Like many people, my husband and I have our favorite television shows. One of these has been The Good Wife, a series that recently aired its final episode. Great writing, strong characters, and a peek inside law firm culture made this show a top pick on our after-dinner list.
Our complaint about the show—and it’s a complaint that could easily be leveled at many a drama—was that it stuck to the domestic niceties and flourishes of a privileged life, a life that doesn’t exist for most women (and men, for that matter).
“Where are the kids?” my husband queried as the main character, Alicia, wined and dined at an afterhours cocktail party in a swanky Chicago restaurant while we munched on popcorn in our bed. Inevitably, Alicia’s kids would pop in for college graduations, but they were rarely home when Alicia was nursing her wine after a long day of work. No drop-offs and pick-ups, no scenes of Alicia chopping and frying onions or swiping flour on her pants, just the rare cheery moment when Alicia took out a frozen pizza to pop into her stainless steel, chef-grade oven (while her love interest looked on adoringly). Surely they can’t eat pizza every night, I remember thinking.
Of course, television is made for entertainment—focusing on the glamorous and the aspirational is part of the trope. But in a show like The Good Wife, in which the creators went to great lengths to create a sense of realism under the archetype of a woman coming into her own, it was difficult to see any semblance of my own life.
“Who is cleaning her immaculate house?” I mumbled more than once—although I knew Alicia’s privileged life and 24/7 schedule necessitated help on the domestic upkeep front.
I wonder if part of the problem is that the hours I spend cleaning and organizing my house make me wonder if I’m contributing to the world—if I matter at all. When you see very little reflection of your life on the screen, it can be dispiriting. My life is far from glamorous.
That being said, I am grateful for many women’s lives and main characters onscreen for my daughter. Do I want to go back to television that limits the view of women to 1950s housewives baking bread? Hardly. But while Alicia was brokering high-powered deals and “coming into her own,” I was trying to scrape the acrylic paint “art project” off the already destroyed dining room table. While Alicia was sitting at a bar taking shots of liquor, I was wiping the sink drain of a few squishy tomato bits.
In doing all these things, I’m engaged in the daily rhythms—the quotidian necessities—that make other peoples’ lives, namely my family’s, possible. And this is where the ministry of cleaning up comes in: the daily rituals and routines that make it possible for my husband to come home late after a long day to beef stew on the table and the humble toilet cleaning that provides my children a clean place to go to the bathroom. Glamorous these concerns are not. Important? Yes.
One of my struggles in these humble endeavors is to see the spiritual backdrop to replacing the two-ply toilet paper. Again? I think, more than once a day.
Kathleen Norris wrote a beautiful little book that addresses this, titled The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work. In it she writes, “Ironically, it seems that it is by the means of seemingly perfunctory daily rituals and routines that we enhance the personal relationships that nourish and sustain us.”
This is true for me. If there is anything my life is full of, it is relationships. Particularly the relationships in my family. We are constantly encircling one another in a dance of needs and the physical fulfillment of those needs, and I am a key part of that—perhaps even the center of the domestic sphere. I’m necessary.
Consider the book of Leviticus. It is one of those texts in the Bible most people find difficult to read. With lists that include daily rituals and laws that had to do with daily living thousands of years ago, it can seem archaic. But unlike The Good Wife, it seems, God is intimately concerned with the cleaning and the cooking, the toilet paper and the drains. As Kathleen Norris writes,
Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous attention to detail in the book of Leviticus, involving God in the minutiae of daily life—all the cooking and cleaning of a people’s domestic life—might be revisioned as the very love of God. A God who cares so much as to desire to be present to us in everything we do.
I love the word minutiae and the evocation of God that comes about from Norris’s comment. This is a God who is present in everything we do—especially, and perhaps particularly—in the laundry and the toilets, the onion chopping and the school pick-ups. So much so, that an entire book of the Bible is devoted to them. Next time I’m stacking another load of laundry on my couch, I’ll remember that God thinks this is just as important, if not more, than a dinner with clients at a five-star venue.