The (Polished) Lives of Others

by Broken Daughters

I remember dreaming about life the way I had seen it in those P/QF books and magazines and occasional home making blogs. It’s funny because it was never that way at our house. But I always thought that one day, I would live one of those beautiful lives.

I’d have a pantry filled with homemade juices and marmalade and sauces and relishes. I’d have a beautiful, antique and yet modern kitchen. I’d have a great view from my kitchen windows, and I’d wear a beautiful apron. I’d be… hm. One of those fairytale housewives, I guess.

My life would be quiet, relaxed. I’d be busy decorating a beautiful home, not really worrying about money and how to get by. My husband would be thrilled to see my newest crafty decoration idea and I’d have people come over for tea, who would praise my exquisite taste and the heavenly homemade biscuits.

My living room would have one of those open fire places and no TV in it, a beautiful sofa and a large bookshelf with old books – funny enough, that shelf was filled with books I wasn’t encouraged to read. But hey, who cares, they were only decoration anyway. They would show my guests how polished my education was, how knowledgable and ‘classical’ I was. After all, those classics are the center of a good education!

Yes, people would be impressed by my family and me. After tea, the female guests would offer to help me in the kitchen, but I’d say no. I’d offer them to come to the kitchen with me anyway, and then I would show them the many jars filled with strawberry-vanilla-lemon jelly and blackberry-cherry marmalade and tomato relish (my secret ingredient was a red, sweet apple). They’d look at the jars and go “How on earth do you manage?” and I would just smile and say “Oh, you know, I just can’t stand not using up the things we grow in our garden.” (just to point them to the fact that I had a rich garden). I would fill up the plates with more biscuits, different kinds, and gracefully fly back into the living room, or the dining room. There’d be fresh flowers everywhere. And the women would ask me where I got this and that, where my antique teacups were from, and I would have a different story about everything, an amazing, magical, filled with adventure story.

And yes, my kids. How well-behaved they were, and how clean and neat and obedient and whatnot. How tidy their rooms were, how tidy the house was, how lush the gardens! Yes, I was truly the Proverbs 31 woman.

At the end of the day, my tall dark and handsome husband, who made assloads of money doing something real godly, would put his hands on my shoulders and gently kiss my neck and whisper that I was truly the wife of his dreams and no other even came close to me.

Yes, I would enjoy those moments that made me feel so superior to everybody else. I would brag about it, discreetly, a constant, charming smile on my face, my beautiful hair naturally falling perfectly on my shoulders, my dress so polished and modern. My beautiful husband and kids, my beautiful self, my beautiful home. Oh everything would be beauty. And I would walk past the other P/QF trailer trash and show them that if you REALLY had God in your life, you could be the same. No, they weren’t as godly as I was. They weren’t. I was the true picture of what God did for his followers. Yes, I was better. Better than all of them. I was more sacred, had more godly beauty, more blessed. And they would know, and they’d crawl back into their messy holes and beg God for forgiveness for whatever they had done to deserve less than me.

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Thinking back, this makes me despise myself. I always dreamed to be one of those women. You know them, they are in every church. Except, back then, I was the trailer trash girl, crawling back into her hole and into her messy life, wondering why God didn’t give us the money and space we needed, why it was always too much for us to do, why, no matter how hard we tried, we could never have the fancy china and the old books and the crafty ideas.

I was filled up with rage because God didn’t keep his promise. And then we were there, left in the dark, looking at those polished lives of the woman who were truly graceful and blessed.

We were the ones envying gardens and staring at the beautiful kitchens. We were the ones to be gifted that strawberry-vanilla-lemon jelly, with a pitying smile and a “I got more than we can eat!”, or that tomato relish, with a wink and a “A big, ripe, red apple is the secret ingredient!”.

I was the one of the sideline, knowing that they were better, and hoping that I’d join them one day.

It’s not just purity that’s turned into a contest. It’s all of it. Who’s the purest, who has the most godly, most proverbs-31 house with the beautiful stuff in it, who has the best husband, who has most blessings from god.

I was despicable. I’m happy I’m out of that pressure. I don’t have to despise anybody anymore – not the poor P/QF families who think that they don’t need all that stuff to be happy (but actually, they do), not the families who can boast with their blessings of beauty and craftiness and tidiness. I pity them, even. Because both sides are never satisfied. Both sides are striving to show everybody what God can do by hoarding up blessings, both in form of children and of possessions. They think they are beyond materialism, but they aren’t. In fact, they sell it as “Godly, beautiful, set apart feminine lifestyle”.

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As I am writing this, I’m sitting on my made bed, covered  in h&m sheets (I love them!), a room filled with stuff that was gifted to me, that I fixed up. That doesn’t quite fit, is always a little off. Now, I will go into my old but homely kitchen, take two cups out of the shelf – two different looking ones, because we do not have two cups of the same design on that shelf – and make a cup of coffee with my good old-fashioned coffee machine. One for me, one for my roommate. And then, who knows. Maybe we’ll just go shopping. Because, fortunately, we do not have a garden to harvest, jellies to cook, or cookies to bake. No, we are free of all those pressures – at least for today.

I hear the new cafe has amazing cookies. Maybe we’ll try those.

Cross-posted from the blog Broken Daughters

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

Open comments below

About Suzanne Calulu
  • amie

    This reminds me of being told as a single young women in my 20s that if I didn’t take up “crafting”, I would never find a husband. Because in the view of the women I worked with at Christian school, all men have an intense need for handmade scrapbooks, doilies, and cross stitch whatevers filling up their homes. Oddly enough, my husband has yet to indicate a desire for any such thing.

  • Carol

    My childhood home was really nice. My parents still live there, it’s stunning now, very elegant, the picture of perfection, thanks to a decorator. Of course, the reality was much, much worse.

    Now my house is full of mismatched furniture, the couches are purchased for their napping quality and there is just something about my house that makes everyone just fall asleep. My dog has smooshed a cushion on one of my couches by sleeping on it but no one cares. They love the dog way more than the couch. Speaking of napping, she’s sacked out on there right now.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever read this book: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/98718.The_Ladies_Auxiliary

    It’s got a similar theme, of competition among the observant women, but set in an Orthodox Jewish setting. I read this a long time ago, but I still think about it occasionally. There was one particularly amusing scene where … well, I won’t say, but an equivalent type story is this:

    My mother has an observant friend who she ran into eating in a restaurant. The friend asked if my mother wanted to take her leftover PORK CHOP home because she kept a KOSHER HOME. But eating out, well… that doesn’t count.

    Unrelated. But pretty funny. I think you’d find the book interesting.

  • Jenny Islander

    I knew a woman once who was determined to be a good wife in order to “make up for” long years of singleness. So she got up early to fix a huge breakfast with all the trimmings for her husband every single day, and then spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, every single day. And then she got mad at herself for being hot, tired, and disheveled, every single day. Because a good wife would be just like the ladies in the pictures in her mom’s old cookbooks, wearing pearls and couture knockoffs and heels while they leaned over the stove, and always perfectly coiffed and smiling.

    It took him months to get up the courage to tell her that huge breakfasts gave him heartburn and all he really liked in the morning was hot or cold cereal with a piece of fruit, and maybe some toast.

  • Jenny Islander

    Something else: IME the ladies with the tons of kids but the tidy and pretty homes and the tea parties were able to sit around chatting about their blessings because the blessings were all out of sight, working their little butts off elsewhere in the house at jobs that used to be paid employment for maids and such. Or else they were practicing sitting still and being very quiet (shudder).

  • Nancy B

    You’re such a gifted writer!!

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

    This was so well-written, so pithy and wise and funny! I quoted it on my blog.

    http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2012/09/why-do-people-drink-koolaid.html


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