Sunday, 11 December 2011

You hunt, I gather. Division of labour in the empty nest.

Update. This was written in 2011. Fairness demands that I mention that after the car accident/cancer episode  in 2012 Old Dutch has been taking on a larger share of the daily grind, without being nagged. It has been very nice.

Let's face it. For someone who is supposedly a card-carrying feminist the division of labour in our empty nest ought to be unacceptable. 

Sometimes I feel as if I am letting the side down by doing 99% of the daily grind of cooking and cleaning. The Man makes coffee in the morning and will occasionally do the dishes. He would do the latter more often if asked, but has creative reasons for leaving the chore to late in the day. I'd just as soon get them out of the way and do the rest of the kitchen while I am at it. Men(many young ones are better) Do The Dishes. Special shirts may be involved. Women just clean the kitchen.

These last few years my little household has been  functioning reasonably well. I'll never be Martha Steward and have no desire to be. But people can drop in without being met by frenzied scurrying. That only took about 40 years. 

The question of housework used to be frought with strife.
My born-organized mother was a genius at it, and at the same time resented it bitterly. As the oldest child (b.1943) I bore the brunt of her years of discontent.
Mom had a brilliant career and lovely gardens later in life.  But my childhood coincided with the years (1947-1960) she was cooped up in a small upstairs apartment with 4 children and no outlet for her burning ambition except the management of spouse and offspring.
Beware, all ye who wax nostalgic for the fifties. Social stability came at a heavy price. 

Mom ruled her roost with an iron hand. It was easier to do it all herself than to teach others to do more then post dinner dishes. Once serious homework kicked in after grade 6 I was excused from household chores anyway: I was destined for greater things! Another blog sometime about the double messages of that time. 

In spite of having a good example I never picked up Mom's tricks of the trade. I inherited neither Mom's boundless energy nor her gift for organization. Once I left home my housekeeping was an erratic wave pattern of gleeful rebellious chaos and crisis cleaning when the spirit hit.

As for sharing the chores, during our student years I rather enjoyed playing house in my own way. Besides, this was before the second wave of feminism raised our awareness.
More blogs about the long F word are brewing, but let me just say what feminism means to me: simply the freedom to be an individual first, and member of a group second. I was not angry at the men in my life. I was not into splitting hairs about politically incorrect language.

Resentment set in in 1972, the first time The Man was not working and I was.
I had been pretty naive, thinking the benefits of feminism to men were obvious. Who wants to carry that heavy burden of being the breadwinner all alone?
Surprise! Like many women of my generation I found that my otherwise liberal, left-wing spouse totally resisted doing housework, even when he was not wage-working and I was. Stressful times followed. Never mind the boring detail. Let's just say the issue simmered away for decades.

I finally gave up trying to change the mindset of a guy born into a son-worshipping family in the year 1936. With just two of us and a decent dwelling keeping the place nice is not the burden it used to be. I enjoy cooking.

 So here we are today.
He maintains the infra-structure. When the well drops down to dangerously low levels he is the one who manages the system by going down to the pump-house in the dark and cold to fill the tank manually, so the pump won't run dry. In winter he looks after snow removal. He maintains the cars. He takes garbage out and drives it to the dump. He used to climb up on to the roof to remove snow. More recently he climbed a ladder to paint some wood work below the roof.
All biggish jobs that only need doing once in a while. In short: He Hunts.

I cook and clean. All small things that need doing  daily. 
I Gather.

It may not be totally fair or politically correct. I am happy to report that our offspring has freed itself from sexist stereotypes. 
But overall there is peace, contentment and good food that is appreciated. For the remainder of this life time with this Old Dutch it will do.

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