Ah yes. There has been something of a learning curve in this area and I haven’t reached the top yet. In South Africa, domestic labour is plentiful, affordable and excellent. In Switzerland, it’s none of those things. So I’ve had to do it myself and I am not not good at it. Even back in South Africa, where I had a full-time, live-in domestic worker (oh those joyous days!), I wasn’t much of a housekeeper and the house always looked half-trashed.
Here, it’s killing me. Every morning I pick up my Ikea broom and mop set and I attack the house.
“Back,” I shout as I throw hot, soapy water in its eyes. I hurl things into the rubbish bin, I wrestle heaps of dirty laundry down the stairs and other heaps of clean laundry up again, where I fling it into piles on the spare bed. “Stay there, Goddamn you,” I tell it.
I load and unload the dishwasher about fifty times a day. I pick up toys every ten minutes. I sort piles of papers.
But it’s a thankless fucking task, I can tell you. Because it takes about an hour for it all to go to hell again. Cups and bowls tip themselves over onto the floor I’ve just mopped; the piles of laundry fall over and mingle with one another; the socks run off in different directions. And paper! Paper is a Hydra. Paper is a clutch of kittens that loves me and wants to be with me. Paper is a clutch of Hydra kittens.
We reached a housekeeping low a while back. For various reasons (I was writing a novel), I let my housekeeping slide, culminating one morning in my long suffering husband having to sit at the kitchen table wrapped only in a damp towel, while his underwear, socks and shirt were in the tumble dryer. We’d run out of muesli and milk, and I’d given the children the last of the yoghurt, so I think he was eating tinned ravioli for breakfast. And trying to read a magazine which the children had floated in the sink overnight.
Laundry is probably my greatest challenge. The day the children go to school with matching socks will be a happy one for us all.
“You have a choice,” I told the five year old the other day. “You can either wear a pair of your sister’s socks, which will be too small but they match. Or you can wear socks that fit you but are in two different patterns.”
Unfortunately we’ve raised her to expect more from life. “Why can’t I wear socks that match and that fit me?”
“Well”, I answered, “that’s very selfish of you. Look around at your family. Are any of us wearing clothes that match? No. We’re all wearing whatever is clean and reasonably dry, and we’re okay. Except your poor father who’s in a hell of a state. We all need to do our bit, child. So put on the damn socks and stop behaving like Paris Hilton.”
Back in South Africa I would’ve found all this exasperating but quite amusing. But here, it means failure. Because suddenly the playing fields have changed. Now that I’m a Trailing Spouse, I don’t contribute to the family financially in any way (Yet! Yet! I always say). My husband earns all the money, I do all the cleaning (sort of, see previous), all the shopping, all the cooking.
He’s doing his job well. I’m not.
And gallingly, we couldn’t swap places. There is almost nothing I could do that would support us here, in this expensive place. (I say ‘almost’ because, despite my performance to date, I still believe I might actually be able to finish the novel and sell it for a reasonable amount of money one day).
How this all sits with my feminism, I still don’t know. I like being home for my daughters; it worries me that they think the norm is for the daddy to earn money and the mommy to stay at home cleaning the house.
So maybe it’s okay that they also think it’s quite normal for the daddy to occasionally have to sit around in a towel waiting for his underwear to dry because the mommy was too busy writing her novel to remember to do the laundry.

2 Replies to “Housework”

  1. Hey Robyn! Everyone here in SA misses you and wishes you luck with the novel Jessie and Roxy and (GASP!) The laundry 🙂

    1. Thanks Caity. You can come over and do laundry whenever you like. I mean ski! You can come over and ski whenever you like …

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