Household Help

It can’t just be me. Each morning, after I’ve been washing dishes for about a half an hour and remember the laundry that still waits after the dishes are done, I wonder. Am I being grumpier about this than I ought? Course I know the answer; most likely. I know that I ought to be joyful as I go about my daily domestic work. That would be the good, Godly way in which to behave. But crap, it just seems like I spend an awful lot of time doing, well, just plain stuff. Not stuff that adds in any quantifiable way to the quality of my life, not stuff that makes me better fit, smarter or necessarily happier. I’m just doing crap that needs to get done – just so that I can exist. Some days this really pisses me off. But although I might get crabby about it, I’m not ignorant; I realize that I do not have it bad by any stretch of the imagination.

I remember visiting my family by marriage in Pakistan – middle class folks by their standards – and witnessing how some two dozen people lived in a four room house devoid of anything aside from the basic necessities and who were, in their experience, all quite happy. I also saw how the women worked tirelessly both day and night to keep the brood in clean clothes and fed (their kitchen was hardly six by ten feet, and they only had two burners!). I’m not so sure those women were themselves too crazy about their never-ending workload, but sadly, in that culture they weren’t exactly in a position to question it. At least I can pause for reflection. Yeah. I know that folks all around the globe work a hell of a lot harder than I do, and they have less to work with too. I get it. But still…

I wonder to myself, do other people really spend an hour or more a day just dealing with the silly dishes? Really? It kinda feels like I’m the only one. It feels like I’m always cleaning up or putting things away. It seems like it takes me so much more time and effort to feed just two people than it should. Am I being incredibly inefficient here? Am I missing something? I can’t help but feel like I am. But I know it’s an illusion born of my isolation. I really do know I can’t be the only one putting in the time. I know it. At least intellectually. Just doesn’t feel like it. Living in such a way as we privileged Westerners do, each of is our own island and it’s easy to feel like we’re each on our own, unique treadmill. That we are each one of us alone in our toil. That’s certainly how I feel most days after Elihu’s at school and our days begin in earnest. It takes me a good two hours – if not more – just to get the laundry done, the dishes done, the house picked up, the birds fed, the eggs collected, washed and put away… And God help me that I might need to actually clean – as in wipe away the little boy smell around the toilet, or maybe vacuum the forgotten corners… there goes another hour. Was it always thus?

No, not always. For many years I had help. I, like my mother in ‘her day’, had a cleaning lady. At first it seemed a crazy-pretentious thing to do, but I acclimated without too much trouble. Not hard to get used to someone helping you, especially if it’s well within your budget and you’re faced with a lot of house. Sometimes I like to joke that I went from having a cleaning lady to being one. Not really a joke. I have cleaned a few houses for cash since moving here. A bit humbling, yes. But then again, I was never the kind of gal to sit idly by as my cleaning lady was working; nay, I worked right alongside Marianna as she helped to keep my fine Evanston home looking fine. I never took her for granted. Nope. And now, as I face the task of keeping on top of it all (ok, so there is a lot less indoor real estate now) I look back with even still more gratitude. Oh, to have Marianna’s help now.

Thankfully, my son is getting older and much more able to help. I’ve probably let him off the hook more than most moms would. But then again, having only one child – one baby – and knowing there will never be another one coming along, I think that’s contributed to my going soft on Elihu til now. But I’ve relaxed lately. It’s good for him to do things for himself. And also – it’s good for me. I’m happy to have the help. (I can see why folks used to have so many kids! Built-in work force and life insurance. !) No longer do I tell my son that I’ll put the water on for tea, that I’ll empty the dryer…  And if I ask him, he generally jumps with enthusiasm to help. Thankfully, I have a child who very much appreciates the work it takes to keep a household. And thankfully, he is beginning to participate in its upkeep. And no longer do I feel badly – or guilty – about that. Instead, I feel good. Elihu is feeling empowered, and finally, once again, I have a little help around the house.

3 thoughts on “Household Help

  1. My sister and I talk about the happiness of doing things that stay done, like cleaning out a closet as opposed to the routine — paying the bills, doing the dishes. My Mom hated ironing when I was growing up. Later she got so she enjoyed it. I asked her about it. She said she thinks it was because she had TIME to iron when she got older. When she was a Mom with 3 kids and a husband, there was never enough time and the ironing seemed overwhelming. As to the laundry, a friend of mine used to have two piles on the floor of her bedroom. One was the dirty clothes, the other the clean clothes!

  2. It’s just the wife and I, and the chickens, we have a modest house by today’s standards and we take turns cooking the main meal. I have 4 nights, the wife has 3. I have my Saturday chores and often wonder why they take ALL DAY to get them done. It gets worse when I can go play in my garden, this is my life and I love it.

  3. Good post. I used to hate housework of any kind and was a MAJOR procrastinator. Now I mostly enjoy it. I don’t like deep cleaning much but I do like the ongoing maintenance type stuff, like doing the dishes. Thankfully Samarra is just the opposite so that’s worked out. A few things helped me change with regard to this. I got involved with a sort of therapy cult group back in the early 80’s and their whole philosophy was to devote yourself whole-heartedly to cleaning and to see it as not only keeping your work and life space “conscious” and ready to use, but also to clean whatever you were cleaning like you were “cleaning your mind”. Sort of a Zen thing. “Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” I left that group decades ago but the attitude stuck with me. Another thing was that in doing chores this way, I learned to slow down while I was doing them. I found that with some of the chores that I didn’t like, my attitude of rushing to “get them over with” was partly contributing to why I didn’t like doing them. Some things became much more enjoyable once I stopped trying to rush them because rushing never makes anything more pleasurable. So I slowed down and just enjoyed the simple pleasures of turning chaos into order, messy into clean. Another thing that helped was turning some of those chores into art projects. Like this:

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