When I was of an age that I now recognise as young, but then believed was old, I used, sometimes, when faced with an empty knicker drawer, to go to the supermarket and buy another six pack of cheap knickers rather than do a load of washing. On other occasions I would get a load of washing on and then forget it for a week by which time it was a rotting mess of fabric that would have to be washed and then forgotten all over again and in the meantime I’d have to go back to the supermarket to get another six pack of cheap knickers. Wash, rinse, repeat.
When the mister and I first moved in together, some twenty six years ago (WTF and does time not fly) the household chores were divided by that most well-established tradition of Domestic Attrition. Whoever gets into the shower, looks down at the grime that’s gathered in the corners and thinks, ‘Oh, god, that is going to crawl out of the corner and eat me in the night if I don’t disintegrate it with bleach,’ is the loser and spends the rest of the day in a frenzy of fevered cleaning.
Except the washing. The mister always did the washing. At first we used the laundromat and then we inherited a twin tub which suited our youthfully optimistic recycling ways as we hooked hoses from here to there and used the water more than once. Well, when I say ‘we’ I mean ‘he.’
I overheard a conversation between the mister and his mother not long after we had started co-habiting, the main focus of which centred on the question, ‘And what does Tracy do?’
‘Mostly she has ideas,’ he said. It is perhaps the best character summation he’s ever done.
Our division of tasks became more, erm, traditional over the years, particularly once we had children and he continued to leave the house to earn an income and I stayed home caring for the children and having ideas. I even, for a good number of years, began to take on the washing. Nappies every day (oh, god, what was I thinking) and dedicating Fridays to the bulk of the laundry declaring in tones worthy of my grandmothers’ time, ‘I always do the laundry of a Friday.’
Then things changed again, we moved to Abu Dhabi, my mental health collapsed under the weight of exhaustion and grief, I started full time work again, and things shifted a bit. I continued to do loads of washing, but increasingly often left them in the machine to fester. And the mister, who is more often gainfully employed than I am, has a more urgent need for clean clothes than I do. One thing led to another and it became his job again. As it happens, I think watching the mister walk around the house with baskets of laundry clean and dirty, wet and dry, stands as the best feminist teaching we’ve done. We all pull our domestic weight. The mister coordinated it all, the Floppy Adolescent had to do the towels and the Future Prime Minister was in charge of hanging the smalls. And I continued to leave all of my clothes in a pile on the chair. It was an excellent system.
Except that now, here I am, living in a different country to the mister and I seem to be doing all of the washing again.
In truth, there are parts of the washing I love. Well, one part. Getting it out of the machine and onto the line. Carrying the heavy basket on my hip, breathing in the smell of clean clothes The methodical rhythm of hanging it on the line. The sense of order. But then, after that…I have three laundry baskets and I’m thinking of getting a fourth to hold the overflow.
‘We need a system!’ The Floppy Adolescent declared after a particularly terse morning of, ‘Mum! Where’s my…’ and ‘Mum! Have you seen…’ And all of the clean clothes, many of them folded, being tipped from the basket onto the unwashed floor as the Floppy Adolescent searched for socks and the Future Prime Minister looked for shorts.
I did not drive him out to a forest and tell him to find his way home. See how restrained I am?
‘You know what, Mum?’ the Floppy Adolescent said a few days later. ‘I’ve noticed it’s all been left up to you and so I’ve got an idea.’
‘Well, maybe we should just share it out a bit more.’
‘No, I know exactly how it’s going to work.’
The morning passed and so did the afternoon.
‘So, Floppy Adolescent, the washing…’
‘Wot?’ he said looking up, bleary-eyed from six hours of watching you-tubers playing games (no, seriously, WTF young ones what is with that?)
‘The washing. I’m running out of knickers, and school uniforms need to be done.’
‘Wot? Did you think we were starting today? No, today I just had the idea.’
Genetic mirrors, hey?