Dividends of Labour
I don't agree with much the Catholic Church does, but I do think they're onto a winner with their mandatory pre-marriage education and counseling course. We'd already been married eight years by the time we took the class, so the horse had well and truly bolted at that point, but I think it would have been quite helpful. The course makes you think about things like your family of origin (their phrase, not mine) and how your experiences have set up your expectations about marriage and family life.
Before my parents were married, my dad's mother took my mother aside to impart some very important information. "He knows how to use a washing machine and how to clean a bathroom. Don't let him tell you any different." As a result, my dad has always cleaned the bathroom and done the laundry. My mother cooked and ran the household, but my family of origin model included the man helping out (and in two of the least favourite areas.)
While my life experiences set me up to believe that the husband did an equal amount (or at least close to an equal amount) of housework, Peter's life experience was pretty much completely the opposite. His parents are quite a bit older than mine and they grew up in a completely different world. Peter's mom once told me that Tom had never changed a nappie, not with any of their four children. Housework was the woman's domain and having a job was the man's contribution. A woman might work outside the home as Noirin did, as a teacher, but that was a fairly new development.
When Peter and I were first married, we struggled with issues like the division of household labour. The pattern we fell into is that the place would get clean and then, like the House of Usher, it would inexorably deteriorate into chaos. We'd get it clean and then repeat the pattern. Peter's grand plan was to outsource the cleaning duties, but I was never comfortable with that. I was, however, completely comfortable with outsourcing the laundry, as I hated folding it and found the apartment's laundry room a little creepy.
So we've muddled along throughout our marriage, making things up as we went along. It works out pretty well. The big rule is dinner - whoever doesn't cook, cleans up. I've grown into a pretty good cook and Peter is a champion kitchen tidier. We both take responsibilities for tidying up and keeping the place ticking over in a decent state. Every few months, I go crazy and end up scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush.
However, we had two trouble zones - the laundry and the kitchen floor. We both hate folding laundry and for just having two of us in this household, we seem to produce an obscene amount of laundry. Maybe that's just my perception of it, because our washer is so small. When I was visiting Cleveland, I put what would have been a bursting load of laundry for us into my parents' washing machine and it didn't even amount to half a load.
The kitchen floor....well....it never looks clean. It doesn't matter how hard you work on it, it consists of some kind of off-white stone tile with a surface that's full of grooves and ridges, which act as dirt collectors. Add a big shaggy dog and a yearly rainfall that's measured in feet and, well, you have a constantly filthy kitchen floor. I once spent hours cleaning the floor with a toothbrush and a squeegee and it didn't even look clean after that.
I grew to hate the kitchen floor with a viciousness that seemed a little ridiculous, given that it's an inanimate object with no ill intentions toward me. The laundry occasionally piling up was an annoyance. The kitchen floor was a nemesis. Especially given the fact that Peter has students coming to the house regularly, so it needs to look presentable.
One evening this summer, all the frustration came to a boil. Peter had done laundry, but had forgotten to move it from the washer to the dryer. I had noted that he'd forgotten about it, but was curious to see how long it would take him to remember. The next day, he went to put more laundry in and found the washed load, damp and not exactly smelling fresh.
We had a discussion about the laundry, about how we both hated doing it, about what we could do to solve the problem. I offered Peter a deal - if he took full and complete responsibility for the kitchen floor (both sweeping and mopping), I would take full and complete responsibility for all of the laundry, including folding. He pondered the option, considered it, and raised an issue. What if he was really busy and wouldn't have a chance to do it before a workshop?
Easy, I told him, in that case, I'd do it for him, for the bargain price of just 20 euro. I figured it was a fair price - high enough that he'd think carefully about asking me to do it, yet low enough to be affordable.
This deal has been in place for a few months now and it's worked out quite well. Peter's been excellent about keeping up with the floor (it cracks me up when he says 'Look at my floor? What happened to my nice, clean floor') I don't mind doing the laundry, since it means that I no longer have the floor nemesis. I've been able to completely shut off how I feel about the floor. It's Not My Problem anymore. I'm only 20 euro richer so far, but I am so much more relaxed and happier. It was our perfect solution to our problem.