Candlelight, Beekeeping, and a Little Old-Fashioned Feminism

I sit on my bed, legs crossed, with three delicious-smelling candles burning. I haven’t pulled the shades down yet because I like the way the night looks against the candlelight. I had an unexpected revelation today, and I think it has made all the difference.

For awhile now, I’ve been fighting a lot of things. One of the more upsetting of late is the idea of womanhood and what it means to be a “wife.” (I put the term in quotation marks because it scares me, and putting words in quotation marks dilutes their power!) But more to the point, I have been scared of what it means to be a person – and a woman, specifically – in marriage. I’ve been watching a lot of friends and acquaintances get engaged, married, pregnant, and I am overwhelmed. I feel like I can’t even catch my breath from the almost-daily Facebook notifications. All this activity in the matrimonial department has me thinking: what kind of wife will I be? what kind of wife do I want to be? and why am I so scared?

The answer to that last one is, I’m pretty sure at least, that I am scared of losing myself. Scared that binding myself to another for life will, instead of making me a more complete Self, blur the lines of me until I am unrecognizable. It is this fear that drives me to some of the ideas of feminism, of maintaining autonomy, of being equals within a marriage, and of feeling the desire and need to create something outside of that marriage. Some of these ideas sound selfish to me even now; how can you be autonomous and truly engage in life-changing communion with another human? I wrote communion instead of union because I am STILL scared of the fullness of that concept.

Then a little voice in my head says Cath, you’re not even in a relationship. Marriage isn’t on the horizon. This is way premature thinking on your part. But then I look around me and see so many young people throwing themselves into a life-long commitment, and I wonder if they have any idea what they’re embarking on. It isn’t too early to be thinking about how I hope to function within one of the most beautiful relationships God has given us, and it certainly isn’t too early to think about living with excitement for the future instead of fear.

And here is where the revelation comes in: I picked up one of my Dad’s bee journals (yes, they actually publish magazines on beekeeping, and yes, we have multiple). It was sitting on the coffee table and I saw an article on the cover that intrigued me: “Beeconomy – Women and Bees.” The revelation didn’t come from bees, or women keeping bees, or anything really to do with bees. It came in these brief sentences:

“A shift from a rural economy to more urban capitalism saw a decline in the value of the ‘good wife,’ an equal partner with her husband who would serve the community and barter with neighbors. Instead, women were expected to be at home, providing the primary care for children” (McNeil, M. E. A., “American Bee Journal” Vol. 152 N. 1).

Suddenly it came together for the first time: I wasn’t bucking the eternal, time-honored tradition of women in the home cleaning, laundering, feeding, and raising. I was bucking the 20th century version of that tradition. I HATE cleaning and “keeping house” (there I go again), but when it is in the context of partnership – in the context of running a business, running a farm – the idea is not nearly as scary. A few weeks ago I met up with an old friend who has four children and another on the way. She and her husband recently built their own home in the woods, complete with a wood stove, long windows overlooking the backyard, and a table big enough to entertain twenty guests. I asked her how she did it, how she resigned herself to washing the dishes, doing the laundry, making three meals a day for four children, keeping everything running smoothly.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I said, as I watched her baste a homegrown chicken. “I just can’t do those things every day FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.”

She didn’t stop what she was doing. She just talked while she finished basting and put the chicken back in the oven.

“You know what, I had the same problem. And then I realized: you have to view it, not as ‘doing the dishes,’ but as creating a home. You do the dishes, you do the laundry, not because you absolutely love doing it, but because by doing so, you create a home for your family.”

And so, together with a little nugget of knowledge from a bee journal, my friend created for me a new outlook. I don’t know entirely what my life will look like as a wife, or even if I’ll be one. But at least now I know how I want to be one: the wife who works alongside her husband to create a home.

Living a Fairy Tale

“You live a fairy tale, you know,” my first boyfriend said to me. We were driving somewhere in his toyota station wagon, and I was telling him stories about growing up. I can’t remember what it was – maybe it was that I took horseback riding lessons, or maybe it was that we used to spend a week every summer on a lake in Maine – but whatever it was, I guess it made my childhood sound pretty idyllic.

“What do you mean?” I knew I’d had a good life, that there were beautiful moments of laughing til my sides hurt, of roping my brothers, sister, and cousins into playing “Little House on the Prairie,” and of boisterous family holidays where sometimes it was hard to hear anything that was going on. “Everything’s always been so easy for you,” he said, not looking at me. “Everything was so easy.”

What he didn’t see though, was that while things looked easy, there is always more. I think back on that afternoon in his car, and I wonder what my life looks like from the outside now. Graduating in May was a huge change, and I’ve made some choices I really didn’t want to make: I moved back home with loving parents and a great younger brother, but sacrificed living with friends and independence. I took a few part-time jobs because I get bored out of my mind working at a desk, doing the same thing day to day. But this leaves me with uncertain hours, a smaller income, and more than anything the feeling that I’m not accomplishing much.

As I begin to piece together what my life will look like, I balance between learning patience and practicing action. I am much more prone to act than I am to wait; I see a problem, a challenge, a choice, and I want to conquer it. Maybe this period of waiting, of patience, of trust, is necessary to shape me more finely. But it’s really uncomfortable.

“Everything’s always been easy for you.” Those words echo in my head, making me feel an odd mix of resentment and un-deserved privilege.

I step back and see the blessings, and I am grateful. I look forward to sharing the fairy tale life, even if it isn’t always such a fairy tale.

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