This past fall, my husband and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. In celebrity years, that’s like celebrating your 15th. But in normal people years, it’s like….”BFD, here’s a piece of wood.”
Though my five years might not make me a marital expert, I like to think I’ve learned a useful thing or two about maintaining and building a successful marriage.
The last many months have been incredibly hectic on the work front. I absorbed some additional responsibilities for what was supposed to be a temporary assignment when a co-worker of mine was fired, but its now close to a year later and the workload has yet to be redistributed or her position replaced.
As a result, the work-life balance I had carved out for myself has been disrupted and I’m rapidly losing my patience with the whole thing….especially since my salary hasn’t been adjusted to fairly compensate me for the increased workload.
So, with work eating up more of my time these days, my husband has taken up the slack for some of the household tasks I had previously managed exclusively.
As a couple, we’ve settled into a routine over the years. My husband takes on the bulk of the responsibility for supporting us financially and I’ve assumed the majority of the responsibilities for household tasks like the laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation and being the on-call parent.
Though it requires a significant amount of juggling and organization, it’s been doable. In large part, because I have the luxury of working from home almost exclusively and I’m a pretty good multi-tasker.
On any given day, I might be engaging fully in a conference call with senior Vice Presidents at The Big Ass Company, while simultaneously managing school pick-up/drop-off, folding a load of laundry, making dinner, cruising through the grocery store and lately, getting in at least a once daily workout at the gym.
It can be an exhausting balancing act and one that often leaves little room for error, but I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. I love that I get to be a hybrid version of a stay-at-home mom/working mom.
Lately though, thanks to work pressures, the balance has been harder and harder to maintain, but my husband and I make a really good team and he’s always willing to pick-up the slack.
Most recently, that willingness manifested itself in tackling our laundry. Most often, I manage to keep the laundry under relative control….often throwing in a load or two throughout the week as it accumulates or tackling it all on a weekend afternoon. However, thanks to my pesky employer, many of my evenings and even some of my weekends have been consumed with work and keeping on top of the laundry has fallen lower on my priority list.
However, one morning, when I returned home from a 5:30am workout to find my husband rifling through the sorted, but unwashed piles of clothes, for the cleanest pair of dirty underwear he could find, I promised to tackle it that evening when I returned home from a work meeting I had to attend for the day.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” He offered. It was a teacher in-service day at my son’s school and my husband had taken the day off to stay home with our son so I could attend my meeting and our son wouldn’t have to spend the day with a babysitter.
“No.” I told him. “I’ll take care of it all when I get home tonight. Just enjoy the day with the little man and don’t worry about it.”
He’s a grown man! Why can’t he toss in a load of laundry? You might be thinking.
In general, my husband knows how to operate the washer and dryer. Ask him to toss in a pile of basic cottons, or a load of towels or sheets and the task is almost always completed without issue….but that’s about where his expertise ends. Unfortunately, he typically fails to consider the washing instructions on clothing labels and assumes it’s perfectly fine to wash everything in hot water….and properly sorting? Well, that’s apparently optional.
In the early years of our co-habitation, there were a number of mishaps involving the destruction of my clothing….some of which were expensive pieces I had proudly purchased when my career afforded me the ability to shop for better quality staples….and I eventually banished him from the task altogether….at least when it came to my stuff. He could wash his stuff all he wanted, but mine was to be off limits.
Clearly, I should have worked that into our marriage vows somehow, because once our laundry situation reached DEFCON 1 status, he apparently decided all bets were off and what had to be done, just had to be done.
When I returned home the evening of his dirty underwear day to find the baskets of sorted laundry I’d relocated to our laundry room were gone, my first through was, No! Oh….no. Please tell me he didn’t.
I made my way into our living room and greeted my little family with hugs and smiles….not daring to ask about the laundry….but silently hoping it had just been relocated or consolidated into another area of our home.
After chatting a bit about our day and our plans for dinner, I headed upstairs to change out of my work clothes. It was then that I found the laundry. It was folded and organized in neat piles on our bed and my heart sank.
As I slowly inspected the piles, pulling out the items I knew were very clearly labeled HAND WASH ONLY and those that should have been dried flat, or tumble dried at best….rather than tossed into the dryer on the high heat setting….I fought back the urge to rage a bit and maybe cry a bit too.
“Well,” I thought, holding up a favorite sweater, “I suppose I should be flattered that he thinks I can squeeze into something that would fit a Cabbage Patch doll.”
As I set about putting away the things that were unscathed, tossing the things that could be donated into one pile and the things that were now trash into a painfully larger pile, I talked myself down as I muttered things like, “How many times have I asked him not to wash my clothes?….Calm down, he was only trying to help and he did it all, with a very busy four-year-old underfoot and you know how hard that is….Yeah, he did it all, every last damn bit of it….It’s not that big of a deal, it’s just clothing….It’s just really nice clothing….But, now you can buy some new things, new things are fun!”
Once calmed, I buried my dead in garbage bags and headed back downstairs.
“So, how did I do?” My husband asked. Clearly proud of himself and hoping I would be pleased.
“Thanks so much for doing all that laundry today. That was a lot to tackle and I really appreciate it.”
Despite my best attempt at cheery thankfulness, I have never been able to control my facial expressions and he clearly knew I wasn’t entirely pleased with his efforts.
“Did I mess anything up?” he asked cautiously.
“There are a few (many) things that will need to be tossed and/or donated.”
He looked stricken.
“It’s OK. I really am thankful that you took care of it all. I was dreading coming home to it after the day I had and I’m not going to be angry with you over a couple (a lotta) articles of clothing. Please don’t worry about it. It’s honestly fine.”
I meant it too. As I glanced around at our beautiful home and considered how blessed I was in our life….and how fortunate I was to be married to the kind of guy I have very little to complain about….who works really hard at a high stress job he doesn’t love….but still comes home with a smile on his face and an eagerness to scoop up our young son for pre-dinner play….who helps with the dishes and then happily takes the parenting reigns in the hour or so before our son goes to bed so I can have a little bit of time to myself to unwind and all before taking any time for himself to shake off his own day….the kind of guy who never misses an opportunity to tell me how much I’m loved and how beautiful I am and how proud he is to call me his wife….the kind of guy who thinks my quirks are endearing and who has always patiently and lovingly weathered the sometimes confusing emotional highs and lows that come with being married to an introverted adult child of an abusive alcoholic mother with all the anxieties and insecurities that come along with it.
“Um, honey?” he said as I sat in contemplative silence.
“Um, you might want to check the washing machine. There’s a final load in there.”
I made my way to the laundry room and slowly lifted the lid to the washing machine to find what had once been a pale pink sweater nestled around some dark grey and black woolens.
“Ralph!” I squeaked, pulling my now dingy, pink, Ralph Lauren cashmere sweater from the mix for inspection. “Oh, Ralph!”
And then, from the living room, I heard the belly laughs of my four-year-old as he wrestled with his dad….my husband. I sighed.
Perspective. I thought.