“I hate washing the dishes.”
Munner (aka, my grandma) was looking me right in the face. I was sixteen at the time, give or take a few.
It must run in the family, this hatred of dirty dishes. There was one marked difference between her and I, however: She would jump at the dishes before anyone could stop her, whereas I would use any excuse possible to sneak out of that responsibility. I always assumed, until that moment, that it was because some part of her enjoyed it. I don’t remember what prompted the declaration, but I do remember the feeling it gave me inside. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
There are plenty of reasons to hate dirty dishes. I’ll give you three: 1) I like clothes, and I don’t like accidental splashes of nasty dishwater onto my current ensemble. Yuck. 2) I like my hands. Dishwater, especially during the winter, means dry skin which often leads to painful cracked knuckles. Ouch. 3) And the biggest one, I don’t see why I have to do all the work in the kitchen. If I already do the lions share of the housework and spend an hour cooking a fantastic meal (or worse, a complete flop), I feel that should merit me a little help instead of spending an additional hour cleaning up by myself. I fully realize that this may seem petty to most readers, even so, I have seen plenty of women drown in resentment from “petty” issues such as these. And I’m not going down without a fight.
But if I hate doing the dishes, my dear husband abhors it. And it just goes to show that you really shouldn’t marry someone EXACTLY like you in certain aspects, because, as would be expected, this unified distaste of dirty dishes has been a sore spot in our marriage since its inception.
We come from two opposing perspectives that lead to the same conclusion. He values simplicity and would rather have a stripped down meal (canned soup and frozen pizza) five days a week. This way, the cleanup is minimal and time can be spent elsewhere. Now, I, on the other hand, am quite sure that my body (to say nothing of my self-respect) would not be fully functional after a month of eating the aforementioned “food”. I want real food and gratitude in the form of a team effort in the cleanup. The end result? A perpetually messy kitchen.
We’ve been married for 8.5 years. Around the 4 year mark, it became clear that I needed to either buck up and accept my role as formal dishwasher, or we needed to succumb to spaghetti-o’s and paper plates. So I made a decision: Each night I was going to wash those dishes and I was going to wake up to a clean kitchen every morning.
To help me accomplish this goal, I made a few adjustments. 1) I looked on craigslist and finally found a portable dishwasher that we could afford. 2) I picked up some nice rubber gloves (which my husband LOVED [see photo]) to protect my hands and some lavender scented dish soap (because really, washing dishes is just like being at a spa, don’t you think?). 3) I took a cue from my husband and tried to find ways to simplify. Some days we had tomato soup and grilled cheese, other days we had pad thai. Some days we even had frozen pizza.
Every night, I worked in my kitchen until the job was done. Every morning, I woke up and went downstairs to a peaceful kitchen. Little by little, a rhythm was established in our household. The hubs would go play with the girls for a half hour while I would clean up the kitchen. I found that–similar to flexing a muscle–the more I worked at it, the easier it became. It no longer took an hour to clean up. I could set the timer for fifteen minutes and usually be done with time to spare (unless a true disaster had occurred involving charred pots and pans or a volcanic dish in the oven). I even started to take a lot of pride in making my kitchen shine. Some days, I still chuckle over the derogatory phrase, “A woman’s place is in the kitchen” as I follow that thought with, “Heck, yeah! This is my DOMAIN! Can’t touch this.” This mindset has poured over into my other household duties as well.
Slowly, as the months wore on and I was (mostly) consistent in my duties, I found that duty morphed into discipline, which then morphed into devotion. I found that having these fifteen minutes carved out for me to stay still in one place and stare at a wall and a sink full of nasty dishwater was a natural place of meditation on the day and communion with God on whatever was forefront in my mind. These days, I wash more than physical dirt down the drain.
This is the part in my post where I’m concerned about coming across like I have my head in the clouds, like I’m overspiritualizing something as ridiculous as dishes. In fact, just the opposite is true. I’m a sucker for big spiritual moments–flashes of lightening, God speaking on a mountaintop–you know, that sort of stuff. It’s a lot harder for me to commune with God in the day-to-day tasks of a stay-at-home mom; housework has never been easy or particularly enjoyable to me. But in fact, the incarnation of Christ speaks to a God who came to take part in the mundane “dirty dishes” of humanity. A personal hero of mine, Kathleen Norris, writes,
The Christian religion asks us to place our trust not in ideas, and certainly not in ideologies, but in a God who was vulnerable enough to become human and die, and who desires to be present to us in our everyday circumstances. And because we are human, it is in the realm of the daily and the mundane that we must find our way to God… Both worship and housework often seem perfunctory. And both, by the grace of God, may be anything but.
I think I’m finally beginning to understand Paul’s command in Colossians, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” It’s not putting on a happy face, or whatever your pat Christian image is for how we’re supposed to look while doing “the Lord’s work”. It’s this simple but profound idea of communing with God in all things–dirty dishes included.
Washing the dishes is still not my favorite task in the world. My husband and I still occasionally have our values get in a fist-fight. I definitely have days–and even weeks–when I slack off. But that’s not the point. It’s not a contest. I concur with Munner, “I hate washing the dishes”, let’s get that out of the way. Now pass me the rubber gloves.