Thursday, October 25, 2007
great moments in housework
The other night I dreamed that I was working at a car wash and trying to clean all the cars with bicarb and white vinegar. You may be unsurprised to hear that my customers were not happy. Clearly an anxiety dream...and about the housework.
What has become of me?
The housework has piled up around my ears this week because of the rib-and-dignity fracturing incident at Ivy’s birthday party last weekend.
Hepped up on goofballs, and unable to do much but make little yelping noises, I wondered a few things: A) Will ‘Mum, you are soooooooo embarrassing’ actually be Ivy’s first words? B) when you can’t lift, bend or breathe without squawking, how can you clean the house? which leads me to C) when did housework take over my life?
It doesn’t seem so very long ago that I lay in the bath eating chocolate and discussing the 2006 runaway publishing success ‘Speed Cleaning’ with Keith. It features, amongst other tips, how to clean oil paintings with female urine. While the washing up languished in the sink, we discussed the science of housework with interest. I thought we were on the same page until a few days later when Keith commented that maternity leave was going to be great considering that you could, after all, clean the house in 15 minutes a day. Only weeks away from giving birth and facing a profound shift from work-life to domestic life, I looked at him in horror. Was it starting already? That whole man-woman, me-fry-bacon, you-hunt-pig thing? Even from Keith, the man who says the novel The Women’s Room changed his life? Later, he said he was joking, but I was there. We agreed to differ, just like on who dumped who in 2002 (hey! catchy!)
As I write this I’m looking around Keiths office. He is a full-time academic, and spends half his week in this room, which currently houses a desk covered in wooly socks, a pile of bedding from the last time we had people to stay over, an empty cardboard box, an overflowing suitcase, a wet towel, a pile of washing and a pile of shoes. His Canberra office, where I have no jurisdiction, is even worse – last time I went down I puzzled at the collection of thirty or forty orange juice bottles in his in-tray. ‘What?’ he responded defensively. ‘That’s my recycling!’
Since Ivy came along, and I stopped working in order to burn the home fires, there’s been a profound shift in our domestic arrangements. Keith is working harder than ever to keep us stocked in bicarb and vinegar, and I have taken over most of the housework and the care and maintenance of the tiny leader of the opposition.
Housework is a bad profession. It has its small satisfactions – a fresh tea towel, a pile of folded washing, talk-back radio, the gleam of a washed floor, the rewards of a full pantry or a well-cooked meal. Caring for a baby is full of small satisfactions too – games and giggling, watching new connections spark, the warm intimacy of sharing a routine.
However, unless you are one of a set of Mormon wives, or blessed with multiple personalities to keep you company, running a house is a lonely job. When you go about your daily duties, you are on your own. There is no team to support you in tackling a really bad nappy, no supervisor to discuss other ways in which you might have steamed the pumpkin, no drinks at the end of a good week of sorting out the wardrobe.
I used to work as a sex educator. We didn’t eat as well, and the oven never got cleaned, and certainly Keith had to do more of his own washing, but the post-work conversation was much more interesting. ‘Guess why syphilis is on the rise?’ or 'I got a condom stuck during a demonstration on the banana penis today' beats ‘Guess what we’re having for dinner?’ Hands down, every time.
This new relationship dynamic is a work in progress. We are both still working, just the jobs are different. I looked up ‘happy housewife’ on the net and ended up at a site that declared passionately ‘help us take our conservative values to the White House’. My old-school feminist laptop shut down in protest. I am not sure where my templates are. I will never manage to be the 50’s model that freshened her makeup and rehearsed interesting snippets of conversation before her husband came home. (And not about sexually transmitted infections). I do try to make sure the undies that hold back my ponytail are from the clean pile, and aim to get my legs waxed every solstice. I have a supportive and thoughtful partner in Keith, who is navigating with me this new relationship terrain. At the end of the day, we both clock off and share the care of our little one. And when she goes to bed, we will talk about academic politics (for him) and bicarb soda and radio moments (for me). And after that, we will talk about how much my rib hurts.