Only 10 more minutes and I have to leave for work. Just time enough to squeeze in one more chore. I'll set up the iron, and it can heat while I'm tying my tie (that's efficiency for you). I can press those napkins we plan to use for brunch Saturday, and I'll be off on the dot.
Press those napkins? Is that any job for a man? Sure it is, if both husband and wife work.
I'm the family cleaning person, and one thing I've learned is you've got to be efficient when you also have a fulltime job. Already, I'd changed the bedsheets, scrubbed one of the bathrooms, dusted and vacuumed the living room and waxed and wiped the kitchen. It's a weekly regimen I've managed to compress to two whirlwind hours in our two-bedroom apartment. Not bad, if you don't look too closely at the results.
Should I admit it? I also ran over to the florist's for daisies and jonquils, and-it might as well all come out-arranged them as a brunch centerpiece.
Is this yet one more example of role reversal, the husband at home with the dustmop and laundry basket while the wife brings in the bread? Not on your life. Remember, I've got my job. And my wife Sandy has her chores, too, along with a fulltime job. She's our chief cook, and that's a task at least equal to keeping the floors gleaming up at you.
Our division of labor has come about naturally from our unusual working circumstances. She has a day job and I have a night job. And we live in an apartment.
The traditional household responsibility of the American male is the yard. Mow the lawn, rake the leaves, prune the bushes, shovel the snow from the sidewalk, paint the porch. Well, somebody else does all that when home is nine floors up the elevator. We don't even own a car I can take to be washed or serviced.
Unless I stepped in to do some of the household work. Sandy would have ended up with everything. But I don't think either of us ever doubted before we married that the chores would be shared.
How I came to be the cleaning person is simple enough. Housecleaning takes energy, lots of it. The kind of energy you have when you wake up after a good night's sleep but don't when you've put in eight rough ones at the office. When I get up, with the hours before I have to suit up for the office, I plunge into my housekeeping. (What this means for my energy level later at the desk I won't go into.)
When Sandy gets home from work, she can study for a professional course she is taking or relax. My turn to relax is on the weekends, when Sandy takes over in the kitchen.
That's not to say she languishes alone all day over the pots and potatoes. When dinnertime comes, I can be counted on to make the salad. Generally, I hang around the kitchen with a drink in my hand catching up with the week's gossip and chopping an onion or carrot when pressed into it. And I'm not up to my elbows in Babo all week long, either. There's plenty time to read and jog.
To us it seems an equitable arrangement. The house is (reasonably) clean, fixing dinner can be fun, and with most of the other chores out of the way we have more time to enjoy our weekends together.
Along the way, we've developed a certain teamwork. Take our Saturday brunch:
With the house in order, I tied my tie, ironed the napkins and went to work. On her way home Friday night Sandy stopped to pick up the champagne to chill and some last-minute ingredients for eggs Benedict and a frest fruit salad. She prepared what she could in advance and set the table. (We'd done a lot of conferring on the phone, since we don't usually see each other from Sunday night to Saturday morning.)
The next morning,while she sliced the fruit and whipped up a perfect hollandaise sauce, I hurried out to the bakery to buy fresh Danish pastries to go with the tea and coffee. When the guests arrived we began to move with clocklike precision. I popped the corks, she poached the eggs and fried the ham, I toasted the muffins. The hosts, the guests and the food reached the table together in the most amiable way. Afterwards, we both cleaned up.
The food got full praise, but so did the flowers.
We're fallen naturally into other divisions of labor. I do most of the grocery shopping (the lines are shorter at Safeway at 2 p.m. than at 5); Sandy sews on missing buttons. She writes thank-you notes and maintains other such social niceties; I water the plants (hard to get around to in the morning if you've got to be at work by 8:30). She pores over cookbooks for new recipes and keeps up to date on wine labels and vintages; I empty the trash. We maintain separate checking accounts and pay our own bills. Almost everything that needs ironing-except napkins-goes to the drycleaners.
Just a quick word now about housekeeping. What I've managed to learn I want to pass on.
Some people clean one room at a time. I've found things get done faster if you do one task at a time-sweep all the floors first, dust at the furniture in all the rooms at once and then vacuum all the rugs. Carry the furniture polish and cloth from room to room and then put it away and get on to something else. You save time by not having to remember where you last put it down.
And you get the job done faster if you don't interrupt to watch "As the World Turns." Two hours of dustmopping, vacuuming, stooping, scraping and scouring also can be good exercise.
I put all this down not to argue that a man's place is behind the Windex bottle, but to illustrate what one husband and wife are doing to pursue separate carrers but still maintain a comfortable home in which neither feels he or she is being taken advantage of.
A couple of possibilities do threaten our arrangement. We could move into a house, which means one of us (it's by no means certain who) would have to take on the yardwork, and we could both work the day shift, which probably means neither of us would have the energy to be the cleaning person.
For the time being, though, one thing is certain. No matter how we share responsibility, I won't do her laundry. Or clean her bathroom. Floors and windows, yes, but every cleaning person has her-or his-limit.