Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cleaning up: March 15, 2009

Division of labor is huge issue at my house, as it is at most houses where two people are raising children and working and doing all the associated heavy lifting. The truth is, no one is doing their fair share in that situation because there is significantly more work to do than two people can equitably divide.

So all that, and then you really have to remember to be nice to each other, too. It matters a lot. Which is what I was reminded of as I pulled this column together.

The keys to domestic tranquility are compromise, teamwork and lint rollers

I recently wrote a draft of a column that attempted to find humor in the fact that I am an orderly person in a house full of not-so-orderly people. This column also sought to make light of the fact that I am the only grown-up in my house with a full-time job and that my days are pretty much spent doing nothing but working and cleaning, and unsuccessfully nagging other people to clean.

After I wrote the draft, I asked my husband to read it. He didn't like it. He kind of looked at me. And didn't say anything. That's how he tells me he doesn't like something.

So I put the column away and let it steep for a few weeks. Then I went back and read it again. And I realized that while the column was attempting to be funny, it was actually crackling with seething, furious resentment and was, in fact, scary.

(It's a very fine line I'm walking here, folks.)

Two good things came from this experience (other than the fact that I did not publish that column): I realized how very angry I have been about the insanely bad division-of-labor system we have at my house, and I decided that being angry is a stupid way to spend my precious time.

So. New rules.

The first thing I decided to do is care less if my house is dirty. This is easier said than done. When my house is clean and orderly, I am able to function at a really high level of efficiency and happiness. The birds are singing and my dog is bringing me cold beers and I love everybody.

When my house is dirty and cluttered, my brain hurts. It hurts so very much and I can't see straight and I hate everyone. Even you. But we all know this is some kind of crazy they probably make pills for and has absolutely got to change. I am now working really hard on caring less, and even having some success.

The next thing I decided to do was tell my husband, as nicely as possible, that he needs to get it in gear. Health problems took him out of the workforce a couple of years ago so he devotes himself to part-time woodworking and a lot of child-wrangling. For the most part this has worked out beautifully. But somehow the household grunt work stayed on my to-do list. Not cool.

We talked. It wasn't too bad. He's going to do better, and he doesn't even mind. Much. And his efforts combined with my newly lowered housekeeping standards are going to make this all much more workable.

The third thing I decided to do is get my children, who are 8 and 4, truly involved in cleaning the house. Not just picking up their own vast collection of junk and putting it all away, but really helping with the cleaning. And on a recent Saturday I hit upon two magic bullets: Windex and adhesive lint rollers.

I set my oldest son free with the Windex and paper towels to clean the mirrors and doors (especially the grimy kitchen door that the dog constantly has his nose against). This, for an 8-year-old, was fun, all the spraying and wiping and spraying. And, again, my new lower standards really helped make this project successful.

Then I turned both my kids loose with one sticky lint roller apiece to get all the pet hair off the furniture. Why this hadn't occurred to me before I will never know. They were giddy. Neither of them had ever operated a lint roller before and, good grief, they had a ball. They rolled those sticky things across every surface they could reach. It was all I could do to stop them from applying the lint rollers to each other's faces.

Now they ask all the time to be allowed to "play" with the lint rollers, and I am insisting that this activity is a special treat reserved only for weekends when the couch is really hairy.

Meanwhile, I vacuumed and did some dusting - but not as much as I normally have to do because my husband had done a lot of it already.

So, my house is clean. I am not angry. The column I drafted that crackled with thinly suppressed resentment is going into permanent storage. And, what do you know, here comes my dog with a cold beer.

Good boy.

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