If it’s Thursday, it must be Dyson day. Actually I don’t have a Dyson and only a vague idea of its merits, but I have a good friend who does…and I just like the ring of it.
The other day another friend and I were talking about division of labor, as in which spouse does what when it comes to domestic chores. This is a touchy subject in many households, and I remember buying a copy of The Second Shift at a garage sale eons ago.
This is from the product description on Amazon:
“Fifteen years after its first publication, The Second Shift remains just as important and relevant today as it did then. As the majority of women entered the workforce, sociologist and Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild was one of the first to talk about what really happens in dual-career households. Many people were amazed to find that women still did the majority of childcare and housework even though they also worked outside the home. Now, in this updated edition with a new introduction from the author, we discover how much things have, or have not, changed for women today.”
I’m a lucky woman. My husband took over all the cooking when he was diagnosed with diabetes more than a decade ago. But his culinary roots go deeper. He learned to cook over a campfire in Boy Scouts, worked in food service in high school, and ran a vegetarian on-campus restaurant during his senior year of college. He likes to cook; I don’t. Washing a pile of pots and pans stacked to the ceiling is far more appealing to me than dicing, slicing, and trying to get dishes to come out at the same time.
What’s more, I enjoy cleaning. Scrubbing toilets or dusting woodwork is my idea of relaxing. I know I’m an aberration, and I didn’t always feel this way.
Growing up, Saturdays meant chore day. My sister, Joan, and I took turns cleaning bathrooms or dusting and vacuuming. When they got older, my brothers joined the ‘fun.’ Joan and I also alternated doing dishes after dinner each night. She got odd nights; I was in charge on even nights. I can still hear her complaining there were more ‘odd’ days in the calendar than ‘even’ ones. We did get our birthdays off.
My siblings and I had it much better than my mom and her brother and sister did. My grandmother made each one of them dust the same pieces of furniture. Grandma Rock never got up and made breakfast for them either on school days, preferring to sleep in. My mom made breakfast for us every morning. Now it wasn’t until I was married that I knew oatmeal could be creamy and not lumpy (love you, mom!), but while growing up my mom’s younger sister got up before school and cooked breakfast.
My husband’s mom had a cleaning woman when she went back to teaching in her mid-40s, but my spouse and his older brother (big sister in college already; surprise baby sister too little) had to keep their rooms clean, do their own laundry during the week, and cook one meal a week. On my father-in-law’s night to cook, he took the family out to eat.
When my mom started writing romances full-time, my school administrator father started vacuuming and doing other domestic duties. He was always neat to a fault, sometimes tossing mail before my mom could even see it. And my mother is an organizer extraordinaire.
I grapple with organization, having married a man who leaves a ‘snail trail’ of paper. On the other hand, I can safely say I’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving turkey, which means I’ve never poisoned anyone.
I’m embarrassed to admit my own children never had the chore list my siblings and I did. Conversely, my sons did and do keep their rooms clean, their schoolwork organized, and their activities scheduled.
When people ask how I write with my mother, I always say it’s a symbiotic relationship. The same holds true for housework. I scrub toilets and sinks, my husband cleans the showers and tub, my mom folds laundry (a chore I find particularly odious).
We don’t keep a chart where we write down who does what. There’s just an ebb and flow of domesticity that usually works. My mom loathes dusting; I adore banishing those particles. If I were single, I’d eat cereal for dinner every single night. Seriously. My husband is color blind; I do the laundry.
Sometimes the system breaks down but not for long. And sometimes turning a blind eye to a floor that needs mopping just means it will look that much better when it finally does get cleaned.
All the time I’m glad Cheerios aren’t my usual dinner fare.