Ethics of the Mother

Linda Haase

Empty nester Linda Haase considers lessons learned and progress made in her lifetime, through a Jewish woman’s lens.

Ethics of the Mother

Raising a (dingy) White Flag

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There are dust bunnies under my refrigerator.

I say this with confidence because I am sure no one has attempted to move this appliance for any reason, much less to clean beneath it, since we purchased the fridge some 15 years ago.

Of course, I clean my house regularlysort ofbut I have never dusted a ceiling fan, vacuumed a sofa or starched a shirt. Which is to say that I am a Baby Boomer, and thus my home is not as clean as the one I grew up in. Not by a long shot.

When you work outside the home, something has to give. In my case, it's my cleanliness standard. I suspect I am not alone among the younger generations.

I vividly remember a conversation I had when I was a new mother with a friend of my parents' vintage, who'd been a full-time homemaker. Once her kids were in school, I carefully asked, how did she occupy her time during the day? She said she had tasks routinely scheduled for each day of the week: Monday she did laundry, Tuesday she cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, Wednesday she dusted and vacuumed, Thursday she cleaned the closets…

Cleaned the closets? I was confused. Did she re-organize her clothes and linens every week?

No, my bemused friend explained. During the 1960s and 70s, every week she removed the contents of each closet in her home and dusted the shelves, vacuumed the floors and washed the walls. It was part of being a good homemaker.

I thought she was kidding. She was not.

On the one hand, and as a fan of Downton Abby, I understand the sense of satisfaction and purpose that can come from executing a household task well, no matter how seemingly tedious. A bit on the OCD side, I personally have been known to get giddy over a just-mopped kitchen floor or a freshly-weeded flower bed. And don't get me started on alphabetizing my spices.

However, I take shortcuts. I once hot-glued together a Halloween costume for my then-kindergartener. I snap up no-iron shirts. I eschew silver for no-polish serving piecespreferably ones that go in the dishwasher. Want to know the real reason I like vintage and antique furniture? No preventive maintenance needed; it's already scratched.

 butterfly 
My child in her (hot-glued) Halloween costume

To some, this may constitute cutting corners. For me, it is a matter of survival.

In addition to failing to be as clean as my mother, I doubtless am not as thrifty. I feel guilty every time I buy s $3 bag of pre-washed and cut salad greens, but I still buy it. If a sock has a hole in it, I don't darn, I replace it. I buy or download books instead of waiting to borrow them from the library.

It's not that I don't appreciate the value of a dollar. It's just that in my life, it's not as big of a debit as a free hour in my day.

Our generations have different demands on our time. We are expected to participate in our children's educations in ways that were unheard of when we were in school. I daresay I spent more time helping my daughter with her homework that I did doing my own as a kid. The gallop of technology demands that we continually re-invent our professional skill sets. Many of us will mortgage our retirements to pay for our kids' college degrees, which cost more than our homes did. And we will spend years, if not decades, caring for our parents as they age.

Those in The Greatest Generation may think of Boomers as the "me" generation, raised in affluence and weaned on instant gratification, perhaps slightly lacking on the side of the ledger that includes patience and paying our dues. In fact, we are just paying those dues later, and in different ways, than our parents did.

Now if you'll excuse me, I probably should go dust beneath that refrigerator. Although, since we will likely replace it in a few years, I could wait to clean under it until then… 

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