After several weeks of homemaking and home-schooling, I felt more like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a hill just to watch it roll down again, every day. I was running myself ragged just so that my house looked photo-shoot ready. Was I to tell my kids to stop being kids, to throw away all their craft projects, to hide their Luna moth kit, to stop getting dirty outside so that I’d have less cleaning and laundry to do?
At some point it occurred to me that I might be going about this homemaker thing all wrong. Maybe instead of thinking of my new role as housewife, I should have been thinking of myself as a prepper. And instead of embracing my inner Mad Max, I could channel my own mother and grandmother, and a bit of Survival Mom — to be a nurturing, resourceful and resilient homemaker ready for anything. If Mad Max is the yang of prep — the masculine, overt energy — then I wanted to tap into the yin of prep, the earthy, feminine energy. The yin of prep is about extending your network of neighbors and friends to build resilience in your household, your neighborhood and your community. The seemingly opposite forces contained in the yin-yang symbol are actually complementary. The pandemic shone a bright light on the fact that homemaking decisions and work reflect core values — and for me, they have nothing to do with matching linens or seasonal floral displays.
We live on a small island off the coast of Maine and are connected to the mainland by a ferry service that offers a tenuous lifeline to Portland. An extended power outage or hurricane or, heaven forbid, a continuing pandemic would really test our resilience. And so we are using this time with our children not for standardized test prep but to hone more practical skills — cooking, cleaning, how to start a campfire. We offer homemade chicken soup to sick neighbors. We talk about migrating birds and resourceful chipmunks as natural lessons in resilience. We got walkie-talkies that our older son uses when he goes off to hunt for tadpoles. He may not realize it, but he is learning to navigate on his own and practice radio communications discipline — skills we would like him to have in case of emergency.
I’m learning how to fix things rather than purchase them. I’m keeping a stockpile of food that our family has in case of emergency and can share with other people who know how to fix things. We are learning basic first aid. Andy rescued a couple of broken chain saws and now has them running — we will always have firewood if we need it. We have a garden, which I call our Freedom Garden. Next spring, if the dogs allow, we will have chickens, then perhaps bees.
I view all this as a form of activism and preparedness. It’s activism because I’m avoiding the consumerist treadmill and building my matriarchal clout. As I realized that my ideas of homemaking were evolving, I also realized that prepping, for me, meant feeling more connected to my neighbors, not less connected. I know that in case of emergency, there are a dozen other moms (whose ages range across many decades) I can call who will gladly help out. And I would do the same for them.
I’m doing this because I’m thinking about the future. I will never have an immaculate home. My kids won’t be doing Model U.N. or tennis camp or playing Fortnite anytime soon. When we are a little feral, and a little scrubby, we see where we fit in nature and how to respect it and how to thrive together as a team. Isn’t that the point of homemaking anyway?
Mira Ptacin is the author of the memoir “Poor Your Soul” and “The In-Betweens: The Spiritualists, Mediums and Legends of Camp Etna.”
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