Last Thursday night, after an exhausting philosophical round of "Is bedtime really mandatory?" with our 4-year-old and 18-month-old daughters, I took up the task of finding clothes to wear to work for the next day. The first three cardigans I picked up revealed holes (darn you, cheap megastore!). A survey of my closet showed not a single pair of clean trousers, except the ones that don't button properly (darn you, dessert!). How could this be? Further investigation led me to the laundry basket outside our bedroom door, which was filled to the brim with a neatly sorted, completely useless pile of dirty work clothes.
"What's wrong?" my husband asked, attracted by my stream of colorful curses.
"The laundry didn't get done, it's already 10 pm, and now I have nothing to wear to work tomorrow," I seethed. He looked at me sympathetically.
I resisted the urge to berate him -- after all, by ancient contract, laundry was technically his wheelhouse -- or plead my case as to why I couldn't possibly add laundry to the giant list of responsibilities on my plate. (New-job integrating! Feminist-example-setting! Stomach-roll eliminating!) He'd just give me that silent, chiding look that said, "Today I cut up tiny pieces of fruit for school lunches. I wiped perpetually snotty little noses. I let you blow dry your hair in peace while the girls spilled milk on my work pants. Of course I didn't get to the laundry." What an annoying, guilt-inducing, completely justified drag!
Instead, I raised my fist in the air and did what my husband and I do in these situations.
"Hazel!" I hissed.
We blamed the maid. Our imaginary maid.
You see, after countless fights and account-taking conversations where we (mostly I) searched for the perfect chore distribution that would get it all done, my husband and I had reached a conclusion. Listen carefully:
There is more work to do in a household with kids than two well-intentioned parents could ever accomplish.
No fancy system, no stay-at-home parent, no husband who really took you seriously could ever make it work. Don't let any ladies' magazine, self-help book or your mother (in-law) tell you otherwise. There's just too much. And my hubby and I always feel we should have some third person to turn to -- a nanny? An indentured servant? A sister wife? -- who could pick up the slack. Or at least take the blame when it all goes to hell and the lunches haven't been made. And there are no spoons left. And all the ballet tights need to be hand-washed. And you forgot to write thank you notes -- again. And it's 10:30 on a school night.
You see, we don't want to be bickering our life away. It's no fun to see your spouse as a walking list of mistakes -- and it's certainly not very romantic. So we've learned to put the blame on our vision of the perfect housekeeper/maid: Hazel, from the 1960's TV show. I like to think that Hazel is cheerful, hardworking and so on-the-ball that whenever she makes a tiny mistake -- say, leaving the diaper bag at the park (in no way drawn from personal experience) or letting the rice pilaf burn while she's reading Downton Abbey recaps (again, completely theoretical here) -- we can only grumble good-naturedly for a minute before wholeheartedly forgiving her.
After all, this is the person who cooks the kids' dinner, right? And remembers to bake/buy cupcakes for their birthdays, even if that means getting gluten/dairy/nut-free ones for any classmates with allergies. And most days sends the kids out of the house in fairly weather-appropriate attire. And rarely leaves them stranded at school/gymnastics class. And still manages to hold down a job (in or outside of the home) and pay the mortgage/rent. And switches back and forth between kissing booboos and discussing the tax code (or at least Lady Mary's troubles) on a dime.
You know, this Hazel character is actually pretty awesome. I think I should give her a break. Maybe treat her to some babysitting, a bottle of wine... and a raise.