The first year after I retired,
I felt renewed and so inspired,
Then housework soaked my spongy brain,
And made me go a bit insane…
The year I left my busy working life to run free in the pastures of retirement, I was overwhelmed with an anxious energy to do everything I had missed out on in my life. I had no bucket list back then, just a longing to fill a whole bunch of empty spaces.
But that kind of desperate enthusiasm scrambled my brain and caused a few synapses to misfire. As it was happening, I wrote an article about my experience, which was published in several newspapers. The letters to the editor led me to believe I was not alone in my irrational behaviour.
It’s been nearly 14 years since I wrote that article. Keep in mind that I was in a quixotic state of divine domesticity. I have since reestablished my raison d’être and properly restored my sanity. Here’s my story…
At Last, I’ve Found the Kitchen by Pat Skene
Toronto Star – 1998
“Success in housekeeping adds credit to the woman of intellect, and lustre to a woman’s accomplishments. No matter how talented a woman may be, or how useful in the church or society, if she is an indifferent housekeeper it is fatal to her influence, a foil to her brilliance and a blemish in her garments.”
THE HOME COOK BOOK, Toronto Rose Publishing Company, 1877
“Give her a wide berth,” I heard my husband whisper to my daughter, as I breezed through the kitchen to check on the contents of my new slow cooker.
“Mom bought a crock-pot?” she said, as she lurched backwards to get out of my way and slammed into my new rack of stainless steel cookware. “Where did those come from?” she complained, holding the side of her head.
Breathless, my husband continued as though I were not in the room. “And that’s not all. She has two boxes of mason jars in the basement. She wants to ‘do
down’ dill pickles and tomato relish. She’s been out everyday driving around the country roads, scouring the farms for fresh produce.”
“Geez, she’s even wearing an apron,” was all my daughter could say, as they stood in silence watching me with their eyes locked on my every move.
Poor things, this was all so sudden. It started very innocently really, when I bought a new dust mop and ironing board cover. I felt so harmoniously domestic after ironing my tea towels, that it spurred me on to clean behind the refrigerator and try out that new miracle floor cleaner I ordered from a home shopping catalogue.
This uncharacteristic burst of domesticity appeared suddenly in the first year of my retirement from corporate life. After many decades of being an exhausted working mother to my daughter and often-distracted partner to my husband, I left the rat race to preserve my energy, my health and to pursue my passion for
Like many working mothers, I still sported all the guilty baggage that busy parents usually bear well into their golden years. I worried about the scars my daughter had carved into her childhood, from deprivation of home cooked meals and the long-term effects of latchkey after-shock.
Instead, she managed to survive with professional parents who adored her and she became independent and self-sufficient at a very early age. In other
words, my baby grew up while I wasn’t looking and in spite of my lack of domesticity.
My husband banned me from the kitchen a long time ago, when he witnessed me teaching my daughter how to make a Christmas Meat Pie. He threatened to get a court order to stop me from teaching her how to cook.
So there I was, with my adult daughter and retired husband – ready to do the wife and mother thing – and all they could do was stare at me all goggle-eyed like kitchen road kill caught in the scent of my boneless rump roast.
As my family continued to tread softly around me with suspicions that it was just more Menopause Madness, I continued on my domestic journey. I washed the linens in logical color combinations, organized our kitchen shelves, cleaned out closets and dusted every piece of bric a brac I could find. All this, while my stuffed green peppers bubbled deliciously in my new state-of-the-art crock-pot.
I approached my household responsibilities with the same appetite as I did my career. I savored the goodness of field-ripened tomatoes and the emotional harmony that flowed from a clean, organized home. Simplicity in a world of complications seemed to take on a rhythm of its own.
Unfortunately, while I harvested these revelations along with my bounty of summer vegetables, my family suffered future shock from my sudden coming in and out of the broom closet.
Was I morphing through a type of corporate decompression chamber? Maybe. I’d come to accept that I couldn’t rewind all the days I wasted away, the days I took for granted, the working weekends, the conferences, the cold dinners and the baby-sitters. But I needed to believe that it wasn’t too late to start paying attention to the things that mattered most and to some things that never seemed to matter at all.
I busied myself with long neglected writing projects and I enjoyed being a friend to my daughter, not to mention a new and improved partner to my husband. And in between the exciting chapters on my word processor and the scary experiments in my food processor, I might even try my hand at making Christmas gifts this year, if it doesn’t push my family over the edge. (September 1998)
So read the quote above in blue,
And tell me, what’s a gal to do?
That ‘blemish in her garments’ threat,
Is something I cannot forget…