By nature, I am not a 21st century feminist. The battles of suffrage and equality have been won, allowing me to live a full and satisfied life.
To celebrate my feminine freedoms, I like to torture my husband. Whenever I feel that he is not pulling his domestic weight by cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping or changing the cat litter, I go on a little something that I call ‘strike.’ I abruptly halt all domestic activity without warning or explanation. This is a highly passive aggressive and ineffective strategy intended to jumpstart my spouse into a cleaning frenzy, whereupon he will polish our home from top to bottom and give me a foot massage while saying “I now realize how difficult it must be for you to work a full time job, keep a clean house and cook tasty dinners, all while having consistently flawless hair and makeup.”
The desired result is never achieved. After approximately three days of cold-turkey slob activity, I announce to my unsuspecting mate that he is lazy and unhelpful. This is almost always followed by a conversation so routine that we can now dialogue in our sleep.
Me: I would really appreciate it if you would try harder to keep our house clean.
Him: I do a lot of things, you just don’t notice.
Me: Like what?
Him: I vacuumed today.
Me: That doesn’t count.
And it doesn’t, because we have one of those robot vacuums that zooms around the house and then returns to a docking station. Vacuuming our house is as labor intensive as turning on the television.
His consistent and unsatisfactory reply is always the same. “I do a lot of things, you just don’t notice.” This statement is as broad and vague as a press release from the White House, and has a tendency to infuriate me. I repeat this sentence to myself ad nauseum as I clean the house, muttering under my breath like a lunatic.
“I do a lot of things, you just don’t notice. I do a lot of things, you just don’t notice. I do a lot of things…”
Recently, I went on strike for four days instead of the usual three. At the end of the four days, when our house looked like a setpiece from the movie Twister, I began my routine interrogation. In his always calm and affable manner, he responded with a variation on his usual theme.
Me: Do you like living in squalor? Do you?!
Him: I do a lot of things. I just don’t brag about them.
I don’t brag. Really. I merely take him on a tour of our house every day that I do something, kind of like a docent in a museum or a hall monitor at school. “Notice how brilliantly the mirrors shine! Observe how our floors sparkle! Look at how neatly the towels are folded – each one measuring exactly eight by twelve inches!” Some part of me truly believes that my excitement will be so contagious that he’ll want to know how I did it, and that he will begin his quest to become as awesome as I am by cleaning the toilet.
Me: Can you please elaborate? What is it that you do?
Him: Have you ever the noticed cobwebs on the shudders outside?
Him: See? I do stuff.
His list went on to contain such obscure tasks as cleaning the coils of the refrigerator, caulking the shower, planting grass in the front yard, and an exclusive at-home service that he calls ’24-hour tech support.’
Had I really been so blind? I thought all houses came with grass. I thought that grass happened. I honestly believed that the shower had just stopped leaking and that the buzzing noise from the refrigerator had gone on vacation. It never occurred to me to wonder why.
All this time I had badgered him about being unappreciative of my housekeeping, and I never even noticed his contributions. In retrospect, it seems silly for me to think that our microwave stayed pristine on its own, or that the faulty printer just magically fixed itself. I should have noticed, applauded, trumpeted trumpets and given foot rubs. But I was too busy painting signs for my upcoming cleaning strike to notice.
I asked him why he never told me about these things, especially when I was in my full harpy-mode. He just shrugged his shoulders and made a grunting sound that I think meant “because I like screwing with you.”
Now that I’m on to his little schemes, there’s no stopping my gratitude. Sometimes I thank him for made up things, just in case he had something to do with it. “Thanks for the leaves on the oak tree” I’ll say, wondering if he was responsible for putting them there. In some ways, I think he is a little upset to be getting the extra attention. As a doer of anonymous good deeds, he could listen to me gripe with a smile of self satisfaction. But now that he’s told me and I’ve told you, his cover is blown.
If it were me, I would feel extra pressure to do more good things that nobody notices, just to keep the game going. As it is, I know that he feels no anxiety about his self-appointed chores. The silent crusader, he is happy in the knowledge that his duties will continue to be fulfilled and appreciated, even if they are not noticed.