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When Eric went away for two weeks last month, I was left in charge of the house, naturally. Unfortunately, I was left in charge of a house that was on the market to be sold, and I was left to keep charge of it with a two-year-old in tow. I was left with my slacker sensibilities toward housework, and I was left without backup to help me overcome them when the house was scheduled to be shown.

It could have been a recipe for disaster. The dishes, for example, were primarily Eric's responsibility in our family, as I had developed a state of near-loathing toward that particular chore when it was assigned to me in my youth. I couldn't just let the dishes stack for two weeks, though, especially since our realtor seemed to have sensed Eric's absence and decided to use that fact as a way of torturing me; every other day, it seemed, came a new appointment for a showing.

What I needed, I determined, was a way to stay on top of things and not allow them to ever reach the point of intimidation. What I needed was a schedule. Now, I'd tried this on various occasions. What my previous schedules were best at doing, really, was becoming lovely hangings for my refrigerator door; after a week or so, they faded into the background and became little more than a colorful piece of paper to flutter in the breeze. This time, things had to be different.

For starters, with people coming into the house on a near-daily basis, I couldn't allow many chores to be done on a weekly basis, as some of my schedules had prescribed. The whole "to each day, a different room" approach wouldn't work. Instead, I worked to develop a morning routine. Wake, coffee. Dress, laundry gathered and a load thrown in. Unload dishwasher, begin to load it for the day. Sweep the kitchen. Then I'd move on to whatever chores could be done weekly or biweekly: vacuum, dust, bathroom scrubbing, mopping. The goal was to be done each day by noon.

It more than worked. By the end of the first week, I was feeling capable of continuing. By the end of the second week, I was beginning to feel that this was something I could do indefinitely. My house was clean - no, not just clean; clean and happy.

And then Eric came home.

Why is it that, when we're doing the temporary single-parent thing, we always assume that things will be easier when the other parent returns, and yet they rarely are? Oh, I was thrilled to have Eric back, but having a third person in the house meant huge adjustments to my schedule. Suddenly there was more stuff lying around the house. There were more dishes being used, and more items were being put into strange places (according to my newfound organization sensibilities). I snapped at him; he snapped at me. I felt an odd desire to defend my...turf? Yes, it had become my turf during the two weeks that it had been my responsibility alone to care for it.

Clearly, that wouldn't work. After coming to my senses, I decided instead to make adjustments to the schedule instead of the husband, who, after all, had been around longer. "Honey, I rather like doing the dishes my way," I said, leaving out the "rather than your way, which involves leaving them on the counter for a few days until there are enough to constitute a couple of load in the dishwasher." "How about if I just keep that chore for myself, and you can fully take over responsibility for cleaning the fridge?"

"I do that, anyway."

"Yes, but now you can't complain about it."

Fair enough; we came to an agreement. The kitchen, as well as most of the rest of the house, would essentially remain my captured domain; the fridge didn't bother me so much, as it was out of my sight most of the time.

It's not so much that I don't want help. I think it comes down to what I wrote about long time ago about control. If I'm in control of a situation, I can deal with the consequences of my actions much better. I stink at sharing responsibilities; I have to be either the leader or a voiceless follower. I want all the control or none at all. I have trouble summoning enough trust to work as an equal partner.

(And I think Eric's a little pleased about having responsibilities taken from his hands, as well. See? It all works out for the best. Now, hands off my kitchen!)

A year or so ago, in the middle of my fumbles at housekeeping, I stumbled across a housekeeping manual that looked as though it could be helpful. It covered many of the subjects in which I found myself grasping at straws: how, and how often, do you clean (fill in the blank)? I bought it, and it's gathered dust on my bookshelf ever since, being opened periodically for just long enough to allow me to remember why I rarely used it. Unplug and scrub out the fridge weekly? Iron my underwear? Right.

So, in the middle of my new schedule-creation, I found myself referring to it, but only lightly. One evening, I read a part of it over the phone to Alysia. "Sanitize my trash cans nightly? Bwah!" I laughed, ignorant at first of the silence on the other end of the phone line. And then...

"You don't? Ewwww!"

Cue my cheeks turning tomato-red. Uh-oh. Was this yet another of those things that I was somehow supposed to know? Was it not over the top to scrub the trash can every night? Was I showing my slovenly roots?

Not willing to go down without a fight, I decided to explore the topic further. I created a blog meme (edited to fix URL) about housekeeping habits. So far, I'm discovering that, as I suspected, I probably fall somewhere in the middle, between compulsive cleaner and Dust-Bunny Queen. Still, it's fun to see people's answers, revealing what people try to hide behind scented candles and furtive pre-company dusting.

As for the manual, when I told Eric just exactly how thorough his new fridge responsibility was "supposed" to be, according to the book ("...and you're supposed to scrub the gaskets weekly, too!"), he just laughed and laughed.

This all got a little derailed, mind you, this weekend, when Eric found himself suddenly and deathly ill with a stomach bug. I won't reveal the sordid details, except to say that a certain fellow whose name is Charlie and whose nickname is "Two-Way" came to visit us. Several weeks ago, I think I might have handled it better, actually. Several weeks of becoming accustomed to a certain level of sanitation led me to, well, a pretty sizable freak-out over the matter. That bathroom got bleached to within an inch of its life. It's probably cleaner, by an order of magnitude, than when we moved into the house.

But we're back on track now. And I can't believe that I just rambled on for as long as I did on the subject of housekeeping. Alysia thinks I'm becoming obsessed, and I think she's a little worried about me. I sanitize my trash cans. I dust the top of my fridge. I'm thinking that this week I may vacuum my books.

At what point does one require an intervention?

previous one year ago:
Restrictions make me crazy.
two years ago:
But this begs the question: in what sort of commune would I want to live?
three years ago:
The "little mama" has about a hundred and sixteen days left to go with this, and she is finding it rather tiring to keep repeating how fine she is, how she feels wonderful, and how she, too, can't wait to see the baby.
four years ago:
I can tell you right now that no self-respecting teen is going to pick up a book called, "Coping with Sexually-Transmitted Diseases."
In the ears:
Sam's cartoons

On the Bookshelf:
Bringing up Boys

Gratuitous Sam

Look at my tummy!

Showing the 'baby in his belly'

Little conductor


©1999-2003 C. Richmond.