Wednesday, September 10, 2008

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 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.


At 10 September 2008 at 07:44, OpenID conortje said...

what about ironing? where does that responsibility lie?

At 10 September 2008 at 08:38, Blogger Babaloo said...

This is so funny! We used to have the same division about tidying up after dinner. Whoever didn't cook had to clean up afterwards. Now with the dishwasher it's become a whole lot easier. And with me not having a paid job, I do a lot more of the things around the house. Which is only fair.

I still hate cleaning windows, though. That's Felix' job.

At 10 September 2008 at 14:46, Blogger Kaycie said...

I think we're traditional in a way that some women might find appalling, but it works for us. I take care of the house, the yard and the bills. Hubby works in a job that keeps us in the fashion to which we've become accustomed. Disciplinary duties with the children fall squarely on both of us, with the heavier, uglier things going to hubby and the daily falling to me. Hubby has to teach all three children to drive. To me, that's worth every other thing I do until the end of time.

At 10 September 2008 at 16:36, Blogger Noelle said...

That's kind of great. I wonder if there is a non-Catholic version of that class, I would be totally interested. I was reading something today that said that more people spend time planning their wedding than planning their marriage, and I think that's exactly the problem...

At 10 September 2008 at 21:09, Anonymous Harlequin said...

I actually love doing laundry - maybe because I'm the only person I'm doing it for! And like most people, I wear 10% of my clothes 90% of the time so I'm constantly washing the same work and going out clothes over and over and over. In my old apartment, I had a massive walk-in hot press and plenty of room to dry things and save on dryer usage. In my new place, not so lucky. Everything ends up drying on clothes horses in the sitting room, which I *hate*. And then the real problem arises. I like folding laundry - just sit down in front of the telly and fold away happily. But there's no room for it to be put away. So there is no end to it and no feeling of achievement. Sigh.

My theory on why I like laundry is that it gives me a feeling of control. I've noticed I tend to fold and sort when I'm stressed. Strange.

I hate ironing though. Bleccch.

At 11 September 2008 at 05:35, Blogger -Ann said...

Conortje - No one! I refuse to iron - not for myself, not for anyone. If the rental house hadn't come with an iron, we wouldn't even have access to one.

Babaloo - I don't think I could live without a dishwasher. It just makes everything so much easier.

Kaycie - Do you mow the lawn? I always thought of that as a man-job, probably because my dad and brothers always did it. I didn't touch a lawnmower until I was nearly 30.

Noelle - There really should be, shouldn't there?

Harlequin - There is a nice sense of accomplishment to putting away the laundry. But I still can't get my head around liking folding.

At 11 September 2008 at 06:00, OpenID Primal Sneeze said...

I have a kitchen floor exactly like that. It looked great the first week it was put down - bug chunky grey and white tiles with ridges and unworked patterns - so natural looking.

Now I can spend hours scrubbing on my knees and it still looks dirty. Often because I'm trying to scrub off the brownish streaks in the tile itself.

At 11 September 2008 at 06:12, Blogger -Ann said...

PS - Yeah, at least this is only a rental house. When we get our own house, we know what not to put down as the kitchen floor.


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