Does your mate ever suddenly leave to disappear, reappearing again in a few minutes with an armload of laundry/stuff/toys? (1-2-3, 1-2-3) Do you ever wonder why your mate gets cranky, occasionally snarling about fair share or even simple appreciation? (1-2-3, 1-2-3) Is there ever a moment in which there’s a sigh as she escapes to respond to a buzzer? (1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4) If you’ve at least noticed these things, you’re ahead of some guys who don’t even recognize that she’s dancing the minuet, a particularly slow and monotonous variety that keeps the rhythm of cooking and housework as everything is done to keep the household moving and everyone on an even keel.
A family is a complex organism and each moves to its own rhythm and tempo – rarely the same and often punctutated by syncopation, especially as the kids age and develop their own interests. The varying tempos means that greater attention must be paid to what’s required to keep everything moving and everyone on an even keel. I don’t understand if it’s training or some sort of gender hardwiring, but I believe that the average woman is better able to multitask a variety of chores and activities than the guy. Men are certainly able to learn and adapt, but I’ve come to know some women of whom I frankly stand in awe.
There are multiple elements to running the household – cooking, laundry, childrearing, cleaning – and most men would probably view them as discrete items, akin to blocks that can be stacked atop one another. Now the laundry is entirely done and I can move on to the cleaning. Once that is done, then I can read to the kids and afterwards, start dinner. Each item has a finite edge and end and never violates the space of the next block. Women have learned that each element is actually akin to a strip of cloth or thread. Each is discrete but instead of stacking, each element is interwoven with another through the course of the day’s and evening’s activities, resulting in something that appears to have been knit together. I’ll sort the laundry and get a load of darks going, and then I’ll read to Junior. After a short book, I can move the washer load to the dryer and reload the washer and while that’s running, I’ll take care of early dinner preparation. It’s a creation of one element followed by another, and then back to the first and then to the third; the result is that the guy’s elements are akin to a colorful Lego tower while the woman’s creation is a well-knit scarf.
The difference between the two is that most men haven’t truly learned that the key to keeping things running is to shift back and forth between the elements, juggling them as deftly as a circus performer. You use a labor-saving device that takes a half-hour to run and then you shift into something that can be accomplished in twenty minutes, such as reading a children’s book or cutting vegetables. Likewise, you fold the laundry and then come back to it later, breaking the larger task into smaller segments. Because they’ve done it for so much longer and been able to watch their own mothers, women have a much better sense of what’s involved and how they interplay. Men can learn it too, but it will take considerable effort, attention and time before they can even begin to create a piece as intricate as their mate’s.
The archetypal father was someone who came home from work and played with the kids, and then did the finite, discrete tasks that were akin to projects – the honeydew list. Fix something, paint something and move on to the next item. There would be singular differences between each which provided some variety and interest. Women have known for generations that even after this was painted or that was fixed, they were left with the same four elements; there was – and is – never an end to the process. The result is a sense of having to dance the same dance, keeping everything moving, with never a difference in the music for variety and worse, no one to watch them or realize how well they dance their particular minuet. Everyone likes an audience from time to time, observing and appreciating them for what they’ve managed to accomplish and for some dancers, this is sufficient. But if you think of it, dancing is something that’s meant to be done with a partner and most women find that the additional dimension of a partner gives meaning to the dance and respite from the boredom.
Stop, observe and think about what you’re seeing if your mate is responsible for the household management. Consider what’s involved and at least acknowledge the job being done. Better yet, find the rhythm and give her a partner in the dance.
(1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4…)