I’m washing the dishes. That’s because Justin’s just washed the dishes, but only washed half. So I’m washing the dishes. Because when my husband says, “I cleaned up the whole kitchen,” what he actually means is, “But not everything…:” Even when he’s explaining his domestic contribution, he only explains half. And so I’m finishing the job.
When asked why he said he washed the dishes but only washed half Justin might respond by saying something like, “Meh, I got bored.” Or, “What dishes?’ Or his favorite, “Is it really necessary to wash all of them?” Justin’s a highly educated grown man with a very successful professional career as a television producer. At work he’d never say, “Meh, let’s just make half the show.” But at home, halfway is the whole show. And so I’m standing here long after Justin and the kids have gone to bed, washing the other half of the dishes.
In the fifteen years Justin and I have been together, this is not the first night I’ve stayed up late finishing the job long after the job was supposedly done. By day I make mental notes documenting the location of sticky floors that will supposedly be mopped up knowing full well they will be mopped up, but not with water, or soap, or a mop. Mentally, the juice spilled on the floor that will be covered by ants in the morning if someone doesn’t do something about it will be mopped up. But physically, that juice will stay in that very location waiting for me, or until the end of time. The kids will step through it getting their shoes stuck in the juicy mess and one of them will say, “Someone should clean that up.” And then everyone will look at me.
Holiday decorations can stay up for months or years despite a conversation that involves my beloved saying the words, “Yes, I will take them down.” A heavy piece of furniture that I couldn’t possibly move myself will collect dust before it’s moved. Likewise, that old sandbox in the yard will become compost long before it’s “I’m definitely going to move that this weekend” moved. That is, unless I move it myself.
And if you’ve gone down the wrong thought freeway thinking Justin’s lazy or unhelpful, he’s not. He’s willing and helpful. He just doesn’t finish the job, which technically makes him not at all helpful, but in a meant-to-be-helpful-but-I-got-bored kind of way.
When Justin and I first started living together, it didn’t occur to me that my ovaries made me a domestic expert. Whereas Justin who, if he didn’t tell you already, has two Ivy League Degrees which by definition qualify him as smart, steps across the threshold of our house and has an immediate domestic lobotomy, I step across the same threshold and am the de-facto rememberer, knower, maker, cooker, and cleaner of everything, even things that have already been done.
At the beginning of our relationship I was determined not to be a part of a couple that had fights about domestic obligations. I worried about being labeled a nag and was quick to judge any friend who was. And then I found myself washing dishes that had already been washed or wondering why our cabinets smelled like blue cheese only to realize someone had washes the dishes, but not dried them before putting them away and now they were moldy.
I’d ask Justin to run a quick errand on his way home from work. He’d return empty handed and look at me like I was speaking Tagalog and say, “What errand?” as if I’d made it up. Or I’d mention to Justin that it would helpful if he’d at least get his dirty clothes within the vicinity of the laundry hamper in the bathroom and he’d politely reply with sincerity, “I was going to. I just didn’t yet.”
And before you again drive down the wrong thought freeway and assume I’m some sort of white glove wearing clean freak, pull over. I’m not a clean freak at all. But, I am a mother. That means I have children. Those children live with me. And those children who live with me like to eat on plates, drink from glasses, wear clothing on their bodies, and discard that clothing onto the floor, over and over again throughout the day. Children’s messes are like a college girl’s STD. If you don’t deal with it, it’s going to spread fast. So I deal with household messes fast knowing that another one will be coming soon.
For a few years there I’d try various tactics to equalize our domestic responsibilities. For a while, I’d only do my laundry in a Gandhi-like peaceful protest against me being the only person in my house responsible for everyone else’s clothes getting cleaned. Justin didn’t mind. In fact, he was quite willing to do his own laundry and sometimes even mine. Except his definition of doing the laundry meant shoving a bunch of clothes in to the washer and turning it on. By the time those soaking wet clothes needed to travel the two feet from the washer over to the dryer, he’d have forgotten about it. Or worse yet, he’d figured he’d knocked washing the clothes off his list. Drying them? Wait, who said anything about drying them?
For a short while, I figured that it probably took me longer to bring up my domestic discord to Justin than to just clean everything up myself. And so, in an effort to save time, I’d quietly surrender to the chores without protest. But I made the mistake of telling Justin my plan, which he reminded me of every 2-3 minutes of the day and every 5-10 minutes in his sleep. That’s when I decided that wasting time negotiating the laundry was a far better use of my time than being reminded I’m a hypocrite by a man I’m legally bound to until death.
But, something changed today as I washed the dishes my husband had left behind. I had long since wondered why such a smart man could have such a difficult time completing simple tasks at home. Sure it had occurred to me years ago that Justin was applying the “Male Theory Of Getting Out Of Chores”, which involves the male species doing a shitty job at all household responsibilities in hopes he’s never asked to do them again. I’d assumed this was the explanation for the one and only time Justin did put the wet washed laundry into the dryer. He put the dryer on the “High Heat” setting and I ended up with 13 pairs of underwear small enough to cause me to lose circulation in my vagina and a laundry basket filled with t-shirts that had been shrunken small enough to fit my 4-year-old daughter.
But today it occurred to me that my highly intelligent husband isn’t an intentional domestic moron, nor is trying to be unhelpful. I realized he’s not well. My husband is ill. This can be the only explanation for a well-credentialed man having less domestic follow through than a fetus. And so it’s occurred to me that my husband has possibly suffered a stroke that only impaired his ability to clean up after himself. Likewise, I’m researching to see if there is an undiagnosed form of dementia which makes married men forget that they’ve just put dirty dishes into a dishwasher filled with already clean ones. Or, at the very minimum, he’s suffering from a soap-opera worthy bought of amnesia that has him remembering every nuance of his job, but nothing at home.
I take great solace in knowing that my husband is not well. I’ll take amnesia over, “Meh, I got bored.” The thought that he’s well and has the luxury of having Household A.D.D. is a little too much to bare.
Because truth be told, I’d like to have Household A.D.D. I want to stop in the middle and assume someone will finish my chore. I don’t want to know all the answers. I don’t want to clean up all the messes. I’d like to shrug my shoulders and walk away from homework, organizing birthday parties and washing both halves of the dishes because I just wasn’t interested anymore. But, I have ovaries. So that means I can’t.
When the television show “Entourage” was on HBO, Justin used to run around the house screaming like Jeremy Piven’s fast-talking agent character Ari Gold, “Fuel The Jet!” Piven’s character would excitedly beckon for his minions to fuel his private jet at a moment’s notice when he needed to take care of business. Justin loved the bravado of it and whenever he was excited about something he’d yell, “FTJ, baby!” as if we had a jet.
Since my ovaries dictate I’m the defacto cleaner-upper of the sticky spot on the floor and the late night washer of the second half of the dishes, they also give me the right to walk around the house asking my minions to, “F.T.J.” Finish the job, people. Then maybe I won’t have to.
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