How I Went From Domestic To Wild

domestic

Now that my inner self has had a little taste of the wild, it won’t easily be domesticated again.

Several years ago, after a friend mentioned the name of a blog she liked to read, I looked up the website and soon became obsessed not only with that blog, but with many more just like it, of a genre I came to think of as “Another Perfect Day in My Perfectly Perfect Life.”

These blogs were written by women my age—raised in the ’70s and ’80s Free-To-Be-You-And-Me era, when women could do anything, while hating housework—who not only embraced housework and childrearing, but had turned domestic drudgery into an art they showcased in viral blogposts. Soft-focus photos showcased gardens bountiful with zucchini and repurposed park benches, homes decorated with hand-quilted bedspreads and cross-stitched samplers, tables laid with vats of garden-vegetable soup and jars of homemade pickles. Their kids were homeschooled or unschooled or Waldorf-schooled and infinitely creative, with a slightly ragged, fairy-tale waif look in their homespun smocks and wind-tangled hair.

These bloggers’ politics appeared to be liberal, their social stance feminist, and yet they had taken the shards of the glass ceiling and glued them back together, decoupaging the whole thing and baking it a cake. Their husbands had mysterious and lucrative careers (the husbands were rarely mentioned) that afforded these radical housewives not only the luxury of opting out of both work and the modern world, but also the high-end computers and cameras used to document their perfect days.

At the time I had toddler twins and a kindergartener. I worked three days a week at an unsatisfying job in a state agency and tried to fit a full-time stay-at-home mom schedule into the other four days—shuttling my kids to music and gymnastic classes and day camps, taking them to museums and the beach, doing art projects and building block towers. I was exhausted. My house was a mess. I was sick of cooking for kids who turned their noses up at everything I placed before them. The headliner in my car was falling down. I was depressed.

I hated those Perfectly Perfect women, yet I could not stop reading their blogs. I started my own blog, borrowing the computer and camera from my husband’s business, intending to document my own messy, imperfect life. But over time something happened. I started to get inspired by my blog nemeses. I began to make things and document them on my blog—loaves of bread, sofa pillows, scarves, jars of jam. This behavior was not entirely unprecedented—I already knew how to knit and sew and I’d been known to whip up batches of toffee or cookies for Christmas gifts. I come from a long line of crafty ladies—women who knitted, sewed, crocheted, and baked cakes, who had limited opportunities in life and funneled their creative energy into the domestic sphere. I also found that each time I created something by hand—accomplished a task that did not need to be repeated endlessly like most household and parenting chores—my persistent, low-level anxiety and depression abated.

For many years I went on like this, knitting, quilting, and baking myself out of despair. My house got neater, our menu more interesting, and I involved my kids in more creative projects than I might otherwise have. We made seasonal decorations, baked holiday cookies, went on nature walks, all recorded and documented with my cheap digital camera on my less-than-perfect blog.

And then a couple of years ago I stopped reading the Perfectly Perfect blogs and started reading a different kind of online journal entirely—long-distance hiking blogs.

The kids were older and less interested in projects, political changes turned my job from dreary to nightmarish, and I could no longer hold my depression at bay by knitting a hat or painting a chair. My husband and I had hiked the 500-mile Colorado Trail when we first started dating and at the time I envisioned a life of travel and adventure. We had taken the kids hiking and camping over the years, but now I was ready to do something big. I would quit my job and the five of us would hike the Colorado Trail together, exactly 20 years after my husband and I first made the trek.

My domestic skills came in handy as I prepared for the trip—I sewed sleeping quilts and made waterproof pack covers and stuff sacks for our gear. I planned meals for 42 days that would involve no cooking, to save the weight of a stove, fuel, and cookware. I looked forward to the six weeks free of food preparation and housework almost as much as I did to the stunning vistas and wildflowers. This hike would be amazing.

And it was amazing. We spent a six weeks hiking among some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. We saw moose and bighorn sheep and elk and pikas and weasels. We spent days above tree line, with views of mountains beyond mountains in every direction, the ground carpeted in flowers of every color. We breathed clean mountain air and drank from crystal clear streams. Our kids developed skills and self-confidence and a camaraderie they never would have found in daily life.

I never tired of the changing scenery, but toward the end of the trip the repetitive tasks—setting up and taking down camp every day, loading and unloading packs, washing the five bowls from which we ate our cold food—began to feel as tedious as repetitive tasks at home. My feet hurt and my body ached. I was physically ready to be done hiking, but not mentally ready to return to daily life.

We got home the day before school started and I spent that first frantic day last-minute back-to-school shopping and ferrying kids to sports and friends’ houses. The next day, home alone, I found myself restless and unable to settle down. Our house-sitters had left the house neat, but not exactly clean. A summer’s worth of pollen dusted every surface. Spiders and their webs lurked in the corners. Grit stuck to my feet when I walked barefoot across the floor.

I decided to clean one room in the house, choosing the upstairs bathroom, usually the last room to get attention. I cleaned it as if a guest was coming, wiping dust from the shelves and windowsill, washing the light fixture, mopping the floor. As I worked I found that cleaning the bathroom is not nearly as unpleasant as the anticipation of cleaning the bathroom.

It’s now been a month since we completed our hike, three weeks since we returned home. I’ve been putting off cleaning the bathroom again. I feel a bit like the astronaut who returns from the moon and says, “Now what?” My kids are back to their old bickering selves. Cooking and cleaning feel every bit as repetitive and tedious as they did three months ago. I’ve picked up and put down my knitting needles and sewing projects. Now that my inner self has had a little taste of the wild, it won’t easily be domesticated again.

Andrea Lani’s essays about family and nature have appeared in Orion, Northern Woodlands, and Brain, Child, among other publications. She’s working on a book about her two hikes on the Colorado Trail and the environmental and social changes that have taken place in the intervening 20 years. She blogs about her imperfect days at www.remainsofday.blogspot.com.

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