I’m sitting around the dinner table with my husband, daughter (10) and son (8), the way we do most evenings. I interject the usual excited recap of the day’s events with the the usual “finish what’s in your mouth before you speak”, “focus on your dinner” comments. The kids trip over the top of each other to fill us in on the minutiae of their day. It’s pretty standard family evening meal fare, and I have to admit that I’m not really paying attention. There is only so much schoolyard gossip and “Mrs such-and-such says” that I can absorb in a single sitting. I smirk at my husband whose threshold for inane chatter is higher than mine, but even he is at his limit.
“Anyway,” my son shrugs, “girl’s do the cleaning.”
We all stop. Dead. We are the contents of a vacuum seal compression bag and someone has just hit the on switch. My daughter is frozen, mid-chew. It’s hard to know whether she’s angry, frightened of my reaction or a little of both, but she seems to have lost voluntary muscle control of her entire body—except for her eyes which dart between me and her brother. My husband has also stalled. And the 8-year-old boy? He looks at us all as though we have all gone mad.
“What?” he says. “They do.” He follows up his casual observation with another mouthful of dinner as though all is normal in the world.
Someone hits the restart button on the three of us, the three connected to reality, and we all speak at once.
“No, they don’t!”
“Where did you hear that?”
My son shrugs again, “I don’t know. They just do.”
There’s long pause as we all try and piece together where this attitude came from. He isn’t trying to be rude, or inconsiderate. To him it’s just a fact in the same way that (to him) farts are funny or the dog will steal any food the second it is left unattended.
Eventually I say to him, “You cleaned the toilet this morning.”
“Yeah, but that’s only because you made me. I didn’t want to.” As if this solves it. Oh… now I understand. Girl’s do all the cleaning because that WANT to.
My daughter laughs.
“And why did I make you?”
He smirks, “Because I wee’d all over it.”
“Gross,” my daughter mutters and rolls her eyes.
I take a bite of food and look around our large, messy kitchen, dining and living room. The benchtops are covered in jumpers, paperwork, dishes and the kitchen-waste that needs put out in the compost bin. The couch has two dressing gowns, a blanket plus the dog draped across it. I can count no less than four and a half pairs of shoes strewn across the floor and I swear the pile of clothes on the laundry bench is attempting to seep through the door and devour us all, Blob-style.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that you could set a murder scene in my living room:
Two detectives stand surveying the crime-scene. The older, more experienced detective, a woman in her mid-fifties, shakes her head sadly as she takes in the clothes strewn across the room and the food decomposing on the counter-top. [This links to a backstory about a childhood endured in a messy house, courtesy of an alcoholic mother.]
“Poor bloody woman. There are clear signs of a struggle here.” She crouches down and lifts a bloodied blanket off the floor. Something unsavoury lies beneath it.
The other detective sucks in her breath. “An old bowl of cereal,” she says, retching and turning away in disgust.
“There’s more, I don’t think that laundry has been touched in, what, two maybe three weeks. There must be at least twenty pairs of underpants just sitting there on the top of the pile. God knows what we’d find in there if we went digging.” [Socks. So many socks.]
What, I wonder, in the eight years that this small boy has walked the Earth and lived in this house under my regime, makes him think that women do the cleaning? Then, as I look with distaste at the shamble of my living area, that this house and its untidiness is actually a feminist act. Not one that has worked to convince my son that it’s not mine, his sister’s or any other woman’s job to clean up after him, but a statement nonetheless. With that I console myself that he’ll learn, even if he has to scrub that damn toilet every day until he moves out of home.
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