Saturday, October 29, 2011

Doing the dirty work

This is not me
My daughter is not a milk-drinker. To ensure she gets at least the tiniest bit of calcium in her diet, she has a yogurt smoothie with dinner every night, and no, it is not a nutritious, organic, low-sugar smoothie, it’s a Dannon™ danimals smoothie and it’s probably chock full o’ sugar but we are not discussing my abilities to properly nourish my child right now. What are we discussing? I’m getting to that… My daughter is not careful, is somewhat jerky in her movements and not terribly aware of where her body is, so when the smoothie was knocked off the table the other day, it did not come as much of a surprise. Fortunately, Carson, our dog, also likes smoothie so he helped clean it up (No, Carson, don’t put your paws in the spilled smoothie, tip toe around the spill and lap it up from the edges inward. Nobody listens to me around here.) I willingly crawled around under the table with a wet, soapy rag, repeatedly wiping up the spill and the subsequent spill residue and the spill splatters that landed several feet away, all the while wondering if my husband would find it humorous if I asked him, “hey, does my butt look big when I crawl around on the floor wiping it with a rag like this?” (FYI, the answer is no, it would barely elicit even a chuckle.)

Not many moments later, Martha spilled a glass of water in virtually the same spot on the floor where the smoothie had just been, thereby reassuring me that all remaining stickiness from the sugar-laden, strawberry yogurt would be rinsed away from the floor. How handy. It was all I could do at that instant not to declare that it was my husband’s turn to wipe up the spill, that I had already expended my daily allowance of floor-wiping on hands and knees. I decided instead to just be an adult and wipe it up myself. Wait, did I say adult? I meant to say martyr. No – adult, I definitely meant adult.

Because not everything comes out even-steven when it comes to parenting, managing a household, caring for a dog, and earning a living, right? Right?? I mean, I’m not sure where exactly I fall in my feminist beliefs but I am pretty sure that you just can’t equate full-time, salaried, out-of-the-home employment with stay-at-home parenting. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, if you will pardon the tired phrasing. Or, it’s like comparing a filet mignon to a spam sandwich, if you will not. You can’t equate mowing the lawn with cooking dinner. You can’t equate cleaning the bathroom every week with cleaning your child’s tushie throughout several years of un-potty-trained evacuation. So how do couples achieve a division of labor in their household that feels fair and just and tolerable and not provocative of a midnight escape to an undisclosed location?

I don’t know. I’m still studying the map, myself. When my husband and I were just boyfriend and I and we had moved into our first apartment together we only established one rule of labor-sharing that remains in place. Actually, to say we established it is maybe a stretch because I can’t recall the concrete discussion. In my mind, it just happened. Regardless of who actually prepared the dinner, every other night is your turn to clean up the kitchen. We have never wavered from this schedule, except for a few weeks after our daughter was born when I was incapable of doing anything other than holding a baby, crying and producing excessive amounts of breast milk. It was a joy to finally get back to cleaning the kitchen. OK, that’s a total lie, I loathe washing dishes, but it did imply a small degree of normalcy when I was able to get back on the schedule.

Other than this, however, there are no rules at our house about who does what. A few weekends back I spent an hour moving piles of bricks from our old front walk while my husband cooked dinner and I like the fact that this is fairly standard that I do dirty yard work while he slaves away over the hot stove. I’m not a good cook. He is more proactive at keeping the bathtub clean while I am the constant picker-upper-of-crap that accumulates daily and without my work in this area I’m pretty sure our family would end up on an episode of Hoarders before too long. Laundry is done on a strictly first-come-first-served basis. As in, whoever wants clean underwear badly enough gets to start the Sunday laundry operation. Often my husband will start a chore just to quiet my complaining. I’m not sure if that amounts to consideration on his part or simply fear. Whatever, the kitchen floor gets cleaned.

But there are so many other tasks that just can’t be divided equally. His realm is the dog, my realm is the child. Equal? Not really. But I am still grateful it is not me getting up at 5:00am in January to walk the dog seven days/week. He earns the cash-mo, I pay the bills (and probably spend the majority of the cash, but more often on toilet paper and laundry detergent than a cute, new pair of shoes). Can a dollar value be attached to the attention I give our daughter? I doubt it. When it comes to duties like this in a marriage, it’s best not to try to draw a line and balance everything out. I sometimes think my husband is more fortunate than he realizes because he has a job to go to where he interacts constantly with intelligent, interesting people and I have a job where I talk to the dog or myself all day. I am not a scintillating conversationalist. He has a job where he has to get up at 5:00am Monday through Friday and I have a job where I can take a nap in the middle of the day if I want to (this has happened only once or twice). Who has the better job?

Is it all my quiet time that makes me contemplate this simply in response to spilled smoothie? Could be. There are many ways to organize a life and even more ways to obsess over the organization and fret about whether one has discovered the correct way. When my daughter was an infant and I was fairly depressed all the time, lots of people would tell me encouraging stories or offer bits of advice but my sister, Cindi, gave me a more honest perspective, which may have helped only marginally but has always stuck with me as a brilliant statement. She said to me, “if you ask me, all parents of small children are depressed. You’ll be happy again when they grow up.” Ha ha, I’m sure that strikes no one as hilarious but I like it anyway. Parenting is hard. Marriage is hard. Dog ownership is a lot of work, not quite as hard as parenting. Managing the household is hard, as well as a giant pain-in-the-ass, but undoubtedly much more pleasant than homelessness. I’m just keeping my chin up here and hoping yours is, too.

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