Tools Not Rules

I often feel like I have plenty I want to write about on my blog but when I sit down to write I’m not sure where to start or what exactly I want to say… Good job I don’t care what anyone thinks, right?

…Or maybe I do, that’s why I clam up. So this might seem a mish-mash of thoughts but here it is…

I was reading an interview this week with Stephanie Meyer (the writer of the hugely successful Twilight Saga). She had the idea for Twilight when she dreamt the meadow scene and got up and just felt compelled to write it down and continue writing this story until it’s conclusion… Four books later she was done and had created this world with its many characters and all their complexities. She had a one-year old and another older child at the time and she had two hours to start writing this scene she saw before their swimming lessons, before she forgot it and the feelings it connoted. She didn’t write it for a worldwide audience. She wrote it for herself, it was her story. Not about her, for her.

The most interesting comment she made in this interview was how when you’re living ordinary life, perhaps particularly when mothering young children, being a part of another world, a story that you’ve created, feels like a bit of a lifeline.

I can relate.

It sounds like a depressing I-hate-my-life-as-a-stay-at-home-mum type thing, but I don’t think it is. I took a feminism module on my English Lit degree and we read a novel that was incredibly depressing about housewives and their competitive, miserable and stifling lives. The writer came to do a Q&A session with us and something she mentioned briefly that always stayed with me was how much she hates The Simpsons because it makes a joke of everything that is wrong with the world. Racism, sexism… all the ism’s and injustices The Simpson’s would force us to laugh at. Half a decade after hearing that and I think I do agree with her, though at the same time I do think laughing at things that seem to have so much power can undermine them in a positive way. Yet, I expect there are people who watch The Simpsons and feel like others are laughing with them in their disrespect of women and there is far too much disrespect around to merely shrug at this reality. Now that I think of it, I have unconsciously not watched The Simpson’s for a while now.

At the time of reading this novel I wasn’t a mum, though I was impatient to be one. I felt quite disgruntled by her perception of this state of being and I think the heart of the matter is that I feel disappointed by the way in which feminism can make you feel like staying at home is some sort of second rate existence.

But, this post isn’t about the pros and cons of staying at home or working. It’s about our tendency to make a religion out of everything.

If you’re a feminist you demonstrate it by living up to certain ideals that are rather strictly adhered to by some. You can choose to stay at home but whilst doing so you really ought to believe that you could be doing something better. Maybe you’ve already proved that in your career prior to kids. You have that potential and capacity and everyone needs to know that. If you’re a feminist and you juggle working and mothering and you’re unhappy with your work/life balance, well it might be perceived as weak to just give up your career – even if that’s what you really want. You’re downgrading, being demoted. Being a mum is so so tough… you need a good pair of balls… no, that’s not right, not male parts – boobs, good pair of boobs… to handle it! Ha.

It’s such a challenge for women to make the best decisions for them and their family without this feeling that there are certain things they should and shouldn’t be doing in order to avoid their own gender-related oppression.

I listened to Caitlin Moran on a podcast speaking about feminism and whether women should or shouldn’t wear make up. Obviously some feminists out there would absolutely refuse in order to make the point that women shouldn’t have to beautify themselves to appear more attractive to men, as if that is their main purpose in life. Amongst other reasons too, I guess. But Caitlin mentioned a friend saying that she wore make up because she wanted to look like David Bowie. It made me smile. Make up to her was about self-expression, creativity, flair. Make up isn’t inherently bad but an extreme set of ideals that must be adhered to can make it so.

Caitlin Moran said she sees feminism as a set of tools, not rules. I think that’s really helpful and is actually how I see my Christian faith.

It’s about what you are. I don’t need to prove to anyone that I believe in equality of the sexes by being or doing this or that. I don’t need to gripe about being a housewife. I can be real about it though: it’s HARD. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old for company for a large part of my week. They don’t like to discuss the latest Sherlock, what’s happening in the middle east, which was Jane Austen’s best novel, my latest blog post. We don’t have much in common as it’s not their favourite thing to go for a coffee or sit and read and it’s not my favourite thing to eat boogers and push trains around a train set. I have a scar on my cheek from a recent scratching incident, yesterday I was bitten, I am frequently shouted at and rejected by the people I give every last bit of myself to. This is why I can relate to wanting to create other worlds and be immersed in them. It’s stimulating and powerful and most importantly, helps you appreciate and not be overwhelmed by, the ordinary.

Imagination is a key to hope. We need to envision what life could be like in order to make certain decisions. It requires creativity. We read/hear/write stories and wonder… could my life be like that? Another key… Choice. Choice to change, choice to believe, choice to take a risk. Reading taps us into the world as viewed and experienced by another person. Diverse, unique, contradictory, complex, created and creative. It inspires ideas, new beginnings, adventures, vision, revelation, clarity, desire. To give an example, lately, the romance stories I’ve read have encouraged me to make choices in my marriage. I can envy that passionate first love and feel bored/dissatisfied, or I can look at my husband and engage my memories of that time, my knowledge of what I love about him, my view of his appearance and choose to appreciate all that attracts me to him. Then the feelings follow…

I can create or I can accept life as it is.

The bible has become a bit of a stifling religious artefact; a rule book. But it is a love story. A story of pursuit, desire, unrelenting and fierce love. It has all the components of the best stories: action, romance, the miraculous, captivating characters, heroes and heroines, tragedy, twists and turns, villains, the unexpected. This big story is the backdrop to my life and will always feed in to the other stories I create and experience.

This week I’ve had a good week. My son has been going through a developmental leap phase which results in him pushing limits and basically acting like he’s on steroids. Yesterday we left the seafront after a very short walk because he kept going off on his scooter and ignoring my call for him to stop and come back. I then had to chase him down the beach right to the shore when he wouldn’t stop. He’s laughing because it’s fun, I’m laughing because it’s humiliating. Today he’s riding his scooter in the hallway saying, “can we go out on the scooter later? I am going to listen today and stop.” First time he’s noted a consequence and the required behaviour… “Hmm, we’ll see, maybe.” I soften to the idea. We walk out to the car… and he bolts. And doesn’t stop.

So close. Bye scooter.

It was my fault really. I should have put him on a leash when leaving, well, anywhere that has four walls and a door he can’t open.

Despite the odds being against a good week, that is what I’ve had. I think it’s because reading that interview helped me to see that I can do the things I want to do and am passionate about and be a committed mum. It’s not one or the other. Also, I reminded myself that being a mum is an important job. A high calling. A privilege. My home is something to take pride in and work at the upkeep of because it’s a haven not just for my family but anyone who comes round. This belief has meant it has all just come naturally. I have cooked from scratch each night with pleasure, last night I made a glorious toad in the hole. I have kept on top of housework. I planted some tulip and narcissus bulbs that were bought for me because they were my Dad’s favourites and will remind me of him when they start popping up in the spring. I had had them for a while and just needed to get the job done. It felt good. I’m not sure why I didn’t change my slippers for crocs though… Then J came home with croissants and I had a coffee and took real pleasure in sitting at my dining table with a coffee and croissant. Wow, that first bite into a warm, crumbly croissant… Ordinary, beautiful.

It comes back to imagination and choice, embracing what you are and the life you’re living.

As a Christian, it’s right-being not right-doing. I am righteous and it’s a gift I cannot lose if I believe it. I don’t need to try to be perfect because what I have done or do is ultimately irrelevant. I have tools that equip not rules that stifle.

As a mum, I am a potent, vital part of society. A strong woman, capable and due respect.

As an employee, I am a potent, vital part of society. A strong woman, capable and due respect.

And I will choose to embrace it all as it’s my story to live out.

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