thoughts on leading the {im}perfect life

spring is here bike ride, coffee, and nutella crepe

at the lake at the lake

homemade pizza baby and papa

I won’t show you any pictures of the dustbunnies colonizing every corner of our home. I also won’t show you the piles of laundry. But I will show you the moments that put a smile on my face this past week and weekend.

The truth is that we’re stretched pretty thin for time right now. T’s defense is on Monday (!) and I submit my dissertation in a couple of weeks from now. Much of our time and energy is thus spent on writing, research, and work-related things. Those moments in between take on a special meaning. We celebrate them with renewed dedication to our mental well being. Chores get put aside, the vaccuum cleaner stays untouched, and our family spends time at the lake, on runs with the stroller, on runs with the dog, lounging in the backyard, baking bread or concocting new homemade pizza recipes, meeting with friends, and riding our bikes.

I know that C. is too young to remember much of this time in her life. But if she were to form memories, I’d want them to be of times spent outdoors, laughing, and having a good time with her parents. There will always be more chores and I promise to teach her to make her bed, fold her clothes, put dishes away, and tidy up her room when the time comes.

As parents, we teach by example.

This kernel of truth weighs on me every day. I think about it as I bite my nails (a habit I’ve been trying to kick for years) and see my daughter studying me. I think about it as I reach for that fifth piece of chocolate for the day, because, you know, dessert needs to follow every meal.

I also think about it when I look around the house and see a home filled with books, photographs, and mementos from our travels. When I see us taking weekend mornings to read the news, indulge in a much loved novel, bake pancakes from scratch, toss the ball with the dog, then strap on running shoes and go for a run. When the laundry gets kicked to another corner of the bedroom with one more sigh and a, I will get to this later. When we sit on the couch, baby playing on a blanket, talking about future plans, our work, our research, our goals, and our ambitions. When we lock up and leave the mess to go spend an afternoon at the pool.

I currenty have a long list of projects I’m waiting to tackle once my dissertation is off to my advisor and committee. It’s a running list I keep on my laptop, composed of things such as “read this book for pleasure” and “start sewing projects” and “write long emails to X, Y, and Z.” It also contains “clean house” and “organize closet” and “sort through stuff in basement.”

The thing is, I have other big writing projects lined up for when the dissertation is completed and a long list of work stuff that I want to tackle that’s a “must do” but also, truthfully, a “want to do.” I enjoy my writing and the treasure hunt nature of research. I love going on runs and like making a mess while cooking but don’t really like the clean-up process afterwards. I like a neat and orderly home just as much as the next person, but I also have more plans than I can tackle in one day and would rather inspire C. to dream big than dream the life domestic.

Maybe I’m also jaded by my readings on nineteenth-century femininity and the roles allotted to women for so long. The home, the family, the kitchen, the bedroom; women’s spaces to be cherished and polished and made pretty and inviting. Small spaces, confined spaces, spaces of little growth.

I’m probably not explaining myself well because I do love a cozy home and home-cooked meals and the warmth and comfort of nice surroundings. I like hanging laundry to dry in the sun and dreaming of raising chickens and keeping bees (in the city) some day.  How do I best describe the difference between a home that’s warm and lovely and inviting (and just a little bit chaotic) and one that says, look but don’t touch. The difference between a homestead and a showhome. Maybe I don’t need to try to explain it. Maybe I don’t need to put it into words.

Maybe it’s enough to teach by example.

wheee lunch on homemade bread

yellow bike running pit stop

Sunday afternoon bike to work

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{Bikes, a new baby, and the story of us.}
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9 Responses to thoughts on leading the {im}perfect life

  1. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for this great reminder to not get bogged down by those unimportant things. For me, dissertation writing (maybe because so much of it is done at home) has made me a bit more OCD about the cleanliness of my surroundings. I think it’s also a matter of control and the sense of completion of finite tasks: I can make my home nice and clean and inviting in X amount of time, whereas the dissertation can fill a seemingly infinite amount of time, and no one task ever seems to only take the amount of time I want it to. My adviser always talks about how dissertation writing was what prompted her to bake bread, as it’s a predictable (and delicious!) finite task. Seems like you guys have gone that route, which is maybe a bit healthier (mentally) than wielding the old mop and broom :).

  2. anniebikes says:

    A friend once told me that having children was like “controlled chaos”. I never understood it until after having our second child.And I wouldn’t change a thing. Of course children are a challenge, but with that comes the smiles, the growth, and the memories we’ll cherish in the future.

    Our home went from immaculately clean and orderly to dirty and filled with kids’s stuff. I used to be a great housekeeper, but I gave it up for times with the children, for myself, and to reconnect with my spouse. Once in a while we all pitch in to do a massive clean or concentrate on just one room. The other remedy is to invite friends over. Nothing is as a wonderful a motivator as seeing your home through the eyes of another. That simple approach keeps us on track.

  3. Dave says:

    In a sense, it’s all about priorities. We live much the same (though we don’t have dissertations or children as excuses to put off the housework, just too many interests) :)

    While we do sometimes get stressed out by the level of mess in our home, essentially it is there because it gets used. We cook almost every night, and not just things like packaged ramen in broth – when we do ramen, we do it like this :)

    This means we go through A LOT of dishes, and they don’t always get done immediately. It also means that time we might spend cleaning other parts of our apartment instead gets spent cooking.

    Much of the rest of our home is the same way. We spend a lot of time there, and we would often prefer to be engaged in what we’re doing, rather than constantly worrying about how clean it is.

    Of course, we do make some effort to keep it clean as we’re doing things, and we do make regular efforts to clean it to a manageable level, but we’re not overactive about it. A few times per year we’ll go through and deep-clean everything.

    I like the fact that our home feels like it’s inhabited by people – I’ve definitely been to some homes where it feels like nobody lives there, like it’s a demo showroom, and the people who own it only sleep there. I know people have different priorities in life, but for our family, I think it’s important to have our home be the center of our lives, and I’m glad that we make use of ours, and that it reflects us, what we do, who we are, and how we live.

    I understand your conflict about a woman’s roles in life – I think it’s reasonable to say you want the *opportunity* to have a career, do the things you feel inspired to do – but yet also be able to enjoy the domestic parts of your life as well, just not to be forced to only stay in those parts of life. I think that view is very healthy. It seems to me that some feminists would reject any domesticity simply because women in the past were forced into only domestic roles, and to me that seems to be an over-reaction, though I can certainly understand over-reaction when coming from a place of hurt and abuse, it’s certainly understandable.

    In our family, I probably do more of the domestic work than my wife, though we both share a good part of it, and both really enjoy it, especially when we can do it together. This tension has also, honestly, been motivation for us to start getting rid of things and paring down more and more to what we actually need and use regularly. The less stuff, the less clutter, the less mess is possible.

    In any case, I think it’s just important to define what your priorities for life are, and then work out your life as much as possible so that you can make those priorities a reality. It never works out perfectly in all aspects, but it can be very, very good.

  4. Miss Sarah says:

    Huzzah on finding things to enjoy, outside of the “work” aspects of new life with baby. I always unhealthily delve into a life of sunshine and rainbows in the summer when my students are gone for a few months. But, after labour day… There are over 50 families (student, parent, siblings) in my house every WEEK. Plus Dexter, and caregiver. And our house is sort of open concept too… Otherwise I’d be happy to close certain doors and forget about it:)

    So working from home and having our private space essentially be public space most of the waking hours… Is a blessing and a curse. Good news is that friends and people are always around, which makes the house lively and full of activity. As long as people don’t mind that I am in a robe and no makeup before 11 am… Then I’m good!

    I spend my mornings making Dexter breakfast, hanging out, and playing trains. Later, I get down to business:)

  5. Bryna says:

    Oh my, we are more alike than I realized!

  6. Sue says:

    I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this before on your blog, but a wise man once told me: “the house will always be here, but will you?” So, whenever I start feeling guilty about not getting those household chores done – I think of that wise man – and I’m thankful for those words, which I will never forget.

  7. cb says:

    these are the moments worth living for! we all have to face the dust bunnies at some point but they should never ever consume our lives. being out in the sunshine with the ones you love dear is what makes life perfect!

  8. This is a great post and an even greater reminder. No kids here, but now that I’m back in school I find myself relaxing on the household chores. Ignoring the dishes in the sink, Sweeping the dog hair under a rug. I keep telling myself I have three precious years to focus on my writing, and letting my super high standards for cleanliness slide just a bit is a perfectly fine sacrifice.

  9. what a beautiful post, S.! i have been thinking about it for several days and am back now to comment after a morning spent baking banana bread before i get to work. as i was cooking i started thinking about how my instagram feed might suggest i care about shoes, baking, and what i wear foremost. and then i was considering how aesthetic outlets such as blogs (and obviously, instagram) can skew toward the life domestic, as you put it, simply because pictures of banana bread are a hell of a lot prettier than pictures of my computer screens, my notes, and my angst as i sit in front of them trying to revise!
    in any case, i think this post raises several interesting questions and thoughts, among them what you briefly raise, that you want C to “dream big rather than dream the life domestic.” i think that is such an important and valuable example to set for girls these days, when in spite of how much progress has been made in so many ways, there is still the expectation in various media sources (self-fulfilling and cyclical) that women will care more about baking, crafts, and their homes than they will about their careers. i’m sure commentors say this ad nauseum, but C is a very lucky baby to have two parents who are not only very bright, but both enjoy time in the kitchen nourishing one another, like to be outdoors, love to read, and enjoy nature. and on top of it all, you both seem so driven and in love with your work. i was raised by two graduate students, too–my parents were both a year or two shy of their 30th birthdays, my mom was finishing her master’s at Columbia (she went on to get her PhD at berkeley with two kids under the age of ten, how’s that for leading by example? she’s amazing) and my dad was finishing up medical school and was in residency. sometimes your stories about raising C reminds me of the two of them. my dad is a lifelong outdoors-man. he was climbing mt rainer in oregon before he reached middle school, and i spent all my summers growing up getting muddy in the mountains, backpacking, hiking, and camping. the day after i was born, he brought me outside “to see the trees” because he wanted me to have a love of nature early on. my parents are both voracious and attentive readers. but never do i remember lectures or words about why nature, or reading, or graduate school might be important. i just remember seeing my parents love pursuing their passions, taking great joy in being outdoors, reading in a chair after dinner, and i followed them.
    anyway, this is such a sweet post to read, if i ever have kids, i hope also to be grateful for the most important things–afternoons under the trees, meals on the back porch, bicycle rides–because who remembers time spent sweeping, anyway?

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