Last night I read part of my grandmother’s family’s history. I didn’t read for long, but I did take in what so many of my relatives did to make money, to take care of themselves and their families. They farmed, delivered mail, became police officers, teachers and nurses. And many of them did laundry for other people. So many of them washed clothes by hand. For money. For not much money. For enough money to buy what they needed to take care of themselves and their families.
It’s a stark contrast to think of those days compared to these days. How people of my social class seek meaningful work that pays well. Or work that pays well. Or who knows what work everyone else within my same social strata seeks. I just know that I have done battle with the idea of work for a long time. Perhaps because much of the work I have done these last 17 years is unpaid: for my lovely daughters. That complicated things in this world that doesn’t quite uplift the work of caring for children.
But reading family history brought the whole idea of taking care of each other up close to me. Or maybe it’s that I’ve begun looking at colleges with my oldest daughter. OMG. Don’t look at how much college costs if you want to sleep at night. Especially if somehow paying for college in advance has been part of your budget.
Life is such a complicated stew. But pour into that stew wanting the very best for someone else. College. Taking care of our children while taking care of ourselves; our work needs are complicated. My work needs have so often been about feeding the writer in me. Or feeding the schedule that needed to make room for a child that needed me to be with her a lot. These last few years, though, everything is changing. Work is changing for me as I am needed less by my children. Work is changing for me as I think about college costs and retirement and what I want to spend my time on.
And all this thought is a relative luxury in comparison to the lives my ancestors lived. They did other people’s laundry. They were teachers and nurses and mailmen and police officers and farmers. They moved when it didn’t rain enough. Left the farm behind when farming no longer made them enough money to live on. They moved to the city and took on new skill sets.
Not like me. But like me. New skill sets. I’m taking on new skill sets lately. Change feels good, I must admit. Reading about the work my ancestors did helped, too. It’s a relative luxury to break down boxes at two new workplaces in my life. Although there’s plenty of laundry to do right now: this evening after dinner is made. Unpaid work that feels pretty good to me right now.