You may remember that housework became a more contentious issue when mom and I got our place together. She does the laundry, which is great and helpful, and she lets the dog in and out and makes sure he’s got water while I’m at work. I have been doing basically everything else— all the cooking (she’ll make herself breakfast and lunch, though I always leave her homemade alternatives to making her own— there are single-serve scrambled egg cups and frozen prepared pancakes and quick breads in the freezer. On a good day there’s prepared steel-cut oats in the fridge, in addition to cereals, yogurts and stuff she buys herself). I also do 90 percent or more of the housework, including vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, dusting, mowing, arranging for major repairs, cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, setting the table, clearing the table, rinsing the dishes, loading the dishwasher, taking out trash and recycling, most of the shopping, all of the pet care. Sometimes she’ll empty part of the dishwasher, or she’ll rearrange what I’ve loaded in the dishwasher before she turns it on, she’ll mostly bring the empty trash cans back from the curb, and about 30 percent of the time, she’ll get the mail. That’s been it. It’s been disappointing, because I thought we’d be partners in this, to a larger degree, but the end game on this one is that I’ll end up doing everything, so I chalked it up to being in that place earlier than I thought.
Last week, without guile, I approached her and said that I had started to look into getting some paid help with house cleaning and vacuuming. My issues (fear of being entitled, fear of being thought too good for honest work) in this area have issues, but I’ve had enough. She went into the hospital for the better part of a week about a month ago and has left the house exactly twice since then— once to go to the doctor and once to get our hair cut and go to dinner. I don’t have the energy to be all the things I need to be, to keep this from being psychologically bad for me, so I’m ready to call in the cavalry. I told her because I’ll expect her to pay half. I also said “the biggest challenge we both have is paper clutter, and we’re going to have to get our own arms around that, but we can pay someone to dust and sweep and mop, and it’s a start.” I’m also going to bring someone in to mow the lawn. Because it’s really the only option. I can go down as Cinderella or I can shoot up a flare. So I shot up a flare.
Later that night, I got sick with some horrible virus that is making my life bad even now. I made dinner Friday night and a special Easter dinner, but there wasn’t a lot I had energy for, beyond those two things (to be fair, I’ve gone to the store two or three times, started spring seeds for the garden, taken the dog to physical therapy, vacuumed the rest of the house, obtained approval for a landscaping project from the HOA, deep-cleaned the dishwasher, removed and deep-cleaned the futon cover and the futon…). But in the immediate wake of that conversation, her paper clutter was reduced by 60 percent. Since that conversation, she’s scrubbed two toilets, vacuumed a hallway and two of the three bedrooms downstairs, helped me put away decorations she wanted taken down, and we had a three-hour fight about dishwashing that was incredibly irritating to me, but signals an intention on her part to get more involved. I’ve stopped having to pick cheese slice wrappers off the cutting board when I get home and her dishes (and even mine, once or twice) are making it all the way to the sink, if not into the actual dishwasher. She made me a compress for my viral pinkeye, a couple of nights ago.
I’m not sure what about this made the change, but I’m grateful for it. I don’t know how long it will last, or if it will, but I’m glad to see it at all. I’m still thinking that I need to bring in help, so that the work I do around the house is mostly the work I don’t mind doing. She’d eat much more processed, less elaborately prepared food and enjoy it, but I like making things that are creative, fresher and less processed. I’ll happily cook for hours, as long as I’m not feeling like the time I’m spending making her bread is time I should really spend vacuuming under beds. I’m happy to walk my own dog over hill and dale every day and even further on the weekends— I love walking him, he loves to be walked, I need the exercise. I don’t even mind cleaning up the yard and scooping litter. But when the cooking and dog walking and cat brushing are over, barring a crisis, I’d like to move on to non-chore things that bring joy and delight. If I can affordably do that, I think it’s money well-spent.
And if we only have to bring someone in half as often, for awhile, because we’ve divided things more equitably at home? Well, that works, too.