It’s time to air our dirty laun­dry

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

‘Mar­riage is an ad­ven­ture,’’ wrote Gil­bert K Ch­ester­ton, ‘‘like go­ing to war.’’ I am a fem­i­nist who fell in love with a chau­vin­ist. I’m not com­plain­ing, not all the time at least, but seven years into our mar­riage I’m sur­prised to find my­self cast in the role of ‘er in­doors, a nag­ging shrew who un­will­ingly shoul­ders the do­mes­tic bur­den.

I’d be ly­ing if I said that mar­ry­ing a blokey bloke doesn’t have some perks. When the cat brings in a dead rat, I de­clare its dis­posal a man job. When the pipe to our sep­tic tank blocks, it isn’t me who has to crawl through the crap to clear it. Other jobs for the boys: opening pickle jars, tak­ing out the rub­bish, re­vers­ing a trailer, shoot­ing pos­sums and dig­ging holes for dead pets.

But the flip-side to this fairy­tale is that Cin­derella stays home cook­ing, clean­ing and rais­ing the rug-rats while her hand­some prince at­tends to em­ploy­ment else­where.

Note to trolls: I work full-time, too. I con­trib­ute equally to our fam­ily’s bot­tom line, although I do cost more to keep. (For ex­am­ple, my hus­band pays $10 for a bar­ber­shop buz­z­cut whereas my most re­cent cut ‘n’ colour cost 30 times that.)

On an av­er­age day, my hus­band gets up at 5.30am and goes to work. I don’t see him again un­til 6.30pm when he ar­rives home to ask what’s for din­ner.

On an av­er­age day, I get up at 7am, empty the dish­washer, make the kids’ lunches, co­erce them to eat break­fast, get them dressed for school and kinder­garten, drive 20 min­utes in one di­rec­tion and 40 min­utes in an­other to drop them off, come home, do a load of wash­ing, sweep the floor, fire off some emails, make a few phone calls, jug­gle dead­lines, stop what I’m do­ing to pick the kids up again, serve af­ter­school snacks, spend some qual­ity time dis­cussing Minecraft strate­gies, feed the chooks, cats and dog, whip up some­thing child-friendly for din­ner, do the dishes, get the kids into bed then sit at my desk to write un­til mid­night.

How do most men (dis­claimer: in my fam­ily at least) get away with do­ing so lit­tle house­work? I’m hon­estly per­plexed. My aunt calls it learned help­less­ness. I call it male self­ish­ness. My 74-year-old fa­ther calls it ‘‘bor­ing as f...’’.

When my mother re­cently broke her right arm it forced Dad into the laun­dry for the first time in half a cen­tury. He hasn’t done his own wash­ing since his days in a shear­ing gang. ‘‘We’d take our pants off in the shower, jump on them to get the sheep grease out then throw them over a fence to dry,’’ he re­calls.

Af­ter six weeks in charge of the wash­ing, how­ever, he sud­denly has plenty to say on the sub­ject, such as: ‘‘Where does the soap pow­der go?’’ ‘‘I don’t be­lieve in two pegs per pair of un­der­pants.’’

‘‘T-shirts are easi­est to hang from the bot­tom. So what if they stretch out of shape?’’

‘‘Who­ever in­vented those dou­bleended pegs was a ge­nius.’’

‘‘It’s much more so­cial if one per­son hands up the clothes while the other hangs them.’’

‘‘I have to do a load ev­ery three days to keep up! It’s soul de­stroy­ing.’’

Isn’t it just? Be­fore I had kids, I’d do one load of wash­ing per week. Now, I do it daily yet never see the bot­tom of the pile.

My hus­band, nat­u­rally, is full of help­ful ad­vice.

‘‘Putting it in the ma­chine is the easy part,’’ he says. ‘‘Hang­ing it out isn’t hard. Fold­ing it up is a piece of cake. But then it’s left on the din­ing ta­ble for the cat to sit on or it falls onto the floor, gets dirty and ends up back in the ma­chine. No one ever puts it away.’’

By no one, I guess he means me, be­cause the last time I asked him to put our chil­dren’s clothes in their draw­ers, he claimed not to know where they go.

In a blog on Zen and the Art of Laun­dry, Amer­i­can natur­o­pathic physi­cian Dr Jenn Krebs Rap­kin urges women to find magic in the mun­dane. Be mind­ful, she says, by telling your­self that you’re car­ing for your fam­ily and cre­at­ing a lov­ing and beau­ti­ful home.

‘‘Only you have the abil­ity to make do­ing laun­dry a mind­ful, in­sight­ful and, quite pos­si­bly, an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence. Go forth and fold in peace and with com­pas­sion!’’

I had a bet­ter idea. The last time my hus­band moaned about my sudsy short­com­ings, I told him that see­ing as he was such an ex­pert laun­dry lo­gi­cian, the job was all his.

As I write this, at 1.54am, seven days into our new regime, our bath­tub is full of dirty clothes. There are four wet tow­els on the floor and a load in the ma­chine, wait­ing to be hung out. And there are two cats asleep on the clean, dry wash­ing my hus­band dumped on our couch.

I’m con­sci­en­tiously nei­ther ob­ject­ing nor lift­ing a fin­ger. Said Aris­to­tle, ‘‘The roots of ed­u­ca­tion are bit­ter, but the fruit is sweet.’’


When Lynda Hal­li­nan’s hus­band moaned about her sudsy short­com­ings, she told him since he was such an ex­pert on laun­dry, the job was all his. They’re now up to their eye­balls in dirty wash­ing.

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