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Creating Order

alec vanderboom

I'm sort of naturally order-impaired. I tooted that being "messy" was a virtue until I married my husband. Initially, the fact that he adores to steam-clean carpets was a major plus.

That's actually how I calmed myself down one night. After I had dated Jon for five months, I had a panic attack outside the law school library while studying for finals. "This thing is getting way to serious," I thought. I paced back and forth and considered the fearful possibility that he was actually willing to follow me down to my new job in rural Ohio, which also meant that we'd soon be--"gasp" getting engaged.

I tried to calm down my heart, which felt so not ready for the "M" word. "Maybe it will be okay," I thought. "Maybe he will actually be a decent husband." I couldn't even picture that as a possibility, until that image of Jon happily steam-cleaning his apartment carpets came to mind. "He likes to clean. It could actually be nice to be married to a guy who likes to clean carpet."

I can't really describe how a boy cleaning carpet got me over my whole commitment hurdle. Somehow, it was short hand for the fact that I wouldn't be angry and resentful and holding all the housework. I'd gotten terrible scared reading Arlie Hothchild's "The Second Shift" as a freshman and never really got over it.

So I married a neatnik. A boy who liked to clean. For the first year of our marriage we had the must stupid fights. My husband would get overwhelmed with my disorder and kindly clean our entire house. All of my various papers would end up in a giant pile on my desk chair. "I need one place in the house to dump all my things," I'd shout. (This is before the daily Eucharist did wonders on my naturally red hot temper). "I need one place that can be messy. I need one place that's mine!"

"But if it's messy, it bothers me," my husband would say back.

We must have repeated this exact script about 700 times during my pregnancy with Hannah. I didn't like my husband "living" in my house. He didn't like how I lived. Then suddenly, something happened to me. I found that I enjoyed living in an orderly environment. All those benefits of being "messy", being creative, free, inspired, they all could happen in a house where I knew where the tape was kept and where the laundry was to be folded. In fact, having at the ready, along with scissors and crepe paper, often helped creative ideas come to fruition.

So gradually, I figured out how to embrace order. My husband cleaned our house. He mopped with Hannah on his back. He cooked and did the dishes. My sole housekeeping task was keeping up with the laundry.

Then my husband happened to stop working as a graphic designer in our home. He got a "real" job. A job with real hours and fixed demands. He moved to a place with a high allergy count. He started coming home exhausted and sick.

For the first six months, I waited valiantly for the "boy who loves to steam-clean" to come back. My husband still is the only one who cleans our carpets, but the regular, daily tasks of cleaning up toys or loading the dishwasher. These "husband" tasks went undone day after day. I stayed home alone with a 2 year old and a 1 year old. Mess was coming out of our ears.

Somewhere back in 2006, I broke that mental block of insisting that homework was 50-50 deal between husband and wife. It helped that Jon had basically made the housework 90 percent him and 10 percent me during early years of marriage. He felt terrible about being to tired from work and allergies to help me during weekdays. "It's okay!" I said. "You had your time as the cleaning stay-at-home Dad, now it's my turn."

Right now our housework is about 90 percent me and 10 percent him. I don't even have a tally anymore. I sort of think as the whole house as my "job". He cheerfully "helps out" either when we are massively behind before a play-date or on the weekend. This "non-equal" partnership which I dreaded for so long, actually works out very smoothly.

I say that because feminism had really distorted my viewpoint on housework, stay-at-home mothering, and the family structure in general. I truly thought that living the 1950s life was so oppressive. Now that I've tried all different ways and found the old one works best, I'm so over that. The best thing I can say about working outside the home, is worked, my husband and I don't have fights about who's day was worse. I know the horrors that came happen at work. He knows the chaos that can come from young children. At the end of a work-life or home-life story at dinner we'll both say "I don't know how you survived today, how can I help?"

I'm in the midst of trying to errect some boundaries between my parents and me. It's painful work. Everything seems so messy and chaotic right now. It helps to view these things a not a "sin" per se, but rather a system of disorder. After the fall, things are naturally disordered. Our task as Catholics is to create order. Just like learning how to pick up toys behind 2 toddlers, this healthy relationship thing is another skill that I can master. It just takes practice. It just takes love and the sacraments. It just takes the support of a spouse who loves to steam-clean!