We broke ground for the house my husband wanted to build on the day my sixth child was born. I had to drive over to the building site where a bulldozer was gouging deep furrows in the grassy meadow where our house would eventually stand in order to get my husband to drive me to the hospital. Hannah was nearly a c-section baby, but just before the obstetrician came to prep me for the procedure, her cord, which had been laying across the cervix, and which was in danger of prolapse, moved out of the way and several hours later I pushed her out into the world.
She was only six weeks old when I loaded her up with her five older siblings and drove all the way across Canada, back to New Brunswick, for my sister’s wedding – by myself. My husband had stayed behind to get the house ready for us to move into when I came back. At the time, my parents had an empty basement suite that the children and I could stay in. It was a nerve-wracking time for all of us. My parents were not used to having that many children around at one time, plus the normal bonding that would have taken place had my parents been there from their birth had failed to take place. That isn’t to say that my parents didn’t try, but having six grandchildren all at once was a bit much for anyone to swallow.
I stayed from mid September until the end of October and then drove the children home again. Poor children. I tend to be a focused driver and would drive as long as they and I could stand and then I would stop at the side of a field, and have them get out to run as far as they could and still be in my sight in order to work some of the fidgets out while I nursed the baby. It was a nerve wracking experience trying to find motels that would either let the six children and I be together in one room, or else I would have to find rooms that I could smuggle everyone into and then pray that we didn’t make too much racket getting settled for the night.
I arrived back in BC, but my husband would not let me come home. The house wasn’t quite to lock up and he instructed me to go and visit and stay with some friends in the Vancouver area that I used to be close to. Bless their hearts, they took the children and I in and there we stayed for several more weeks. By this time I just wanted to be in my own space with my kidlets and settling in.
Snow was starting to swirl its way down when we finally pulled into what was supposed to be our family homestead – a place where generations of our children and children’s children could come and gather as a center for family togetherness and history - a place for roots to grow and flourish. I have to admit, it was an impressive site. It wasn’t nearly finished, but the three stories of traditional New England colonial style home that rose above the tree line was eye-catching enough that curious neighbors would pull in to have a look at the progress.
There were no steps to the basement – just a hole where the door frame would go. No flooring – just plywood, no kitchen—just some old cupboards that he had found somewhere and had stacked on one another and enough counterspace for a sink.. None of the bathrooms had sinks. Just a toilet and a bathtub. The sinks wouldn’t come until much later when I insisted on them just before another baby was born. My kids got so used to washing their hands in the bathtub that they did this at other people’s homes despite the availability of sinks.
It was a spacious and gracious home, or should have been. In the seventeen years that we lived there, it never was finished. My husband reached a point where, as long as supper could be made and sex could be had, so what. It didn’t matter that I was cooking for a very large family and that this was my workspace. In fact, on the rare occasion when I would bring up the idea of finishing the kitchen, he would tell me that he would deliberately NOT do anything about it just to teach me to keep my mouth shut. So the materials for building the cupboards, as well as the expensive tools he had acquired to do the work, sat in the basement untouched and unused by him the whole time we lived there.
At one point he did get as far as putting in some counters and some rough drawers, but that was as far as it ever went. None of the bathroom vanities were ever finished with the exception of the one in the ensuite because it was prefab and a good price and I refused to have the midwife washing her hands in my bathtub anymore.
I painted the walls in some of the rooms, but a lack of floor moldings, especially in rooms with tile or hardwood, meant large unsightly spaces that filled with the dirt and detrius from all the children. Children, of course, are hard on drywall. Especially boys. I remember coming upstairs one time and finding my son Sam with his butt stuck in the hall way because one of his older brothers had booted him out of the bedroom door opposite a little too forcefully.
The 18 years that I spent in this house belong to a time in my life that I now call, “The Prairie Muffin Years.” It was during this time that our family acquired our first computer and I gained a small window to the world beyond the 40 acres the children and I were sequestered on. It became my habit to retreat to the office through out the day to spend some time interacting with other adults I had met on line through email and later through chat.
Because by this time my children were reaching school age, I had started homeschooling them one by one. The addition of each child over the course of the years meant I was in a continual fog either through the fatigue that pregnancies imposed, or because I was up in the night with an infant. There was usually a toddler playing around or dancing on the table as I struggled to teach multiple grades, keep the laundry going, plan and execute meals (all done from scratch right down to grinding our own wheat). For years I was also using cloth diapers – not the ones that were form fitted with elasticized legs and waistbands and Velcro fasteners – no, I had rectangular cloth diapers that had to be folded and pinned . At one point, I had three boys in diapers. If you think that this is because I was too lazy to toilet train, all I can say is that you don’t know how hard some boys can be to train!!!
Those computer interludes throughout the day were what managed to keep what little sanity I had intact! I can’t remember the exact date, but one day I was contacted via email by a woman whose posts I had been reading on one of the quiverfull forums I frequented. She was starting up a new on-line discussion group through yahoo and was inviting me along with some other women whom she thought were fairly intelligent. So began one of the most enjoyable aspects of my life at that time as I interacted, debated, and stretched my brain in a group that was called Biblewives. Eventually, I became a moderator there when the original founder had to quit. I wish I had saved the original charter for this group, but suffice it to say, that the debate and discussion was very stimulating and vigorous. What is interesting to me now is that many of the core members of this group have gone through a radical transformation as the patriarchy chickens finally came home to roost.
I think, maybe, one of the things we were trying to do for ourselves in the midst of all this debate, was prove to ourselves and others that being a Biblewife and being in submission to a patriarchal male leader in the home didn’t mean that we had given up our brains or personhood. Topics ranged from whether or not we should wear headcoverings, to polygamy, pregnancy, breastfeeding, theology, and types of clothing. I remember one particular discussion that took place all over the interpretation of the Greek word, “katastole” and the contention of one of our members that women were required by God to wear dresses because katastoles were garments that flowed down from the shoulders. I think we had a bit of fun with that one because, of course, men wore similar garments in that time and culture, but try to catch a man wearing one today!
Another thing that was funny was that we had to put a strong disclaimer in the description of our group that while we might discuss polygamy, we were not proponents of it. This was because we were getting requests from men and women who were interested in finding “sister wives” for truly biblical and patriarchal home lives!
I’m still in touch with some of those same women and what is remarkable to me is how similar our stories are in terms of the effect that absolutizing submission to our husbands has had on ourselves and our children. A great many of the marriages failed or else underwent radical transformation because of the strain of it put on us all. The expectations of being a godly woman who submitted to a man and made him king of the castle, running an orderly household of many, constant pregnancy, nursing babies, toddlers dancing on the table while you tried to teach multiple grades, mountains of laundry, gardens and food cooked from scratch, etc., not to mention the churches that preached a Gospel of grace, but in reality had a culture rooted in performance, drove many of us to desperation.
I would be lying if I said that there weren’t some good times to be had there. I enjoyed making bread and cooking new foods. My kids had a blast running the 40 acres and building campsites out away from the adults. There was always something to do and it wasn’t all drudgery. But it could have been so much better and I still weep to think of the damage that was done to my older children especially…