Yesterday night, Kent came downstairs to ask me, “Now, the little soap things, I put them in the drawer thing, right? Or do I put them in with the clothes?”
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears for this momentus proclamation: My husband was running a load of laundry. Or trying to. It appears to have been his first time using Tide detergent pods, and his first time using the “new” washer we bought years ago. And sure, it meant I had to throw away a greyed-out, blue-splattered, formerly-pink shirt over the tearful protestations of a distraught Fluffy this morning. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that my husband did some laundry. And I didn’t even ask him to.
Well, not directly. I did forward him this colorful article earlier that day. It must have made quite an impression because he also took out half the recycling which is usually my job.
Now, Kent married me when he was 30, so he’d done many a load of laundry in his life. For the first couple of years, we continued to do our laundry separately like roommates. Then one day, I used his whites to fill up a batch, and boom. Laundry became my job. No, let’s be fair. Over the years he has helped me fold about 0.2% of the batches.
Don’t misunderstand me. My husband is not a selfish or lazy man, nor is he a filthy disgusting dude. We’ve renegotiated the housework over the years of me working, then being in grad school, then having the kids. For a long while, though, he’s been at the office. Our most recent arrangement was that he is charge of 1) taking out the trash, 2) killing bugs, 3) tending electronica, 4) monitoring online billpays as necessary and doing taxes and 5) feeding the boys their oatmeal in the morning. But all of those were on the condition that he had the time. Those chores got suspended each time a litigation heated up or went to trial.
If there is any truth or justice in this world, he is about to have more of that precious commodity, time. Kent has just taken an inhouse job at Lockheed Martin and written me a contract in blood that guarantees that he will have more time at home. It also means that I will have less money to pay people to do the things that I would otherwise have to nag Kent to do.
I don’t want to nag. I hate nagging. I hate listening to those same odious words coming out of my mouth in the same revolting tone yet again. So this time we’re taking that article to heart. Soon Kent and I will have to sit down and decide who is going to do what in the future–and in what time frame. The details of the division of labor contract are not nearly as important as actually having a discussion which results in clear expectations. Then it’s just a matter of consistently meeting those expectations.
My favorite tidbit from the article is that doing a crappy job at your task or putting it off for long enough that your spouse has to nag you is really trying to shuffle the task off onto them. We may have all tried this ourselves. You think if you can make it easier for them to just do it themselves instead of nagging you or redoing it after you, then they’ll move it over to their column of the chore chart. Of course, it’s okay to renegotiate the contract openly and equitably, but trying to subvert it with that kind of BS is never okay. So my new motto is, “Don’t make me nag you. That’s unfair.”
Kent completely sees the merit of this system as well. He loves it when I post him a To Do list on the fridge with a “Complete these tasks by____” clause. At last! He knows what I want him to to! He knows when I expect him to get it done! He feels empowered to make me happy.
And that’s the real substance of the matter. My husband loves to make me happy. He loves to meet or exceed my expectations, but he often simply doesn’t know how. All the old stand-up routine jokes are true. Men have no idea what you want from them. As delightful and romantic as it sounds to have my mind read and my needs anticipated, if I get into the habit of wanting that, I end up just doing everything myself with a resentful glare because it takes 1/100th the time for me to bust it out myself that it would take him to figure out what needs to be done.
Sometimes I think I ought to be able to put up a To Do list on the fridge that says, “OPEN YOUR EYEBALLS, LOOK AROUND YOU, AND MAKE YOUR OWN TO DO LIST. Complete this task every frigging day of your life like I do.” But that isn’t really fair or completely useful. The truth is that I have a lot more experience and knowledge of what needs to happen around here. While I wish he would take ownership of the 10,000 items that need to be check off in order to get everyone to church on time instead of waiting for me to give him direct orders, (“Okay, you got his socks on? Now put shoes on top of the socks. The black shoes, not the brown. No, the ones with laces.”), maybe that’s just not going to happen until I write it all out for him so he can see the entire vision. I can do that.
Kent is not sexist or domineering or selfish. He wants to pull his own share, but I know too many husbands who do not. Shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t they want to help more if they can regardless of their upbringing or where they fall on the pro-feminist spectrum? I was struck by The Atlantic article that said that as a man, you should be willing to pitch in more, “not because you’re obligated to rectify an injustice, but because you can. Responding to the misery of the people you care about is what you do.”
After Kent figured out how to put a Tide pod in the washer, he later remarked, “Those little soap packets are pretty amazing, aren’t they?” Yes. The world we live in is full of such wonders. Let me introduce you to a few more, my love.