“It’s the Cereal, Stupid!”

Photo by Keegan Evans on Pexels.com

My spouse is a very good, decent, lovely man. His many fine attributes include a lack of gender bias that I’ve rarely found in individuals who have been blessed with a Y chromosome.

When he retired while I was still working, he quietly, graciously, began assuming far more than his share of household tasks. And I graciously let him.

Now that I’ve been retired for several years, this imbalance has become way too comfortable for me. It offends my sense of equity and makes me imagine myself like this:

Photo by Roxanne Minnish on Pexels.com

Of course, for the past 6-1/2 months, I’ve been recuperating from my knee replacement surgery—during which time my spouse has had even more responsibilities, especially early on.

His tasks included refilling my icing gizmo several times a day. I still turn to the gizmo when my new knee complains I’ve overused it. A few weeks ago, I asked him to show me how the gizmo works.

Bulletin: it’s easy-peasy. I coulda been doing it myself.

We’ve managed to make it through the pandammit with little discord—in part because the house we love is, though not large, big enough to afford each of us the alone time we both need and crave.

Until now. Now we bicker. And it’s always about the oatmeal.

One of his self-assigned tasks has been to make our steel-cut oatmeal each morning. This task, I’ve learned, is an art form that apparently takes a long apprenticeship to master.

A complication in our household is the fine, expensive, fully ceramic pot we bought in our quest for healthful cookware that wouldn’t flick impurities into our oatmeal or other ingestibles.

But this pot does not know when to stop. It holds the heat so well that it’s anyone’s guess how much less time it will take to cook anything than a recipe, common sense, or years of experience may dictate.

As my spouse is an early riser and I am not, it’s reasonable for him to make the oatmeal. But steel-cut oats take so long to cook in the morning that he’d start the process the night before.

One night after dinner, quite suddenly, he suggested that he could train me in this highly precise effort involving water, oatmeal, timing, and burner flame height—all impeccably calibrated to the unreasonable demands of our ceramic pot.

I could do the evening prep work and he could complete the task in the morning.

Of course, I felt it was the least I could do, so I jumped at the chance—well, I didn’t exactly jump, because, you know…

Anyway, I dutifully took notes. This is the unfolding of the four-step process:

  1. Pour 4-1/4 cups water into the pot. Cover. Set flame to bring to a boil, setting timer for 15 minutes. Ping, ping, ping goes the timer.
  2. Uncover the pot and add 1 cup of steel-cut oats. Reduce flame to simmer. We’re in Goldilocks territory now: not too high, not too low… Set timer for six minutes. Ping, ping, ping.
  3. Turn off flame. Cover pot and cool before refrigerating. Set timer for 15 minutes. Ping, ping, ping. (We’ve actually shaved five minutes off the cooling period that the customer service person who answered our questions about the pot insisted were necessary: 20 minutes before placing pot into the fridge; 20 minutes out of fridge before heating. My spouse deemed these waits fridgin’ excessive. The pot has adjusted to our adjustment.)
  4. Open refrigerator door and carry pot oh-so-carefully from stove to refrigerator. Place slightly cooled pot (fragile entity that it is) onto prepositioned trivet. Close refrigerator door.

Despite the complexity, I’ve gotten everything right a number of times. But sometimes I don’t. (And sometimes he doesn’t—and I scrape the burned oatmeal out of the ceramic pot in the morning.)

The thing is, it’s now my job, and I want to do it without my supervisor hovering over my shoulder. But he’s having a tough time letting go. “We’ll do it together,” he says.

And so we bicker.

In the scheme of things, it’s not a huge problem, I realize—breathing in and out as my mindfulness training drifts in to restore my equilibrium.

I have much to be grateful for, I remind myself. I’m a very lucky woman.

After all, he may ask me to do the laundry!

If you live with another adult—spouse, partner, aging parent, adult child, etc.—and would like to share a story or anecdote about labor divisions causing strife, including a resolution, perhaps, I’d love to hear it!


PS: The title of this post refers not to insults my spouse or I may have leveled at one another—we don’t do that. It came to mind as a catchy variation on Democratic strategist James Carville’s slogan during the Clinton presidency: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Another PS: He’s my blog post First Reader, and he’s very good. Though he doesn’t make many suggestions, I rarely ignore any of them. Let’s see what he has to say about this Personal Essay!

20 thoughts on ““It’s the Cereal, Stupid!”

    1. Ooh, harsh first response, mm! And though I thought I’d leave a little mystery, he did like the post—and reminded me about his conversation with the customer service rep. (He doesn’t do puns, though, so I take responsibility for “fridgin’ excessive.”) More importantly, I now have complete autonomy in my evening prep work. Perhaps this is the first blog post that resolved marital discord—small though it was…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Well, I hate to say it Annie but it sounds to me like you have an ideal marriage. I feel qualified to make that assessment because I feel like I have an ideal marriage and my husband doesn’t do jack squat! That’s not really true but cooking, housekeeping, laundry, and many other household tasks are largely left to me.

    It’s not that my husband is a chauvinist. It’s just that he simply doesn’t care enough about such things to prioritize them above other tasks he’s put on his plate. We used to divide up the chores when we were first married and while he had good intentions, he wouldn’t get around to his half of the work until I’d given countless reminders. It was frustrating and I found that I hated being ignored more than doing the work myself.

    Oddly enough, I feel like my husband is one of the easiest people to live with. He’s my best friend and enthusiastically supports anything and everything I want to do. If he stood behind me while I was cooking and even hinted that I might try a different technique, he’d know within seconds that he’d made a terrible mistake.

    Like your husband, he’s also my first reader and I take his suggestions to heart. We’re coming up on 40 years together. It’s been a blast. Every marriage has some challenges. If bickering over burning the oatmeal is one of your marriage’s biggest shortcomings, I’d say you’re as close to bliss as it gets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Carol. I appreciate your sharing a very different but also highly valued relationship. I shall now blissfully assume my slothful position with a silenced inner critic.

      I read your response to my spouse, who laughed and said, “Maybe you should tell her about your next post!”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He was joking—suggesting I’d next reveal some “dark side.” I never tell him what I’m writing about until I’ve completed a post. And, in my slothfulness, I also never plan ahead.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I could regale you with the Battle of the Steamed Broccoli, or the Skirmish o’er the Sweet Potatoes. I think you have the gist captured in the oatmeal offensive. Though we’ve lived together a long time (yeah, decades, although it might seem longer, like decades of dog years), we do have different tastes about some things. Just have to work it out and grimace — I mean, smile. Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

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