Housework, if you do it right, can kill you. ~ Erma Bombeck
In my darkest hours of folding the fifth load of laundry or running around the house in an endless loop of finding one more dirty glass to fill the dishwasher, I turn to Erma Bombeck, patron saint of the harried housewife, for inspiration. And as spring cleaning looms, her humorous warning becomes all the more prescient.
I worry about us, my bitches, as according to a recent Real Simple and Families and Work Institute survey, women have become unable to distinguish between chores and leisure time.
And although we put cleaning at the top of the list of what we most hate, we also refuse to delegate, preferring to hoard housekeeping tasks like so many junkies teetering on the edge of self-destruction.
The survey calls this phenomenon, “gatekeeping,” which sounds sort of valiant and protective, but in reality is a great way to shut ourselves off from endless opportunities, not to mention non-dishpan hands.
So today I am making a shocking admission that nobody — especially my mother, who bore the brunt of my early “Oscar Madison” years — would ever see coming.
I’m the Bitch in Suburbia, and I’m a housework addict.
For many years, I lived in a state of blissful disarray. But then something snapped, right around when I started having kids. At first, it was easy enough to control, when the little ones weren’t so mobile and dirty diapers were the only crap I had to deal with. But as soon as they were able to crawl, chaos ensued, and the only calm I could find was when the babies and all of their toys were neatly put away at night.
What started as a little blowing off steam then has now blossomed into a full-fledged addiction.
While I am a broken record, threatening my family with no screen time if they don’t clean their rooms, make their beds, and for G-d’s sake, pick up their damn dirty socks, we all know that whether they do their fair share or not, the second they leave for work and school I’ll fly into a tidying tizzy.
Left to my own devices, you could easily find me going at light smudges on my white walls with a Magic Eraser (aka cleaning crack) like I am going to find gold under the schmutz or reorganizing drawers and closets so that everything in them are seasonally appropriate and folded as if by a Gap employee on extra Adderall.
True story: Several years ago, a survey came out that said the happiest marriages were ones where the spouse shared the burden of housework. A friend of ours had a cousin who found “real people” to be part of TODAY show news stories, and my husband and I volunteered to be interviewed. We both spoke convincingly about how we equally share housework, and the camera crew captured my man and kids doing chores like sweeping, picking up the living room, and unloading the dishwasher.
The second everyone left, I flew into a reorganizing frenzy, liberating the cutlery and dishes from being placed in the wrong drawers and cabinets and neatly putting them in their correct places.
It was my dirty secret that nobody could do the housework as well as I could. Perhaps you can relate? (Survey says…. YES you do!)
Since then, the addiction has only worsened. I can only tell you, my bitches, that I routinely reorganize the dishwasher after everyone’s asleep so that all items fit in perfectly and are poised for optimal cleansing.
And I’m often late for appointments because I can’t leave the house with dirty dishes and pans in the sink or a basket full of laundry ready to be washed or folded.
Sometimes I leave a small scrap of flotsam in an obvious place — a shard of tissue in the middle of the bathroom floor, a piece of dental floss on the side of the sink, a stack of crumbs on the kitchen counter — just to see if anyone will pick them up. Sure it’s a little Annie Wilkes-esque (the antagonist in Stephen King’s Misery who checks to see if there’s any movement by her ward by leaving subtle traps around her house), but then again, nobody else in my family shares my sad addiction.
Days later, I inevitably cave and pick up the barely visible mess.
Housework is my beard. My bane. And a very convenient distraction and excuse as to why I’m not realizing some of my personal goals, like getting my novels published or expanding the reach of this here Bitch’in blog.
So last week I decided to turn it over and ask for help — not because doing chores is a good “character building” activity for kids, but because I’d reached my bottom. Of course the first step is never easy, so rather than giving them free rein, I pull out all ingredients necessary for a simple taco dinner.
“We don’t want tacos,” the kids said. “We’re making something else.”
I started to protest, but then realized if I were really going to break the cycle of addiction, I’d have to let go of trying to control what others do. That whole accepting how powerless I am was tough, especially when I could hear them pulling out every pan in the house.
But I held strong, all the way through being served an oddly delicious dinner of turkey burger sliders with a side of heavily seasoned sautéed peppers and onions.
And although I think it’s fair to clean up when someone else cooks, that night while my family cleared the table, swept, wiped down counter tops, and ran the dishwasher (no rearranging from me!), I kicked back with a magazine. Not even Real Simple, which is clearly a gateway for us gatekeepers.
Still, if you see me clutching an SOS pad, recognize it for what it is — a cry for help — and pry it from my shaking, pre-scrubbing hands. And then whisper in my ears the Erma Bombeck (bestselling author of 15 books and countless articles) housework serenity mantra: “… if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?”