Lugging a giant red bag full of trash out to the curb on Monday morning, I began thinking about chores. They’re not my favorite part of the day.
I’d rather read a book than do dishes. I’d prefer to take a walk in the woods instead of shoveling snow out of the driveway. But chores are a necessary part of life.
Chores recently became a larger than usual segment of my daily routine. My wife had ankle surgery, and for the last couple of weeks has needed to move about with only one leg. She can’t put any weight on the recovering foot.
The crutches that came home with her have been gathering dust because she finds it easier to get around on a medical knee scooter. The device looks sort of like a small child’s tricycle. It has four wheels, though, and handlebars, and a little flat padded area atop which the user can place a knee, thereby suspending the injured ankle safely in the air. Once mounted, the user scoots from room to room, pushing herself along with one good leg.
It took some getting used to, but my wife now is getting around the house confidently. With only one leg in action, it is impossible for her to accomplish all the chores she usually tackles.
My wife and I are partners. Like every successful partnership, we split duties according to our relative strengths. Over the years, we’ve fallen into shockingly gender-traditional chore divisions. I take out the garbage, she folds the laundry. I frequently fold my own clothes, but despite decades of repeated lessons, I still am unable to fold a bath towel neatly enough. I try sometimes, but my wife ends up refolding while muttering under her breath something about lack of precision.
My wife’s surgery has temporarily transferred all my partner’s chores to me.
I cheerfully have taken on all the dish washing, grocery shopping, bottle returning, toilet scrubbing and filling of bird feeders. I usually share at least somewhat in these joys, but now it’s all in my court. I always take out the trash and clear snow from the driveway. The general neatness of our house has suffered since my wife had her surgery, particularly the vacuuming. But I’ll get there, I promise.
My wife actually enjoys — she says — washing clothes, and years ago I fell out of practice in that task. But washing clothes is like riding a bicycle — you never forget.
My wife has offered detailed instructions about sorting colors, which loads require which temperatures, how much soap different types of loads need, which fabric softening technique is appropriate in various situations and which items of clothing absolutely cannot go into the dryer.
I have carefully been extracting the specified delicates from each load and hanging them up to dry.
But the other details? Don’t tell my wife, but I have reverted to my bachelor shortcut for laundry. Everything goes into the washing machine together, gets a medium dose of soap, and is washed at medium temperature. I never go near the hot setting, because I learned from old sitcoms that hot water will shrink stuff.
So far I’ve heard no complaints about the laundry. I’m lucky I’m not responsible for work clothes, which no doubt would need to pass a higher standard.
My wife faces challenges of her own.
Small chores suddenly take on new complication when you have only one leg that works and the other is weighed down by a bulky cast. Getting dressed or undressed becomes awkward.
Taking a shower is a delicate operation when you can’t get the cast wet (the solution involves a big plastic bag and duct tape) and you need to balance on one foot (a waterproof stool helps solve the balance problem, though I still sometimes imagine how difficult it would be to scrub all the the nooks and crannies while balancing on one foot in yoga’s tree pose).
Simply getting around is an issue. Our house wasn’t designed to accommodate a scooter. Carrying a full glass of ice water from kitchen to living room when both hands should be busy steering becomes a problem in logistics.
At first I tried to help with every little task. I gradually realized it’s good for her to move around, so I try to jump up to help less often now — though that makes me feel like I’m neglecting her. I just sit back in my recliner and call her “The Wheeler” as she scoots past.
My wife’s cast comes off in two weeks, when she’s due to be fitted with a removable walking boot.
That will allow her to resume her normal daily activities — and some of her chores. Or perhaps we’ll shake things up. Maybe she’ll take on clearing the driveway and I’ll learn to fold towels correctly.