My husband and I have had a couple of uncomfortable conversations lately about sharing the house with each other 24/7. I'm confidant that my husband loves me, but it still stung when he said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but sometimes it's great when you're gone. Then I can just do what I need to do and I don't need to worry about you."
That's okay, because apparently it stung him when I said, "You should go get an office or something so that you can be away all day until five pm. Then I wouldn't have to worry about the kids making noise or a mess. It could be all put right by the time you got home."
See, my husband works from home, I homeschool three of our kids and write from home. Except for my youngest daughter, no one goes anywhere! That's what it seems like, anyhow.
On the one hand it's nice, but on the other hand...well...let's just say the mystery is gone. I know what my husband does "at work". He knows what I do at home. There's no illusion that he's being the suave, sophisticated suit-wearing professional swimming with the sharks in order to bring home the bacon for his family. Nor is there any illusion that I'm prancing around like Doris Day, fluffing the pillows on his favorite easy chair or readying a martini to hand to him when he gets home.
While we've gained something - a kind of family closeness you probably don't get when everyone's apart all day - we've lost something, too; a little of the pageantry of life.
The day used to have a finish line of a sort; five o'clock. That was the time when the person at home needed to have the house cleaned up, dinner on the stove, the kids' homework and musical instrument practice out of the way, and any guests kicked out. The person at work could expect to come home, take a load off, read the paper for fifteen minutes (the kids carefully coached to leave dad alone for at least that long) while dinner finished cooking, its aroma building up his appetite and reminding him to switch gears from office paranoia to home relaxation.
While there was still the clean-up and bedtime routines to perform, kids knew that their monopoly on Mom's attention was over; now that Dad was home he got first dibs. They could expect to be told to get their stuff ready for school tomorrow, take a bath, finish your homework, and if they were lucky, "yes, you can go outside a little longer." They didn't expect to be shuttled to another activity or for Mom to help them produce a power-point presentation for history class.
The grown-ups of the household had an evening to share and wind down with; some time to themselves before going to bed and getting up to another workday. Modern life has obscured all those boundaries and I don't know how to get them back. Honestly, if no one's going to come home at five o'clock and admire my clean house...why bother to clean it? As for the 5 o'clock whistle ending the workday? Forget it. Both my husband and I often work well into the night. And weekends. And weekend nights....
I don't really have the answer for all this, but I wish I did. I think I need to start scheduling my days as if no one else was here. I guess I need to work toward that five o'clock deadline even if no one leaves home, making a reasonable to-do list, getting it done and then stopping.
Maybe what I really need to do is to look way back in history - back to the days when more families spent their days together (on farms, etc.) than apart. Maybe they have something to teach us about how they preserved their boundaries while spending all their time together. I'm going to have to think about that.