When I walk into the kitchen and Tracey is a blur of spray-bottled activity, I know enough to throw out a ‘What can I do to help?’ The worst possible answer is ‘Nothing.’ Let’s be clear, she’s describing the past, not the future, and is saying how much work she thinks I’ve done, not what she’d like me to do.
Housework isn’t a dirty word. The dirty words tend to come if I don’t help with the housework.
It’s my job to take the bins out. I’ve learned not to argue or I might end up swapping bin duty with toilet cleaning duty. Both jobs stink but only one bears the risk of being splashed with dunny water. Also important to note: despite how important putting out a bin seems it doesn’t mean I’ve done half the housework. I must always be vigilant in remembering not to strut around the place like a peacock and expect praise.
For years it never occurred to me to wonder why the toilet didn’t stink. Then we had a baby and my wife was in hospital for a week and suddenly the realization hit me like a truck (a sewerage truck): my wife had been cleaning our loo behind my back. Once this little deceit was pointed out to me I naturally went on the defensive and attempted to argue I was also helping to clean the toilet, but apparently pressure cleaning the skid marks off the inside of the bowl while taking a leak doesn’t count.
JOBS BY GENDER
One of the first things I learned when I moved out of my parent’s home was housework is not gender specific. The phrase ‘women’s work’ is reserved for birthing. The washing machine, for example, doesn’t care if a guy or a gal presses the buttons and neither does the dishwasher or the vacuum. Plus, it’s been pointed out to me, saying I’ll take care of the outside of the house while my wife can take care of the inside is not an equal division of the work load. Even if there’s a lot more outside than inside. Even if we lived on acreage. Even if our nearest neighbour was an hour away by air.
JOBS FOR KIDS
Getting the kids to help out with cleaning is like the Holy Grail of housework. I can’t do it but Tracey thinks the trick is to play to their strengths. Need to clean out the fridge? Open the door and stick a teenager in front of it. Want the house washed? Give the hose to a preschooler and tell them they’re a fireman. Got a crawler in the house? Slip Enjo mitts onto their hands and feet and place them in the kitchen. I’m not going to admit to us having done any of these.
Washing clothes is hard. Firstly, you’re rushing because you’re trying to get the load on during an ad on the telly. Secondly, you can’t put everything in the machine at the one time. I’ve now learned when my wife says ‘fill up the washing machine’ she doesn’t mean ‘to the brim’. Finally, clothes need to be sorted – washing whites separately is a good idea for starters unless you’re into powder pinks and blues. I wasn’t, but now they’re growing on me. So much to remember.
Brushing crumbs and stuff off tables isn’t necessarily helping. Neither is letting the dog in the house to Hoover the floor. Go figure.
If I come home from work and the place is tidy I like to consider the following questions: Do we have a maid? Have I entered the right house? Am I asleep? (Warning: do not actually ask these questions out loud unless your wife is deaf). At this point I’ve discovered a few encouraging words of thanks, or even a hug, can go a long way towards letting my wife know I appreciate all her hard work. Here’s an interesting thing I’ve learned about hugs which some guys might not be aware of – hugs aren’t just an invitation for the horizontal two step: sometimes they can be given without expecting anything back. No, seriously.
I’m not allowed to count washing the car as helping with the housework. Once, when I tried to argue this point, my wife asked our kids if they’d like to clean the shower or wash the car and I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find within seconds they were heading outside with buckets. Why? Because washing the car isn’t housework, it’s playing.
When we clean house our kids tend to follow us from room to room destroying all our good work so that at the end of two hours our house can look just as messy as at the beginning. Even on a good day it takes three times as long to do something when the little kids are in the house because of the endless questions and demands. The clever solution is often for me to generously and selflessly volunteer to take the kids away from the house. Tracey gets so excited to have some alone time she doesn’t care she’s spending it doing the floors and folding. We’ve tried this the other way around but if I’m left in the house by myself I just take a nap which, once Tracey and the kids arrive back home, brings us inevitably and loudly back to the cussing and dirty words I was telling you about earlier.