remnants of a past life (note 2)

Reflecting on my past attitude towards household chores and the radical shift in perspective I was lucky enough to experience

remnants of a past life (note 2)
Photo by Jessica Kessler on Unsplash

I think this happened when I was in Grade 1 (or 1st standard, as it was called in India where I grew up).

I hated going to school. Every morning, my mother would drop me and wait with me at the assembly line, like most other parents did, and leave when the assembly was about to begin. Her imminent departure always left me in tears.

One such morning, I wrapped the pallu of her saree around me and refused to let her go.

My class teacher came over to me and said, "Do you wish to wash clothes and dirty dishes for a living when you grow up?"

"No," I said, those being household chores that maids undertook, not the people living in the house themselves.

"Then get in line," said the teacher.

I obeyed her, fearfully, tearfully.

To provide a little more context, growing up in India we had maids for every chore you could think of. To sweep and mop the house. To clean the toilets. To wash clothes and hang them to dry. To wash the dirty dishes.

While it was mom who cooked, you could get the maid to cook too. (I grew up in a time where most middle-class women were still stay-at-home moms. All that changed with my generation.)

My teacher's implication was that if I didn't go to school, then I'd end up doing menial tasks like being somebody's maidservant. That was considered way down the success ladder and no way would any respectable, school-going child aspire to something like that.

Naturally, in a culture like that, I grew up with a strong disdain for household chores.

My attitude was that someone as well-educated as me, topper of my class, gold-medalist, and awardee of so many certificates for excellent performance, ought to devote my time and attention on solving bigger problems in the world. Not on keeping my household in order. There'd be other, less educated people to do those lowly tasks.

Obviously, this kind of thinking landed me in a lot of trouble!

When KrA and I moved abroad, where maids were not as easily and inexpensively available as in India, we struggled with learning how to look after our household.

I moaned a lot about having to do chores around the house. They were essential tasks to be gotten over with as quickly as possible, to make space for more important, more world-changing stuff.

Only a couple of years ago did I gain a radically different perspective on household chores.

I think it was in Julia Cameron's The Artist Way that I found this perspective. Or perhaps it was somewhere else.

But I clearly remember the writer saying something along the lines of this:

Cleaning your kitchen shelves is an act of self-care. Purging and organizing helps create a clean kitchen for you to enjoy cooking and baking in, to nourish your body.

Those lines blew me away. I had never looked at the acts of cleaning my home or cooking or doing the laundry and folding clothes as acts of self-care. I had always considered them an utter waste of my time and an insult to my supreme intelligence!

Strangely, when little D came along, my brain turned upside down and I couldn't fathom a more important task than looking after him.

In fact, I remember my mum telling me of a remark that a family friend had apparently made at my brother's place (after his child was born): "You all are so highly educated and yet here you are, changing a child's diapers."

I promptly said to my mom, "But that's the most important thing. Looking after your child."

For me, changing D's diaper, dressing him, feeding him — these were never tasks to be rushed through and gotten over with. I rarely ever looked at my phone while nursing him. I used to have a lot of conversations with him, or sit together in companionable silence. Those are still some of my most beautiful memories of D's infancy.

It was not easy to shed that prejudice though. In the initial years I spent with D, even though I loved being with him and would never have chosen otherwise, I was always beset by the nagging thought that I was wasting my time and that I should be doing something more productive and useful in life.

That thought came back in a more dramatic fashion more recently when I was convinced that I had to spend more and more time writing in order to have more books in the market and increase sales and income, and that I had to sacrifice family time to achieve this. There are only so many hours in a day, after all!

I came to resent weekends and school holidays, because naturally I wanted to spend time hanging out with D whenever he was around, and in the same breath I'd be overcome with anxiety over all the work I was not doing but ought to have been doing instead of 'wasting' time at home.

Fortunately for me, I feel like I'm coming back to my senses now. Being with KrA and D has always been very important for me. I now have a schedule that honours this while also allowing myself plenty of time to write in a consistent, sustainable fashion.

The illusion that I could write more if only I had more time is simply that: an illusion.

Now that I've taken up a new hobby of decluttering, I had the time today to revisit my past attitude towards this essential task. Like every other menial chore, I kept putting it away, thinking that I was somehow too good for it.

Now that I've gotten into the thick of it, I can see what an ego-busting exercise this is.

I didn't sleep well last night. I fell asleep beside D at 8 PM, too early for me, so I woke up at midnight and couldn't go back to sleep until about 4 AM. I managed to squeeze in a WhatsApp chat with mom in the dead of the night.

Yet, I managed to push through my 2 writing sprints for the morning. When I wanted to give up halfway through the second sprint, I went looking for the Heart Breathings Writing Community and managed to join the last 20 minutes of a live sprint being hosted by one of the volunteers. That body doubling was amazing for me, and I raced through those 15 minutes I was earlier struggling with, with much ease.

It has been snowing all morning, so we couldn't head out on our morning walk. I reckon we'll finally get to use our shovel after all for the first time this season.

So I sauntered down to the basement and continued rummaging to take stock of item #2 on my list of stuff to be passed on.

Lot of emotions. Lot of processing. Lot of letting go.

And plenty of freedom and joy to be found in the process.

So before I leave for today, let me tell you how much I've come to love doing household chores. Oh, what joy lies in touching tangible things, something other than the keys of my laptop, and in creating clean uncluttered spaces!

As long as I don't have to do them too often, because I am someone who gets bored very easily, very quickly!

Which is why decluttering is the perfect hobby for me. There's always a new bunch of items to be dealt with every so often!

To be continued ...