John Kelly's Washington

One Family's Division of Labor: Bug Squishers, Milk Smellers, Appointment Setters

By John Kelly
Monday, September 7, 2009

Today is Labor Day, the day we Americans traditionally honor the working men and women. I'd honor the working children, too, but they're sleeping late, the lazy bums.

Labor Day is meant to be about work work, the stuff you do at the factory, farm or office. But, really, where does most work happen? Like freak accidents, heart attacks and marital infidelity, most work happens at home.

Something always needs doing at home. There's the routine maintenance that must be performed regularly to keep your house from being featured on Fox 5 News, and there are those emergency projects that crop up.

Just when you think you've got the vacuuming/dusting/dishwasher-emptying cycle down pat, the paint on the living room ceiling starts to crack. You could just repaint it, but it probably started cracking because there's water pooling on the bathroom floor above. The water, no doubt, came from the tub, which probably needs to be caulked. To get the caulk, you'll need to go through the basement, where you'll be reminded that the light switch doesn't work, and into the garage, where you'll be reminded that the sump pump doesn't work.

Is it any wonder that some of us prefer to spend our time at the office?

In a well-ordered house, there's usually a clear division of labor, especially when it comes to chores. But this division also extends to more esoteric tasks. For example:

Who sniffs the milk in your family? There's always one person who has the role of designated food safety inspector. Ground beef, cold cuts, milk -- each item is subjected to an official sniff if there is any doubt about its suitability. In our house, it's My Lovely Wife.

Of course, anybody ought to be able to do this, right? I mean, spoiled milk is spoiled milk. But I doubt my nasal abilities. I'm suspicious if the milk smells bad before the sell-by date on the label, and I'm suspicious if it smells good after the date.

Who kills the vermin? Ideally, each household member would be responsible for his or her own flies, roaches and mice. But often when a pest is spotted, the cry goes out for the designated executioner. Typically, I deal with the invertebrates (spiders, crickets, etc.), while my wife lays the traps for the vertebrates (mice).

Who makes the kids' doctor appointments? I can take a child to a doctor appointment, but I can't make a child's doctor appointment. Is there something wrong with me?

Alexandria's Jim Ward has been thinking about the expectations involved in child-rearing as it applies to his 3 1/2- and 1 1/2- year-olds. "The bar for Daddy childcare is lower than for Mommy childcare," he writes. "For example, the clothes don't have to match and the kids don't have to stay clean." Jim has noticed that his wife has slowly been adding more rules:

1. Come home with the same number of children you left with.

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