A Clean Oven

So, this morning I woke up, thrilled with the prospect of not having to cook!  Yep, Joseph and I baked muffins on Saturday and I had enough left over for this morning.  Finally, a morning off…no elaborate juggling like usual: oatmeal with fresh fruit for me, eggs and toast for Dax and Joseph, porridge for William, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, etc, etc, etc.  Nope, just pop those muffins in the oven to heat and breakfast would be served.  How simple!  But now I was going to have at least 30 minutes of free time…what in the world was I going to do…I couldn’t possibly just sit around.  Reading a book, baking bread, even playing with the kids just seemed frivolous.  This was my time to work…the mornings are always consumed with kitchen work…’I must find something useful to do’, I thought.  Well, I opened the oven to put in the muffins and discovered my mission.   The oven needed to be cleaned.  So for the next 30 minutes I scrubbed and scrubbed (it was extremely dirty!) and whew, when breakfast was ready, I felt that I had accomplished something!  Hurray for me!  And then it hit me…I had been so excited to not have to cook because it was going to free up my time (finally, I could sit and play with the kids and not feel guilty) and somehow I had convinced myself that I had to work…I might as well have just cooked breakfast. 

So all morning I was consumed with thinking about why we, as women, never allow ourselves the luxury of time…time to dawdle, time to reflect, time to ponder, time to play.  We’re a constant rush of activity, always in pursuit of results.  Read a book?  No, I’d have nothing to show for it.  Play with the children?  No, then the clothes don’t get ironed.  Take a nap?  Never…how could I possibly explain the dirty dishes in the sink? 

I sat down to nurse William after lunch for his naptime (yes, I sit and read while I nurse, but take note: I do not just sit and read, I read because I am nursing…there my reading feels justified) and I happened to pick up an article by Susan Wise Bauer, entitled Stop Cleaning the Kitchen and Read a Book…I am so not kidding.  What?  Was she here this morning?  It’s almost eerie to read, because I’m pretty sure she was reading my thoughts at 7:30 this morning!  She says:

Recognize that you may be reluctant to read because, on some deep level, it doesn’t seem worthwhile. Activities that produce an immediate result are always more satisfying than activities that don’t. We need to acknowledge to ourselves that we enjoy seeing visible results for what we do. In many ways, it’s more rewarding to get up in the morning and clean the kitchen than to get up and read. After all, if your husband or your mother walks in, you can say, “I am a useful human being. I am a useful member of society. Look at my kitchen.” But if your house is filthy, the baby is screaming, and you have a book in your hand, you won’t feel at all rewarded.

We tend to grasp those visible results and say to ourselves, “Clean house, clean baby. That proves I’m doing my job and I’m a good mother.” But that baby will eventually grow up. He’ll be 17, studying modern history, and he’ll come to you one day and say, “Mom, why did Hitler hate the Jewish people so much? I don’t understand what lay behind that horrible, horrible hatred. What do you think?” The truth is that if you have spent the last 14 years every morning getting up and doing what is immediately visible and immediately rewarding, you may not be able to answer that question. But if you have spent some of that time reading, thinking, and preparing yourself by educating your own mind, you will be able to have that conversation with your child.

The problem? That conversation with your teenager is a long ways away. But remember that the ability to put off immediate satisfaction (clean kitchen) for the sake of future gain (meaningful conversation with growing child) demonstrates self-discipline and maturity. The project of self-education requires you to take a very long view. It requires you to sometimes ignore immediate rewards in favor of a much greater reward down the road.

If you can’t have that conversation with your child, then who is going to have it? You are going to have to outsource it to somebody else. Is that really what you want to do? As you try to carve out a small amount of time to educate yourself, think about your priorities—both now, and for the future.

And don’t read simply for the sake of your children, either. It is true that we have a great responsibility toward our children, but it’s also true that as parents we are made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to develop our own minds. 

So there it is for all you hard-working mommies and wives…there’s the permission you’ve been seeking.  While Susan may be directing her comments toward educating ourselves (by making time to read), I think it goes beyond that.  As mommies we must learn that not everything we do needs a tangible result…reading a story, building blocks, coloring with our child, nursing and snuggling…those things may not seem monumental to us, but to our children, they mean the world.  We may sacrifice ironed clothes and sparkling floors, but really…”a hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”   

So go ahead, call me tomorrow morning at 7:30…hopefully you’ll find that I’ve simplified the process of cooking breakfast and I’m sneaking in a few minutes of playing with my kids (sans guilt).

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