The baseboards are dirty
The days before we host people in our home are probably some of my husband Dan's least favorite days ever--like, right up there with going to the dentist and taking standardized tests. Because it is on these days that I finally find the motivation to tackle the nagging cleaning projects that have not seemed pressing until I realize that other people will see the filth in which we live. While I am incapable of sitting down to watch a TV show if loose, unorganized clutter is in my line of vision, I can go weeks without dusting and mopping. I am fine with a thin layer of grime attached to the surfaces of our home, but I am less fine with others knowing about it.
And so in the mops and rags and cleaning potions all come out in anticipation of our friends' and family's visits. I compile a list of chores and divide them between Dan and me, and we get to work--work that is all the more difficult, I realize, because the dirt has accumulated, unchecked by a regular scrubbing regimen. Dan acquiesces to my requests for help, but I wonder if some day his patience with (or indulgence of) my needs will disappear. You see, he does not "see" what I see when looking at our rugs or blinds or countertops. "What do you mean, the baseboards are dirty?" he once asked, as though he had never thought to look at them before. And then I realized: he never had.
Who is right? In this age of gender equality and its implications for domestic liberation, should I alone carry the burden for maintaining a clean home--or, I suppose put more accurately, with identifying the steps that must be taken to achieve a clean home? Dan and I work concertedly to share the labor of running our household: we both cook, run errands, do laundry, care for our dog. We have discovered over time, however, that our expectations and standards are not the same. Dan can make a veggie burger recipe and call it alone dinner, whereas I walk into the kitchen and the first words out of my mouth are "Where are the sides?"
Centuries of gender socialization still haunt us: I instinctively identify all the ways that our nest fails to sparkle, and Dan seeks a house that is "good enough." We once judged a woman by the behavior of her children and the tidiness of her home and a man by the success of his career. Today we judge a woman by the success of her career and the behavior of her children and the tidiness of her home--in other words, how well she juggles it all. We judge a man by the success of his career. Our home is still at the center of my world, my ambitions, my aspirations, but Dan's vision extends far beyond: the home is but a mere part of the legacy he will leave behind.
Often our conversations when my chore list comes out proceed along these lines:
Dan: But our friends love us. They don't care if the baseboards are dirty.
Me: Yes, they do love us. And we love them. That's why we should clean the baseboards: to show our friends that we care about them enough to invite them into a well-kept home.
Mars, Venus. Maybe one day--in our children's time? Grandchildren's time?--we'll both speak from the same place.