because they had the look that I wanted for my home. I dried my clothes on the line and hosted the occasional dinner party. I should have been happy. And I was. But it wasn't perfect. Something was missing.
A Shocking Realization
What is the difference between me and June Cleaver? Or Laura Ingalls or Mary Lennox? What do they have that makes their lives so perfect? What is missing from my own attempts to be just like them? An audience. It sounds strange, I know, but that is the truth that I discovered about myself. I would never be just like my favorite characters from books and television because they, by merit of being in books and on television, live their lives in front of an audience whereas I, being a real person, do not. And an audience is what I desperately craved.
When I relaxed with my book in front of the fire, I felt just like Jo March. But when Jo March dons a beautiful dress and sits in her beautiful parlor to read, the world watches (or at least reads about it). There was no one to watch me, so I was not just like Jo March.
When I invited my guests over for dinner, I had unrealistic expectations for how they would behave. I envisioned them milling about the house, relaxing in the living room and sipping tea and coffee while they munched on cheese and crackers. I would hide away in the kitchen until the meal was ready, at which point I would invite my guests into the dining room to eat. But it never happened that way. They all came to the kitchen and sat around the table, often never even seeing the goodies I had so carefully placed on the coffee table for them. As I said above, I have relaxed in recent years. I now expect my guests to hang out in the kitchen with me, and so if I lay out hors d'oeuvres I put them on the kitchen table so they will be eaten. I have learned the difference between a casual dinner and a dinner party, and have accepted that the casual variety is what people want when they come to eat at my house. But still. I'm no June Cleaver.
When I hang my clothes on the line what always pops into my head is the opening scene from the movie First Blood. Yeah, I know, it's an odd movie for a wannabe domestic goddess to try and emulate, but that first scene is so beautiful I couldn't help falling in love with it the first time I saw that movie. Here's a link to it. It doesn't show the whole thing, but if you watch to the end of the clip, you'll see the woman hanging her clothes out to dry in the background. I have that ideal in my head every time I hang out my own clothes. But of course I don't have that gorgeous lake view when I'm engaged in the task. And--this is the important part--I don't have cameras filming me while I do it.
That's what I had to learn about myself the hard way. I don't just want to do domestic things. I want to be a part of a beautiful portrait of those domestic things being done, and I want to show that portrait to the world. I do enjoy occasionally hanging my clothes on the line, if the weather's nice and I have time to do it, but in the back of my mind I'll always be regretting the fact there's no one around to take a picture of it. I also enjoy sitting by the fire and reading a book, but if I'm going to go to all the trouble of making myself and my house look good, by golly there really should be someone there to see it.
The Real Domestic Me
There are some domestic chores I actually enjoy. I love cooking, and it often doesn't matter if the world knows that I can cook. I'm usually happy just to know that my husband and kids like what I make. I prepare meals from scratch more often than not, and while I do occasionally have a desire for everyone to know that fact, for the most part I'm happy cooking in my own little kitchen tucked away from the world. I sometimes enjoy sewing. Or at least I feel proud of my accomplishment when I'm done, which is not exactly the same thing as enjoying the activity itself, but close enough. And when I sew, of course, I do get to share it with the world when I, or my children, wear my latest creation in public. But cleaning my house, decorating my house, or even just existing in my beautiful house does not by itself make me happy because there is no one there to watch.
So here I am, in my thirties and still trying to figure out who the heck I am. Have you had a similar experience? Did you discover that the real you was not the person you thought you were? Do you share my desire to live life in front of an adoring audience? I would love to read about it in the comments.
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