Friday, 12 December 2008

Spitting in the wind

A telephone conversation with my sister-in-law, who flew over from Holland yesterday to spend this weekend visiting her mother, giving her some quality time with her 18 month old grandson;

Me: "So, are you packed?"

Her: "Oh, just about. I've got a couple of things to do, ironing and stuff..."

Me: "Why don't you just iron when you get here?"

Her: "Oh, not ironing for me. No, for R (her husband, who was staying behind)."

Me (blankly): "I'm sorry?"

Her: "Well, he needs shirts..."

Me: "You are joking, right? Why can't R iron his own shirts?"

Her: "Well, he's not very good at it (she pauses as I snort), and - and - if I don't do them, he'll take them to his mother to do!"

Me: "And this is a problem... why?"

Her: "Well, I don't like her to, she'll think less of me, and she only lives around the corner and I don't want her to... well, then she'll be here every moment and... "

Me: "You're mad. If your mother in law offers to do your ironing, let her for chrissake. It's not like you don't have enough on your plate already (s-in-law is just pregnant for the second time). Why make more work for yourself?"

Her: "I don't know..."

Me: "Listen to me. I have been with your brother 14 years and never ironed a single one of his shirts. He is just as capable of making an inadequate job of it as I am. Luckily for him, the cleaner now makes a better job of it than either of us, but still... there are limits. I cook, I clean (in-between the cleaner's visits, admittedly), I do the shopping, I look after the children, I do the school runs and the taxi-service, I do the admin, I do the laundry, I do whatever needs doing outside, and pretty much everything else. The least he can do is iron his own shirts..."

Poor Sis-in-law. She was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I mentioned in my last post that I've been reading Wife in the North, and am currently going through a phase of 'Oh my god, that's me!' about every second page. I've lost count of the times that I've read something and had to stop myself highlighting the passage and racing in to Husband (when he's here, that is), shouting 'Look! Look! Look at this! That's why I get so cross!'

Now, obviously my Husband has not forced me to abandon my beloved London town and move hundreds of miles away. (Though it's not beyond the realms of possibility). No, I'm talking more about her observations on men and women's different approach to family life. For example...

'I believe there is an army of angry women out there. Each rage different but a common theme - the high-earning husband, clever, ambitious and obsessed with work. This obsession drives the man to work through nights and weekends, year after year..... Throughout this time, his resenting wife will do that thing commonly described as 'picking up the slack'. This generally translates to 'looking after the children'. Morning, she will get up with the children to allow her husband to have an extra hour lie-abed to make up for how late he stayed at the office. 'This job is killing me,' he will tell her, his eyes closed. His staggering wife, already clocked on for her all-day/all-night shift....' (Judith O'Reilly, Wife in the North)

This book is by no means all so grim. Much of it is hilarious. But she does tell it how it is, and it's been a while since I sat down and thought of it like that. In much the same way as Wife in the North, I don't want my husband to change. He is who he is; I knew that when I married him. And he does pull his weight within our family. That's not the issue here.

What is the issue - and apologies for repeating myself, as I know it's an old recurring theme with me - is that sometimes it just gets right on my tits (there is no other way to put it) that all my experience, education, and work-related abilities are sitting at home fallow for the forseeable future. I know, I could go back to work. Believe me, I've thought about it. But with a travelling husband this is the best way for our family for now, there is no doubt in my mind on that matter. And besides, I enjoy being home with the Boys. Well - most of the time I enjoy it. Some of the time it's just about OK.

And let's not talk about the rest...


  1. Gah, I know where you're coming from. Have had the travelling husband myself. I've ironed for him sometimes, but he'll mostly do it himself. I think the realisation that when he was away he had to do his own ironing helped with that resolve. But don't be too hard on the sister in law. There would be nothing worse than the interfering mother in law finding a way in to take over. In her shoes I'd probably be doing the shirts as well.... but then I'm stupid. (When husband went to China for a 3 month stint back in about 2001 we agreed that I'd get a cleaner, and/or someone in to mow, but I was too proud. I wanted to prove that I could manage on my own.

  2. My first husband wanted his button down dress shirts ironed just so and since he wouldn't iron them himself, and I wouldn't do them just so, he took them to the dry cleaner's once a week and had them also lightly starched. It solved everyone's problem. Can you imagine me turning out shirts that were done that perfectly? No way! We also had a gardener to mow all the lawns.

  3. ironing? ironing? what is ironing?

  4. I gave up on ironing several years ago and like you, now pay my cleaner to do it. But The Doctor never expected me to iron his shirts. And if I ever did, I would have made a hash of it.

    But you are right, there are plenty of women who do, and there is still a lot of completely wasted female talent out there doing menial tasks (while mediocre men rise to the top jobs as their female colleagues fall by the wayside). I feel strongly that I shouldn't work full time while the children are young, but sometimes I wonder what my career would be like now if I had chosen differently....

  5. First, the shirts, I agree your sister is nuts.

    Second, enjoy your fulltime job, yes, your 24 by 7 on call girl Friday job.

    It will be over before you know it.

  6. There just should be more flexibility in the workplace, which would generate more part-time work for intelligent educated women.

    What nobody tells you is this (and this isn't going to be very cheering, sorry). You think it's just when the children are little that you can't combine family life and work. You think that when they're at school, you'll go back. But it's not that simple. Who is going to look after them in the holidays? Can you fit your hours into school hours? If not, what is the after school club like? (Don't know about round you, but here, they're pretty grim.) Is it more important to you to work and earn, than to give your children a nice evening vegging out at home, or being taken to life-enhancing activities? I think it's the holidays that are the killer, though.

  7. Tara, you are a better woman than I. Bring on the cleaner and gardner, that's what I say...

    Irene, I don't have a lawn but if I did...

    Grit, it's something you pay someone else to do when you're foolish enough to buy something that you didn't read the care label for... (as if)

    NVG, I guess we'll always wonder what might have been. Not that I would change my decision - and given the current financial climate I probably would have been in exactly the same situation now, just not of my choosing!

    Thames, good advice. I'll take it. (I may moan a little now and again though. I'm not that perfect.)

    Iota, I know. As more of my friends reach that stage in their family lives I hear it more and more. God only knows what the answer is...

  8. I have hesitated to comment on this one but have gritted my teeth and am confessing! I used to iron a minimum of 15 shirts a week during term time and at least 5 on most other weeks. If I hadn't done it they would have happily gone out in un-ironed shirts but in my anal-retentive perfectionist soul I just couldn't deal with it! Now none of us wears much that needs ironing (and anyway the boys have left home) and DH does all of the plain ironing. One of his new skills learnt since he retired ;-)

  9. Sharon, don't hesitate, I know the day will come when I won't be able to avoid it any longer (for my boys at least). Luckily Boy #1's primary school has polo shirts as uniform, so no ironing clothes for him yet - but I know it's just a matter of time!

  10. I have read a couple of books like this and I do the same thing to Hubby...running to tell him "That's me!" and he looks at me like "OK. Whatever."

    In other I"m crazy. Because I am.

    I don't iron his shirts either. He does it himself. Of course, he also washes the clothes (but doesn't fold them or put them away) and the dishes and scrubs the floors and vacuums from time to time so I can't complain very much.

  11. As with many women commenting here, I can so relate to what you said. Some of it for me is just knowing that what i do IS notcied and IS appreciated. Pathetic but that goes a long way for me.
    Just because we made a certain choice doesns't mean a. its wonderful all the time or b.) easy much of the time.

    I show my husband bits in books like that to PROVE I'm not mad/batty/unhinged, really really strange & a one off, as he makes me feel sometimes when he looks at me with blank incomprehension..

    I must also confess I even put food in the freezer for my husband when I go away (becasue we're livign abroad & I go back to england for 6 wks in the summer. And I feel guilty...) it' s the guilt that's the killer. I don't iron hi sshirts tho, the cleaner does, and he moans about how badly they've been ironed!

  12. I have to admit to ironing the occasional shirt - similar reasons to Sharon. But I do draw the line at boxer shorts

    And I reckon that if everyone could agree to stop ironing all at once, and didn't sneak in the odd ironing session, we could close a multitude of power stations and save the world at the same time. How about that for a plan?

  13. Mr B irons his own shirts and does the kids stuff too. I do everything else but he's the ironing man. And I would love it if my mum-in-law offered to do it. Sighhhh.


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