Monday, December 26, 2011

Division of labor - marriage style

Paul Reiser, one of my favorite comedians and a guy who has sort of faded away in recent years, wrote the best description I've ever read of the way household tasks are divvied up in a marriage.

In his book "Couplehood" -- a great and funny read, I recommend it -- Reiser explained that there will always be tasks neither the husband nor the wife (nor the kids, for that matter) really want to handle. But there's also always one of you who hates a given job more than the other, so generally speaking, it should be assigned to the person who hates it less. This makes a lot of sense to me.

For example, as I've mentioned, I don't relish the thought of cleaning the cat litter boxes every morning. But ever since June 1993, when Terry became pregnant with Elissa, it has been my job. This is because cat waste poses a real health threat to pregnant woman, and especially with that first baby, you don't take any chances. I think the disease is called toxoplasmosis, though I didn't look it up and as far as I know, it may not actually be a disease but rather a concept pregnant women made up to get out of doing stuff around the house.

Five children later, Terry is no longer in danger of getting pregnant, thanks mostly to the fine work of Dr. Kurt Schneider, my de facto urologist and the guy who made me permanently sterile in one, swift 45-minute procedure. The man was good. At some point, I'll have to tell you about it because, really, I enjoyed the whole process. (Yes, I know that's weird. That's why it will make a good blog post.)

Anyway, Terry will be having no more babies, at least none fathered by me. Therefore, one could surmise that she is yet again a candidate to clean the litter boxes. But she doesn't, and that's fine with me. There are plenty of other things she does that I wouldn't want anything to do with, and I've been married long enough to know when to leave well enough alone.

For the record, the other jobs I usually (not always, but usually) take on in our house include lawn maintenance, cleaning the master bathroom, and washing the kitchen floor. Being a stay-at-home mom, Terry does more than her share of unpleasant tasks while I'm at work, and that's not even taking into account the cooking (of which she does virtually 100%), laundry and general pick-up duties she handles that would exhaust me if I had them every day.

I do remember one area in which we never did come to any sort of compromise, though. This was back in the days when we had babies in the house and one would wake up crying in the middle of the night. Neither of us is particularly proud of this, but we both now admit to faking not hearing the crying child and instead pretending to be asleep, hoping that would prompt the other person to get out of bed, fetch the tot, change his or her diaper, and either restore order or prep them for breastfeeding time.

That last point is key. Terry breastfed all of the kids. This is a job, again as Paul Reiser so deftly points out, that only female persons are equipped to handle. To me, this is one of God's greatest design inspirations. But in all fairness, it should have been me who got up, changed the diaper and brought the baby downstairs, since in all cases it was Terry who did the subsequent feeding while I fell back asleep in approximately 7 seconds.

In my defense, I DID have to get up for work the next morning, and I milked that excuse relentlessly to the point that, in the end, while I bet I got up and attended to the babies more often than Terry, it wasn't by much...maybe a 55-45 split.

If I were a good person and a skilled writer, I would bring this to a close by offering some sort of inspiration and advice to young married couples or those thinking about marriage. But I am neither, so let me just say that if you're going to do the pretend-to-be-asleep thing, don't let your spouse catch you opening one eye to see if they're awake. Then you're busted and your whole night is ruined. You're welcome.

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