1. to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden.
2. to move or go in a specified manner with ineffective action or little energy or purpose: to putter about the house on a rainy day.
I have reason to hesitate in extolling the virtues of a mother’s seemingly purposeless activity around the home. Housework was considered “ineffective” when I was growing up – when our culture discouraged women from working solely for the comfort of their families. With today’s post-feminist moms it’s much more controversial.
The two basic pillars of my argument for what was puttering in the ’80′s have revealed themselves by way of deprivation. After ten years of being what some marketers call a “WAHMie.” (work-at-home mom) and bragging that I was so busy with volunteering, nurturing my child and freelance magazine work that I never once lay at home and ate bon bons, I decided to go back to work full time on site at the local newspaper/multi-media outlet.
I was quick to point out how I’d never been a housewife on the couch. The couch was the domain of my husband who had worked in construction all week and done home improvements all weekend, and my daughter who had become increasingly addicted to carefully monitored children’s TV, game and internet consumption even as her amount of homework was blossoming. No, as a stay-home mom I was ever on the move, around and around, touching base at laundry, kitchen and bedrooms, “keeping house.”
I’d learned from my own mom to call this puttering. And Mom has a great vocabulary – she was once going to be an English teacher (before keeping house for a family of five took over). Picking up after a man and children that are used to it can certainly seem, I’ve recently learned, quite ineffective. So I believe Mom used the term accurately.
These are my two main discoveries, however, about a house where a mom putters:
1. You can see the evidence of her attention everywhere you go. She’s touched each spoon and sock with her loving care. The sense of her presence is in everything and permeates your environment on a spiritual level.
2. She knows where anything is. Just ask Mom in a pinch if you have trouble finding it. In fact, don’t even take trouble to find it! She keeps masterful control. It’s all within her seemingly omnipotent reach. Her continual rounds keep close tabs on each and every occupant and item great and small.
When she’s gone all day things lose their luster, and the mommy fairy dust disappears from places she now neglects to peruse. The toothbrush holder is not aligned just so with the sink. The cordless phones are out of their stations. Dust settles around knick knacks that aren’t thoughtfully reordered on shelves from time to time.
Sure, the dishes and laundry get done before she guiltily collapses on the couch (or straight into bed). Every creature has at least been fed. But the throw pillows aren’t carefully ordered into proper array. The blinds may stay closed all day.
Once moms get other, out-of-home jobs it’s the loving, attentive tidiness that falls first. Those tasks never really made it to the essential “to-do” list for moms anyway. But I posit that Mom’s puttering presence was certainly a virtue, if one that’s still of questionable value in society. It’s something a cleaning lady can never replace.