It’s time to air our dirty laundry
‘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.