Saturday, June 5, 2010

Housework. Meh.

I grew up the oldest girl of six.  My husband grew up the only child of a single mother.  We're both used to being in charge.  But I expect chaos and for things to rarely go according to plan.  He expects plans to be followed, and timelines to be adhered to.

We've been married almost a decade now, and the way it mostly works is that we split things up.  I'm in charge of certain things; I do them my way.  He's in charge of other things; he does them his way.  When he offers to help me, I know that I shouldn't accept the help unless I'm willing to let go of the way I want them done.  Micromanaging doesn't work for me, and being micromanaged doesn't work for him.

I don't offer to help him unless I'm willing to be what we quite openly call "little slave".  He doesn't want help; he wants a robot that he can program to follow precise instructions.  So when I walk into the kitchen and say:  Hey, I don't mind being little slave right now, if you want some help with dinner, he knows he can get the only kind of help he really wants:  I want you to cut these potatoes, but they need to be exactly this big, and it's best if you cut them this way first, and then this way, and you should really use this knife, wait!  Can I just show you first?  Okay, now you try.  Okay, but try holding the potato at this angle before you cut it.  I've found that works best.  Okay, that's pretty good.  I can show you again if you want.

I don't help him very often, but there are those lucky days when the stars align and I don't mind being mercilessly bossed around.

If he's the Kitchen Nazi, I'm the Laundry Tyrant.  I've flatly forbidden him to separate clothes.  My whites turned pink and brand new clothes shrunk down to doll-sized a few times too many, and he's officially off duty.  I can be almost asleep, and if he so much as mentions switching a load over to the dryer, I jump out of bed faster than a fighter jet, and just as furious, racing down to the basement to be sure my perfect piles of whites, darks, brights, warm delicates, cool delicates, towels, baby clothes and other-according-to-tagged-instructions are not disturbed.

The kitchen is his domain; the laundry is mine.  The rest is shared territory, and we both muddle through as best we can.  Occasionally one of us is bitten with the cleaning bug and goes on a whirlwind spree, tossing items back where they belong and mopping floors like guests are arriving imminently.  Once in a great while the mood strikes us both simultaneously, but that's only when guests actually are arriving any minute.  We've both learned not to try and force a high speed cleaning binge on the other party, and not to feel guilty when we see our spouse infected with that fever while we'd prefer to skim a magazine, munching on mixed nuts. 

For the most part, we catch as catch can, and content ourselves with mediocrity.  I'm a big believer in a place for everything, and everything in it's place.  My favorite place for things is the garbage, where I won't ever have to clean them again.  I'm whatever the opposite of a hoarder would be.  A purger?  He's a pack rat with the gift to see potential art in what would otherwise be called trash.  He also likes to keep things like every empty yogurt container and lid to pass through the house for a full year, with only a vague idea that they could be great for storing some unknown items sometime in the fuzzy future.  In the meantime, he keeps them on the kitchen counter, in an ambitious pile with plans to dominate the air space and eventually conquer the ceiling.

It's really a wonder we don't fight about housework more often, but I think we're both afraid to start that argument for fear of the inevitable: pot? meet kettle. kettle? pot. conclusion.  We both have our strengths, and we both have our weaknesses, and while I won't go so far as to say they balance each other perfectly (the living room floor is currently carpeted in books, blocks, and play dough tools and toys to create every doughy letter, number and shape known to man, while we sit content on our computers, writing and playing a video game.  Perfectly balanced would likely mean at least one of us would clean the floor!), they are what they've been for the past decade plus, aren't likely to change, and aren't worth fighting over most of the time.

However, if anyone out there is seeking a treasure trove of empty yogurt containers, complete with lids, I am not above a stealth maneuver whereby I smuggle them out of my house, and send them directly to yours!  And if I pass on prematurely, someone do my husband a favor and introduce him to a nice girl who can cook.  We spent an hour in the kitchen a week or so ago while I learned to brown hamburger meat.  I don't even want to get into the number of misconceptions I apparently harbored about that simple task.  Suffice it to say I prefer a nice trip to the dentist, complete with a cavity filling, to preparing dinner on any given day.  However, I am learning.  And he's learning to make suggestions in a soft, suggestive voice, rather than the tone of a drill sergeant on the tail end of a cocaine binge.

Plus, the toddler will eventually be old enough to clean the house, and isn't that the number one reason anyone has kids?  I know.  The gods are laughing at me now.  And as I look around my living room, it's perfectly clear that kids create far more mess than they can ever help to clean.  But still: one can hope.

After all, if I can brown hamburger meat under the watchful eye of my spouse, and not only do we live to tell the tale, but we sit together, side-by-side enjoying said meat, lacking even the social lubrication of a large bottle of wine to see us through this climbing-Everest-worthy event, I will remain steadfast in my belief that anything is possible.  My boy turns two this summer.  As soon as he's potty trained himself, I'm certain he'll take the initiative to start mopping the hardwood floors.  And the hubs and I can finally begin our long-awaited life of leisure.

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