When we bought our house, The Departed and I both worked, and had commutes, and agreed that household chores should be divided. What this meant, in practice, was that I cooked and he cleaned up the kitchen afterward – except that afterward didn’t seem to mean immediately afterward, but rather, sometime before the next meal, and often then only if I asked and explicitly said I needed it to be done so that I could prepare the meal in question. Many times, I didn’t bother to ask, but simply cleaned up myself, which would sometimes prompt him to rush into the kitchen and start doing cleaning it himself, saying I didn’t know how to load the dishwasher correctly – an odd statement for someone who refused to believe that some items should only be loaded in the top rack, and that porcelain plates will chip when jammed in next to metal pans. He would do the cleanup, but making dinner – and hungry children – would have to wait an hour while he did so.
You will not be surprised to learn that we ate out a lot.
We had a cleaning service, and they did a decent enough job, but there are some things that services don’t do, and these became a subject of contention in the household: Laundry, in particular. When I met The Departed, his wardrobe consisted mainly of Costco jeans, mid-brand sweaters he’d received as gifts, and shirts of the corporate freebie variety, and I set about helping him choose more flattering – and where I could, slightly more upscale – clothing. He refused to throw out any of the older things, so there was always plenty in his closet. But he only wore the more recent additions to his wardrobe, so he didn’t have a lot to choose from in a given week, and the amount dwindled as things wore out quickly through constant use.
Laundry couldn’t get done fast enough for him, though The Child and I seemed to manage just fine. His things would sit in the dryer too long, leaving them wrinkled, which made him mad, and after my suggestions for resolving this issue himself went ignored (“you can unload the dryer when you hear the beep” and “there’s a touch-up cycle on the dryer that will solve this”), he started doing his own laundry. That presented its own set of issues: Sometimes, the laundry basket was in use when he needed to do laundry. Other times, it was the washer, or the dryer. His laundry was always done with a lot of thumping and sighing – usually when I was watching TV – but after a while, I learned how to tune that out, too.
Until the night he could find no other time to put his laundry away than midnight, startling me out of a sound sleep with the thumping of hangers against the bedroom wall. I had no idea hangers even made noise until that moment; I fully expected Joan Crawford to emerge from the closet when I shouted, angrily, at him.
I knew what he was doing, but I also knew he had just won the battle, so I asked around and hired the first recommendation I got: The Cleaning Lady, a Bosnian refugee with several missing teeth and a car whose bumper was held together with duct tape. Her rate seemed high to me, but then, all I had to compare it to was my Manhattan cleaner, which was a long time ago. I was very happy the first few times she cleaned, and pleased especially that – like my Manhattan cleaner – she seemed to notice things that needed to be done, so I didn’t need to point things out her. The Departed’s laundry got done, and he had nothing to complain about, so it was money well spent.