An Ode to the Village

Cleaning people’s homes for a living, I meet a lot of people. The ones I come across the most often however, are mothers. Exhausted, mothers. Moms who tell me that on top of raising children, working, volunteering, tending house and being the family chef, they just can’t seem to stay on top of cleaning the house. When they tell me this, I’m often met with embarrassment, or shame. A mother ought to be able to keep everything in order right? If she’s home all day with the children, why can’t she tidy up the living room, or clean the pee all over the bathroom from two, crazy, potty-training toddlers? I’m always quick to reassure these sleep deprived, coffee-fueled women that there is no reason to ever feel anything even close to embarrassment. That they aren’t in fact Wonder Woman. That there often isn’t enough time in the day to do, everything. Even when there is, putting your feet up for two seconds without a small person, or a full-sized man-child, having questions and needs – is what you ought to do, instead of what you’re supposed to do.

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I guess I don’t really have a say, given that I myself don’t have children. But even in my young, child-less life, I find myself exhausted at the amount of work goes into keeping a house in shape. It seems I’m doing an endless amount of dishes, picking up a never-ending amount of socks off the ground and constantly doing laundry. And trust me, I don’t do this with any kind of resentment for my partner, as I am a level of anal that I didn’t fully appreciate until I acquired a place of my own. However, meeting all these women, who are just trying their damn best to raise kids that aren’t psychopaths and keep food in the bellies of all the members of the household, has left me wondering, where did the village go?

Maybe it’s easy to romanticize a time when we all worked together. Where the strength of the community was built on the contributions of each of its members. A time when women did everything together, from sharing stories and knowledge and tending house all the way to giving birth. There was a time when the invaluable strength in small villages and communities laid in the women keeping them afloat. (Don’t worry guys, we still appreciate you too.) This thinking often reminds me of The Red Tent, a novel by Anita Diamant. In it, she tells the story of Dinah and her life in her community, as it specifically related to the Red Tent. The Red Tent was a place where women were sent to menstruate and give birth, providing comfort and support to one another. This was the place where women were able to pass down their knowledge and their stories to their daughters, and a place where female sisterhood was solidified. Not because it was a romantic, free-loving thing to do, but because it was necessary. It was necessary to keep tradition alive, and to keep strength and morale, high. A far cry from where we are now, where oftentimes women and soon-to-be mothers feel the pressure to complete this transition alone, and on her own strength.

Why did I not know that (child) birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers?…Until you are the woman on the bricks, you have no idea how death stands in the corner, ready to play his part. Until you are the woman on the bricks, you do not know the power that rises from other women.

-Anita Diamant

However we got here, we’re here. And as unfortunate as it may be, we find ourselves in a society constructed largely to keep us divided, and away from each other. We are in a place where many feel that reaching out to others is a sign of weakness, or inability. The realization that this pressure on women, mothers and even men exists – that you ought to bear everything alone and struggle in silence like the rest of us – is a profoundly sad one. Not only because it leaves our brightest and compassionate in a state of constant exhaustion and resentment. But also because it can leave our men hardened and unwavering. Unwilling to admit when providing for an entire family can become too much. Instead, we dive into ourselves. Into our phones, into our vices. Whatever we can do to avoid the abrupt reality that we need each other. Really need each other. It’s not that any of us are incapable, it’s just that we blossom under the support of others, that with two heads instead of one, we can tackle problems and issues from multiple angles, and support each other in the process. It’s that we, as humans, are a community species. We aren’t made to live alone, separated and devoid of intimacy among our fellow men. We’re social, we like to talk, we like to share. At the core of us, we want to love, and be loved.

So, when I help out a mother, one who’s struggling under the weight of our productivity-addicted culture, to tidy her things and wipe the pee off the toilet seat, I can see an actual weight being lifted off her shoulders. The furrow in her brow becomes lighter, her breath becomes audibly easier. She always says thank you, and that she appreciates me. And that if she could pay me more, she would. And I say, if I could do it for free, I would. The joy that I receive from helping another life become a little bit easier, a little bit less anxious, is worth more to me than the paper I receive in exchange for my services.

So I tell them, time and time again. Never apologize for needing an extra hand. None of us can do this entirely on our own. We’re all struggling and we’re all doing the best we can, with what we have. But at the root of it all, we need each other; and that’s not something to be ashamed of, that’s something to be celebrated.

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Link to Anita Diamant’s book here.

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