By Amanda Allen
I suppose I was impatient, or perhaps we can blame it on nesting, but I put together most of our baby furniture by myself. The crib was wrestled into place while my husband was at work, as were the short bookshelf, both of the tall bookshelves, the china cabinet, and his desk. I really enjoy putting together flat-packed puzzles, and rejoice in the clean Scandinavian lines of the finished pieces. However, a lady well into her second trimester should really not be grappling with the upper section of a china cabinet all by her lonesome, no matter how Swedish the furniture, or how brave and strong the pregnant lady. I never did anything dangerous, just unnecessary and a bit dumb. Sure, it was empowering, but some things are meant to be done by two people; the cartoon man in the instruction booklets told me so, and he was right about everything else.
I’ve never been much of a feminist, and if my education taught me anything it was the extreme importance of the traditional family, but the one great lie I swallowed was the superiority of the Do-It-Yourself life. In high school, and in my first year of college, I assumed that I would get through school, then work and live “on my own” for a few years before getting married and starting a family. I thought I needed to prove myself, through some arbitrary series of tests or obstacles, before my opinions and experiences would be legitimate. I thought I had to brave the great unknown alone, and earn my way back to real life with stories and scars. Apparently I needed to be a pirate, but not even that, because an individual pirate is part of a ship’s crew. According to my model, I would have been alone in a rowboat. A rowboat I built myself. Probably purchased from Ikea. I would have been one lonely Viking.
This is an unreasonable picture of single life, as my unmarried peers can attest. No one really lives on their own, or works on their own, or goes to church on their own, and our value as individuals does not depend on our ability to function in a vacuum. Had my path run otherwise, I would be living with my parents or with roommates. I would have co-workers and friends and neighbors. I would be learning different lessons, but I would not be any more or less a whole person. Trials we call down on ourselves because of pride win us no prizes, whether married or single, working outside of the home or in it. My sad little DIY fiction was based on the idea that what I really wanted to do, get married and have a family, was not enough of a challenge, simply by virtue of being what I most wanted to do. It doesn’t mean that I’m not good at other things, that I couldn’t have survived “on my own,” but why should I have to? My godmother once said that one of the nicest things about getting married young was not having to make all the tricky life decisions by yourself. You still have to make them, though, there’s no getting out of that.
My little family moved recently, back to the town where my husband and I went to college, and it feels like cheating. This town has its troubles, but it is home. We know people here, we like the smell and feel of the place. We arrived and emptied the moving truck into the living room, and then began sorting and re-assembling our life. My cousin helped me put the baby’s furniture back together, and it took less than half as long as when I did it alone. No, I didn’t get to rig up a clever system for holding up the other end of the crib pieces while I tightened bolts, but cousins are more interesting than chairs and stacks of magazines anyway. You can talk to them, and when you’re done you can go for a walk, or get a cup of coffee.
There is no “inauthentic” life experience, I’m not cheating or taking the easy way out by continuing as part of a community I joined, rather than one I founded. I’m not cheating by staying at home with my baby, writing, creating, praying, feeding my family. The work of life is hard, but it is for people I love, in a place I love, and that makes it more, not less, real. I can buy my furniture flat-packed and efficient, and I can put it together alone when I’m feeling stubborn, but I can’t approach life this way. The pieces are too big.
Amanda Allen is a wife/mother/artist/Orthodox Christian living in Hillsdale, Michigan, recently returned from exile in Ohio. She can be found at maroonish.tumblr.com and her blog archives are here. If you visit her, she'll make you soup or knit you something, or possibly both.