Thursday, March 27, 2008

Poached Eggs

Okay. I have to admit it. You had me there. When you pointed out those remarkable new men of the current generation that vacuum, dust, make beds and do laundry. You described them to me in glowing terms and I gazed from afar at these new men that displayed such dedicated servitude. And yes, I wanted one of them. Indeed I did.

Unfortunately, I have the older model. The one, that does men’s work, while I do women’s work. Oh yes, there’s been a bit of progress. Amazing, as it might sound, we did get to the point where he could make a meal, vacuum a room and turn on the dishwasher. It was a slow progression that had such promise, but that’s where it stalled, and I soon became bitter that he couldn’t do better.

If I contemplate what other men-of-the-new-wave have added to their agenda, it looks mighty attractive. Because obviously when a man takes on so many women’s tasks, that means less of those for the little woman. The math is simple. Subtraction from any given amount equals a lesser amount. Right?

No, not necessarily. There is a devious thing going on here that flaws the math. A tricky bit of undulation, like a rogue wave, that skews what appears to be simple addition and subtraction.

It’s hard to see how the math works. But what I do see in the outcome is while the subtraction of mundane tasks is going on, on one side of the equation, on the same side of the equation; there is a massive increase in the tasks of administration and management. If you will be patient, I will explain.

When my children were young, I concerned myself with grocery and clothing purchases, three squares a day, transport to extra-curriculum activities, laundry, an outside job, and housekeeping within reason. It seemed like a heavy load at the time. But was it?

At no time did I ever have to concern myself with vehicle maintenance, insurance, taxes, appliances, or yard maintenance. Or with broken windows, a leaky roof, septic tanks, or iced-up eaves troughs. Or with communication devices, computers, license plate renewals, sagging decks, or home equity. These things I’ve never given a thought to in all my years.

But now, when I see how stressed women are, despite partners that are ideals of the new-wave-man, I realize something is up. And I’ve finally figured out what it is. Though few realize it, in this new job-sharing plan, it is true that women end up doing a whole lot less of the mundane tasks, but at the same time they end up with a mammoth dump of a whole syndicate of new tasks that stretch into an endless continuum of stressful and judgmental decisions.

Now the first thing I need to realize if I want my man to take on some of my work, is how bloody taxing the training will be. And I have to recognize how long and drawn out the supervisory attention will need to be that follows. These may not be formidable tasks but I want them done right.

And then, when that is reasonably accomplished, what the hell? Soon after, I realize that I am CEO of a whole lot of stuff I hadn’t planned on. Because somehow like the magic porridge pot that boiled over until it was running in the streets, this is what happens.

With Hub and I on the same work committee, and with me in this supervisory role, I am forced to look at the bigger picture. Now I start to see inefficiencies in the global picture that (in my estimation) need upgrading or a better fix. Soon I’m thinking if tires are going to be rotated, the car should also have new brake shoes and bearings. And now I’m thinking that we should change insurance companies and transfer investments to another bank that pays more interest. And we should also probably check out other communication options and maybe think about moving from monthly utility payments to a locked in contract.

Meanwhile Hub is too buried in job-training to take the bull by the horns as he used to do. In fact, is it just my own warped mind, or is he more and more only responding like a robot to my commands? It seems so, when he gets up every morning and says to me, “What do you want me to do today, and how do you want me to do it?”

Still, I smile with delight at this power I now have over him. My character has blossomed. My ego is as inflated and shiny as a monster Zeppelin that is flying high. Me?—more important than I ever thought I’d be.

It’s pretty darned nice, this promotion to the role of overseer and planner for every solitary thing around here. And I can’t help but feel pretty darn smug because there’ll be no languishing in the big chair, no Lone Star Channel viewing for Hub, until this house is looking like a show home with all the rugs vacuumed, the hall-ceiling repainted, and the car washed as well.

But that’s where the change becomes insidious in ways I hadn’t expected. That’s when, suddenly there I am, in charge of everything, included a host of monstrous complexities I never encountered or considered before, rather than the simple organization and completion of the jobs I once did.

No longer is my life as easy as cleaning up a few dirty dishes in the sink. Now I am running in circles, stressed to the hilt about taxes, savings, interest, investments, the roof, the driveway, the shingles, the oil change in one car, the trade-in of another.

Hub used to take full responsibility for all the foregoing things listed and he accomplished them as invisibly as shoe-making elves in the middle of the night. Now they don’t get done until I list them, define them, and detail them. Because his agenda is suddenly totally dependent on my agenda.

And that is not so great cause now Hub is chronically underfoot. He’s in my way, always in my way—not tasking but instead waiting for me to assign his next move while my brain races in circles in a vain attempt to encompass all that is critical for the day, the month, the year.

I’m suddenly in a constant flux of frightful contemplation of what should be done next and how best to do it. It means making decisions every day with unknown outcomes that in the end I will be totally responsible for. He’s doing the work. Oh yes, he is. He’s not wearing that apron and head scarf without good reason. But I’m the one now holding the authority, setting the schedule, and owning responsibility for the ultimate outcome.

And so now, rather than that needed time to do my own thing (writing, blogging, knitting, self-reflection, and sewing), I have no time for anything. And when I do get a notion to cook a Sunday breakfast, I now have a critic peeking over my shoulder in MY kitchen telling me that is not how to prepare poached eggs!

It makes me remember with sad regret the days before that stupid conversion to the new man. When Hub sat like a sentinel at the table waiting for breakfast. And when it was served, he winked and smiled and said, “Roberta. There’s not a woman on the face of the earth that can poach an egg the way you can!”


joared said...

Verrry funny! As with most humor there is that basis of truth. I had the old model with some modifications, too, for quite a long time. The transistion can be challenging; the responsibilities not always what we want once we discover ourselves entrusted with them. Maybe you can subtly, gradually shift some matters back, but I must tell you from personal experience that when I tried doing that the reversal wasn't always easy.

On a serious note, be glad you've both exchanged your areas of expertise like this, 'cause, heaven forbid, should either of you be left without the other, you'll each be very very glad you possess that new knowledge and those skills.

Pauline said...

Roberta, you made me laugh out loud. I have been both planner and doer for so long, I forget what division of labor looks like. It's not the men we need to train, it's ourselves, with lessons in How Not To Be Superwoman And Still Be A Sexy Egg Poacher. You should write a book!

Nora Christie said...

Roberta, this is great. I think you should send it to a woman's magazine or maybe a newspaper Sunday feature section to be published. You've hit on something many women don't think about. And presented it very well.

A fan.

Oh, and thank you so much for your comment on my blog. I do have novel aspirations. Now I need inspirations.

Joy Des Jardins said...

I loved this Roberta....another beautiful, humorous piece.

I don't know if my late husband was a 'new man' or not. I guess it depended on his mood. For many years he dabbled in the kitchen whipping up concoctions of one sort or another. So I understand what you mean by 'always underfoot.' It happened mostly after the kids were grown and out on their own. We all use to cringe at what he was creating, but occasionally he actually came up with something pretty tasty. One thing I know....he definitely had his own special way of preparing some things.

As far as agendas....well, he just stopped having one. He did less and less around the house...and was perfectly happy with it. I on the other hand was forever trying to figure out how things should get done without his usual help in most cases. My agenda was getting the best of me on a regular basis. That's when you just have to let some things go whether you like it or not for the sake of sanity.

Funny enough, I think he made a pretty good poached egg.

Roberta S said...

Hi joared. Thanks for the comment. There is much wisdom in the point you made about 'a reversal'. Pretty difficult to turn things around now.

And of course, you are also right about having at hand the experience to conduct one's affairs independently if the need arises. But still, I would have preferred to procrastinate. After all I'm a quick enough learner when I set my mind to it.

Roberta S said...

pauline, I am glad you found humor is all of this. I am sorry you have forgotten how the division of labor looked. It was actually nice.

Thanks, too, for the motivational comment that frees me up from all those other tasks to do what I like to do best -- write. (oh yeh, and poach sexy eggs on occasion). :)

Roberta S said...

nora christie, thanks for visiting and for your kind, encouraging words.

I'm not sure I know of any magazines in our current society that would promote this kind of thinking. In the final analysis, it's probably not even politically correct by today's standards.

Still being in your favor is special and I thank you for letting me know that.

Roberta S said...

Thanks for sharing those memories and thoughts, joy. It was a pleasure to read.

Truly there is something endearing about a man bumbling around in the kitchen, adamant that he can turn out something phenomenal, even if it isn't particularly palatable.

As for 'loosening up the agenda', it is a wise choice that we all might pay heed to in order to give ourselves time to appreciate more the small stuff.