Friday, February 16, 2007

Pets versus Livestock

Today I finally admitted to myself that, while I don’t hate it in the classical sense of the word, housework simply sucks the life out of me. The more time I spend outdoors, the less enthusiasm I can drum up for scrubbing the toilet and hunting dust-bunnies. I had already lifted the covers on the reality that one of the reasons my bestseller’s a bit late in hitting the stands is because I spend all my morning and early afternoon energy running errands and sorting laundry and chasing the animal fur that must be chased at least every 2 days, and devising, planning, shopping for, prepping, cooking, serving, eating, and cleaning up meals that by the time I sit down in front of the Mac opening my email is about as much creativity as I can muster.

So, this is a bit of a dilemma. How do I reconcile my hatred for clutter and filth with the notion that I don’t want to deal with it any more and the guilt, as a stay-at-home parent with one child to manage, that would attend retaining the services of a talented housekeeper, say, once a month.

Hmm. Maybe there’s not that much of a dilemma here after all. I guess it all comes down to what we love and have talent for. At some level, I have to say, did I give up a career in the public sector to dust the piano? No. It’s easy to say, well if you’re “home all day” you should be able to keep a clean house, but the reality is that it just doesn’t work out that way. One thing people overlook is that when they’re home all day, they’re actually, well, home all day, which means that unlike when you both work full time and the house sits as a museum 10 hours a day, my house is bearing the brunt of my, and my son’s, and others’ wear and tear all day long.

There’s a lot to be said about being outdoors much of the day. It doesn’t exhaust me the way vacuuming and laundry does. Plus, as I move from a potential gardener to a potential livestock farmer, I have a similar epiphany – again, there’s something about working with animals. I’m thinking about looking into ducks….


It turns out that both the Grace clan and the Wells clan feature the regrettable no-put-away gene. Yes, it is unfortunate. Because it helps to have at least one person per family whose mission and strength it is to pick up the toys, child or adult, and put them back in their box. We do not sport that particular person among us. I wish we did.

There’s a continuing theme song running as the background music to our family life. It sounds eerily like the Jewish mom in stereo. Is there a reason why your milk glass is still on the table? Do I look like I know where every tool you last used is? Why would I keep tabs on your socks?

The roles would be more cut and dried here were I not just as deficient as my charges in this regard. But, alas, I too would rather not. I would rather not unload the dishwasher (though have no trouble loading). I would rather not put away the clean clothes (though do not shrink from separating, washing, drying, folding). I would rather not push the wheelbarrow back up to its agreed-upon resting spot, central to all major tasks. I hate these things and can’t quite figure out why. I love to pack. I hate to unpack.

But, I work on it. And I wonder seriously how to help my family work on it with me. Because the one thing a lazy person hates worse than just about anything is other people’s laziness.

This is helped by keeping farm animals. I have kept notes and cannot help but to comment.

I’m sure it’s been said before, but farm animals are incredibly grounding. They require just as much basic care and feeding as your average dog or cat yet offer no companionship whatsoever and are not swayed by training the way pets are. One of the most unexpected aspects of having sheep around, for instance, has been their complete indifference to my affection. Whether I am cooing them with yummy snacks or yelling at them to get the hell away from something, they are shockingly indifferent. Really, they could care less about my precious opinion.

I think this is especially perplexing to one who has kept the company of tame animals virtually all her life. You fall into complicity, believing that you love and understand animals and, of course, have “a way” with them. You learn the cheap tricks with cats and dogs and horses and know of course where to scratch and rub them and the words they especially respond to and then you’re seemingly a worldly adult, make space in your life to get some livestock, and WHAM. You run head first into the reality that sheep and cows have absolutely no interest or investment in your love or affection. They could care less.

Which may seem trivial, except that if you’ve been around pets all your life you’ve developed mechanisms for interacting with them that are great with pets and completely useless with livestock. Like yelling. Or shaming. Or in any way doing any thing that doesn’t actually involve shoving. It’s humbling.