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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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!