Monday, July 13, 2009

A Division of Labor

Sven and I have a good marriage. We love each other, we get along, we enjoy each other's company, and we have a lot in common. We've been together for 15 years. I'm starting to believe it will last.

When it comes to household chores, neither of us is what you would call "tidy." Or even "bearable." We each have our strengths (ability to ignore messes for a very long time) and our weaknesses (ability to complain about messes we have been ignoring for a very long time).

Sven and I each work, full-time, outside the home. We are both teachers. During the school year very little in the way of home maintenance is done. I keep everyone in clean clothes. Sven keeps the yard in compliance with the homeowner's association rules. We each do our part to make sure there is something to eat, though I confess more often than not that means Sven picks up the take-out and I throw away the containers.

During the summer, though, we "catch up" on a number of pesky chores that we simply don't have time for ordinarily, like sweeping, mopping, organizing, vacuuming, dusting, editing, and conditioning. Sven and I do a fairly good job of sharing the labor equally. There are a few "my" jobs (folding the laundry, tidying the living room) and some "his" jobs (lawn care, carpet cleaning), but dishes, laundry, cooking, and basic cleaning are shared responsibilities.

Which leads me to my question today: if there is a chore that has separate components, is it necessary for the same person to do each part of the chore? If not, should the workers collaborate to make sure the initial part of the chore is complete in a manner acceptable to the person completing subsequent parts of the chore?

Example: Dishes.

Sven and I have different philosophies when it comes to dishes. For instance, I load the silverware tray with the "business ends" poking up, so the part that touches the food gets clean. I also put a variety of utensils in each slot, because they can't stick together if there's only one spoon, one fork, one knife, etc. Sven says he doesn't like that, because it's harder to unload. While I can respect that, I'd rather the dishes get clean. Furthermore, Sven always manages to load the dishwasher in some crazy ninja way that prevents me from unrolling the bottom rack without dragging out the top one, meaning I have to unload the whole darned thing if I want a frying pan from the bottom left. Which I should do anyway. Don't judge me.

So who gets priority? The person who loads, or the person who unloads?

But the more important question: why do I care? In a sound, happy marriage, where I love my husband and he loves me, and we have two beautiful kids and adequate money coming in, two working cars and a nice house, why was I ready to scream at Sven today because he only washed spoons and knives and left all of the forks in the sink?

Is it human nature to look for conflict? Do we naturally look for the problems? Or is it just me?

I didn't mention it to Sven. (Yes, dear, I realize I'm mentioning it now, but only in an abstract, hypothetical way, not a critical one. You do the dishes just fine and I love you very much.) I unloaded the dishes, then loaded the dishwasher my way and started it. But I wondered: is this how those couples end up on Dr. Phil? You know, the ones where the man goes out and has an affair because his wife wouldn't ever let him fold the towels, because he "didn't do it right?" How many ways are there to fold towels?

Princess and Dexy are getting to the point that they are helping around the house. Dexy does it because he loves to help. He understands throwing things in the garbage, and does it so enthusiastically that we have to dig through our garbage to find forks, bowls, bills, and toys before taking it out. Princess is beginning to help because I'm making her. I stand over her for 10 minutes so she can do a job that takes me 30 seconds, but I tell myself I'm building her character.

But, it makes me happy that I really don't care how she puts the toys away, as long as it gets done. Maybe I'm making progress. I'm going to cancel that appointment with Dr. Phil...


Barbaloot said...

I'd say it's the loader who takes priority. Or, you could just take turns; when you load, you also unload so it's done your way both times. Then, it's his turn and he does both...?

All I know is that when I'm married it'll be my husband's job to take out the garbage. I hate taking out the garbage!

Kristina P. said...

I had no idea that there were different ways to load or unload! As long as the dishes get done, I don't care.

I really want to hire someone to deep clean, just once.

3 Bay B Chicks said...

I am seriously laughing my ass off as I get caught up on all of the fantastic blog posts that I have missed on your site this morning.

1) Giancarlo adores the Rain Forest Cafe. Although in our house, it is referred to as the Cafe-fen-nay, with three syllables, rather than one. He gets excited just seeing the commercial.

2) There was not a single reflection that I did not agree with you on from MJ's funeral. Not a single one. However, consider this: Where was Miss Janet Jackson (Ms. Jackson, if you are nasty) during said ceremony?

3) 36 is the sexiest age alive? Damn! I still have two years until I turn the big 3-6 and I need that Big City Slider.

4) There is only one way to load the dishwasher. I am thrilled to read that you are using the proper method. Business ends up, if you please.



The Domestic Flunky said...

Just never do the dishes PERIOD, then you'll never have to worry about it. :)

Joanna said...

I'm so glad you've begun to grapple with the truly important things in life. Silverware - business end up or down in the dishwasher means that somewhere in my youth or childhood (as a mother) I must have done something good! (Also the mother's curse I wished on you when you were 16 and I had to excavate your room has finally come home to roost!)

Sneaky Momma said...

I made my husband read your post.
We could have written it ourselves!
We share many chores, such as the dishes. It drives me crazy how he loads the dishwasher all catty whompus (sp?) and therefore only 3/4 full. He hates hearing me correct him. So I wash and load and he unloads. Works for us! :)

Mr. and Mrs. Nurse Boy said...

You just made me laugh outloud. I love that your husband has some ninja ways about him--even if it does drive you crazy when it is time to unload the dishwasher.

I vote the "loader" trumps everyone else at any given time. Because, I am all about getting it DONE!!!

Man, can I relate to helping the child with a task for 10 min. that would only take me 30 frustrating, yet so necessary!

Mrs. Nurse Boy

Mummy McTavish said...

Okay. I'm warning you. You started this... If I go on till the cows come home it's all your fault! Loader gets priority. Yes, as a matter of fact I am the loader. The dishwasher instruction manual says an assortment of silverware should be placed business end up in each section of the basket to make sure they don't stick together. Pointy end of sharp knives go down so I don't cut myself (because when not 7 months pregnant I am usually the unloader too). If you are "helping" me by loading it up pay attention to how you are loading it... no, not all racks are created equal, the cereal bowls don't need a wasted slot between them if you put them in the right place. I'd rather load it up so it's F.U.L.L and have to put a thing or two through again than put it on leaving gaps all over the place and having 5 million dishes still in the sink that will need another 3 of your half full loads to finish up. Pots DO NOT take priority, I can scrub a pot quickly if I happen to need it to cook... it's easier than washing the 4 plates, 4 bowls and half a dozen cups that we definitely do need that could have fitted in that spot in the dishwasher. I am having trouble UNloading the dishwasher with my big fat baby belly, it is of no help to me if you load the dishwasher which I can still do and then leave it all sitting in there until I go mental about it and you get upset that you were just trying to help.

Now don't even get me started about how to fold clothes... Can I take your appointment with Dr Phil? You know, if you are going to cancel it anyway...

I know I don't sound grateful but I am. I try to remind myself that help is help, at least it's not me doing it. But I do get a bit funny about the way the dishwasher is loaded... I plan on teaching the slaves, er, um, I mean the kids the right way to do it when they are old enough... by that I mean MY way.