We will be running a series over the next few weeks entitled “The Surprise of Friendship Through Literature”. Five Well-Read Moms will share their experiences and the friendship they found through literature and Well-Read Mom.
By Claire Vaidyanathan and Marcia Otto
Moved by a Well-Read Mom presentation in New York City in 2015, two friends in Houston, TX proposed WRM to a group of women in their community. During the kick-off meeting for the ‘Year of the Worker,’ it became clear that those who accepted the invitation shared the desire to read good literature, to spend more time together, to take life more seriously, and to face deep questions about the meaning of work. Little did we know that a surprising journey was about to begin. We found ourselves generated by an unexpected new engagement with daily life. Page by page, book by book, we began to share about some of the most intimate matters of daily life, with an increasing awareness that our hearts were longing for the same thing: a companionship that would help us see the invisible hand of our loving Creator at work in the most ordinary moments of the day. Here is my friend Claire’s reflection on the first book we read together, Shadows in the Rock.
When I joined WRM, I was fed up with being a stay-at-home mom. I was feeling worn out and feeling under-appreciated. Society at large forgets about stay-at-home moms, and I felt it. I was increasingly feeling and believing that I was “just a stay-at-home mom.” I needed a change – I didn’t know what kind of change, but I knew I needed something that would help me take my life seriously and figure out who I was and how to live my life better. I joined WRM primarily because my friends, Marcia and Serena, asked me to join. I liked them a lot and was always trying to find ways to spend more time with them.
The first book we read was Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather. I was surprised to discover that this novel was set in colonial Quebec. I spent four years in Montreal, and I was deeply moved by Cather’s very accurate description of the weather in Quebec, the snow and the bitter cold.
But even more moving to me was my encounter with the main character, Cecile. Cecile’s mother taught her how to keep house. After the early death of her mother, Cecile kept house for her father exactly how she had been taught by her mother. Housework, for me, has been a near constant struggle since the day I got married. It seemed like an exercise in futility. You finish one load of laundry, there’s more tomorrow. You wash dishes this morning, and you’ll have to wash more dishes this evening. You put away toys, and in a few hours, the children will litter toys throughout the entire house again. But worse than that – it didn’t feel like my daily work required anything more than a patience and a certain tolerance for manual labor.
Cecile faces a turning point in her experience of housework. At a certain point, she accompanies a friend to visit a family on an island. Let’s just say they live a much more relaxed existence. Their furniture is rough, the little girls run about barefoot all day and tumble into bed without washing first. She is horrified that people could live in such an undignified way, Initially I thought, “Hey, she stopped by our house for a visit.” This experience fundamentally changed her approach to housework. While she had assumed that the work she did to care for her father and honor her mother’s memory was for them, she realized then and there that this work, these household tasks, was something she did for herself. Upon her return from the island Cecile decides to make a nice dinner. Holding her spatula she affirms that, “these are the tools with which we create reality.” What a claim! Through housework we create reality. We exert a fundamental control over our environments, our homes, and thus influence in a meaningful way the daily lives of handful of other people, those of our spouses and children. This also extends to guests who may enter our homes, be it for an afternoon cup of coffee or a long weekend.
I pondered this idea as I returned to my own housework. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is Someone else who creates reality – God. This connection finally helped me understand something: that by completing housework, by creating an environment, by shaping reality, I am a co-creator with God. He is the ultimate environment-maker, and my work – washing dishes, folding laundry, tidying things – is directly united with His work of creation. The role of the stay-at-home mom is to maintain order, in other words, to stand as the defense against chaos. Our Lord created order out of chaos, and He has entrusted me with the same task, albeit on a much smaller level.
It also occurred to me that the best homemaker is one whose work goes unnoticed because it’s always completed. There are no dishes in the sink because they are washed immediately after each meal; there are no mountains of laundry anywhere because it’s been folded and put away. The consequence of a great homemaker is a clean and peaceful environment. Or, as we find it more eloquently written in Scripture, “Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.” (Sirach 26:16)
It is easy for those who aren’t familiar with the work of a homemaker to take that environment – with all the work that goes into shaping it – for granted. The ultimate homemaker is taken for granted everyday. We give little thought to Creation – it’s just there, because the greatest homemaker is quietly caring for it every moment of everyday. He is so attentive, and so quiet, we never notice. We never think about our world or the work that goes into maintaining it. Our world just is. And if the Creator of all things can go to the trouble of homemaking, then so can I.
Marcia and her husband Thomas live in Houston, TX. Marcia is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas, Where she teaches Epidemiology.
Claire is a homeschooling mom of four and lives in Houston, TX. She has a BA in Music from McGill University and has taught singing and drama.
This article was originally published in the ‘Year of the Friend’ Journal.