On the window sill in the kitchen of my parents’ home there sits a small, unassuming frame that boasts a single statement in simple lettering: “work is love made visible.” It’s been in the house for as long as I can remember, and in the house before that, probably since before I was even born. It has its origins in a poem, I think, but I don’t need that context to understand what it means, because I know my mom, and I know she put it there.

My spouse and I have wanted to become cat owners for years now, and only recently has this begun to look like a possibility. One of my concerns about it, though, is how much extra work it might add to my day. In the last few years, I’ve already felt like my hands are full enough trying to balance the tasks of adulthood with the rest of my life: cooking, cleaning, laundry, and various household chores—plus the less frequent, more annoying tasks like managing insurance or getting my car repaired. Much of my time is already devoted to my marriage, my job, my hobbies, and my social life, such that adding the care of a cat to the mix seems like a potentially precarious commitment. I want to be a good cat owner, too, so it’s not a commitment I take lightly.

The ongoing task of choosing how to spend your time in order to accomplish everything that must be accomplished, including relaxing here and there so you don’t spontaneously combust, might be the defining struggle of a person in their twenties. In all likelihood, the same is true for someone in their thirties, or in their forties, or even in their fifties. Maybe it gets a little easier once you retire. Probably not. But in your twenties, you’re doing a lot of things for the first time, which doesn’t help the situation.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that some of my closest friends from high school are already having children, which seem to require a great deal more work than a cat, not to mention a lot more money. Personally, I feel incredibly fortunate that the sum of everything I’m trying to balance feels—on my better days—somewhat manageable, even though I’ve certainly let some things fall by the wayside. But I cannot imagine adding in an entire child, let alone two or even three children.

And yet, this is exactly what my parents did. In addition to sustaining an impressive career as a writer and professor, my mother also bore and raised three wonderful (if I may be so bold) children, and managed to find time to do laundry, cook meals, and accomplish a thousand other miscellaneous yet crucial domestic tasks—all alongside my dad, of course.

When I think of that little phrase on the kitchen window sill, this is the work that comes to mind. Not the work that earns money, or even the relentless emotional labor of child-rearing, but the quiet, unassuming work of care and upkeep, my mother’s profound love for me made visible in a packed lunch, or a neatly made bed, or a refill of hand soap.

In the last few years, I’ve had to start doing these things for myself, and it’s made it abundantly clear that I was not proportionally grateful for this work, basically ever. I can hardly imagine the cost—in heart, mind, and body—of being a parent and trying to live the rest of your life at the same time. I don’t think it would be possible for me to repay my mom for so many years of managing a constant, impossibly large workload.

And yet, gracious as she ever is, I’m sure she would say there’s no need. She loves me, and it’s as simple as that.

1 Comment

  1. Ansley Kelly

    Gosh this is just perfect. Thank you for sharing.


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