I’ve just written a post about Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes, only to delete most of it. Basically, I wanted to tell you that this book, although not a parenting book, helped give me a language to discuss my “domestication” upon having children (or more specifically, after having my second child). There is nothing wrong with wanting to make Christmas stockings from wool scraps, knitting slippers, making laundry detergent, baking bread, growing a garden, or sewing a bag to hold cloth handkerchiefs and rags. But these desires were a distinct departure from my professional pre-baby self, and for a long time I couldn’t really articulate of even fully grasp where they were coming from.
Hayes helped with this. She says that mainstream American culture views the household as a unit of consumption, whereas “radical” households are units of production (by relying on community and providing for much of their own needs). In the latter home, income isn’t equated with well-being, and money is secondary to other resources in terms of value. For both men and women, the home is a centre of creativity and entreprise (apparently the root of the word “husband” means “bound to the house”, depicting a time when men worked for themselves at home before leaving it to work outside the home).
I’m pretty positive (and so would Hayes be if she knew me) that I’m not a radical homemaker. You will find on my shelves next to the jars of homemade strawberry jam any number of ConAgra specials bought with a cold, hard credit from the grocery store. Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and little by little, I feel like I can glimpse what Hayes is describing in my own home.
A few years ago, my mother came over with a book in her hand. She had come across it among her things, and she said she knew that I would want it. It’s called A Guide for Parents: All Children Want to Learn by Lorene K. Fox, Peggy Brogan, and Annie Louise Butler. It was originally published in 1954. As I said, I haven’t read it.
But my mother knew I would cherish it because it bears my father’s signature on the front cover as well as on the first page of the book. Twice, he signed it. My father passed away when I was two, and my mother left our birth country of Malaysia two years after that, with exactly what we could take with us (minus a piece of luggage that was lost). We have precious few mementos of my father, and this is one of them.
Although I haven’t read it, I like to skim through it from time to time. I like the weight of the paper. I like the chapter headings: “They Want to Play”, “They Want To Be on the Go”, “They Want to Do for Themselves”, “They Want to Explore and Find Out”, “They Want to Make Things”, “They Want Music and Stories”. I like how it talks about “new uses for old things” and persuades the reader that fun need not be complicated or purchased. I just like it.
I might read it one day. For now, I’m satisfied to think that my father read it. Or maybe he just liked to skim through it from time to time. I like to think that maybe, if he were alive, he would be pleased to know that he has three grandsons, and that I’m trying to do my best by them, pretty much according to the chapters of the book that he’s unknowingly put into my hands. I like to think that maybe he’d have helped to raise them, and helped me to raise them, in ways that make special sense for our family, and in ways that no book ever does.