I did it again yesterday, “do you want a sandwich, leftover casserole or scrambled eggs.”   Wouldn’t you know, this time, without having to use the “yes or no” question approach, she answered “scrambled eggs.”  Why did I even mention it.  Not only that, she asked if we  had bacon.  To my dismay, we did.  Then there was the raisin bread, toasted, buttered and topped with cinnamon sugar. 

I understand just how ridiculous it is to dread such a simple task — but it all needs to be done at the same time so that it can all be served hot.  Not only that, when it is done, there is at least one pan to be cleaned.  I don’t know about yours, but our automatic dishwasher will just harden cooked-on egg to be eaten with whatever is cooked next in that pan — hand washed — it needs to be hand washed — scrubbed with the little scrubby thing. 

This is not man’s work!  Before you get your nose bent out of joint (do noses have joints?), I understand that there really isn’t man’s work and woman’s work (other than the thing with the babies).  There are differences, for which we are all very grateful, but anyone can cook or wash clothes or mow the lawn or clean the house or change the oil on the car (if they can still find the place to put the oil in with all the stuff now to be found under the hood). 

It was not so when I was growing up.  If Dad wanted a cup of coffee and happened to realize it while standing in the kitchen next to the coffee pot, he would ask Mom who was sitting out in the living room to get him a cup.  She would do it!!  She knew just how much cream and sugar to put in.  By the time it was ready, he would be sitting in the living room, waiting to be served. 

He was a good man.  He was not harsh or demanding.  He took care of the car and the plumbing and the household repairs.  He mowed the lawn, planted a beautiful garden of flowers.  He grew vegetables by the acre when we got the land in the country.  It was just clear who did what. 

By the way, Mary Ann would most certainly never have gotten me that cup of coffee.  I shudder to think where it would have ended up if I asked.  She was hardly shy and retiring and certainly no domestic goddess.  But she grew up in the same era in which I grew up.  Our roles were pretty traditional.  I was the boss of the car and the outside stuff, and she was the boss of everything else.  If there is any doubt who was the boss, I rest my case with this piece of evidence: She ruled the remote control.  Enough said?

When Parkinson’s joined our family, things began to change.  By about a half dozen years into our new family configuration, with Mary Ann working almost full time to help get the kids through college, there was not enough stamina for her to go to work each day and come home to domestic chores. 

Roles changed.  I began to include some vacuuming, and clothes washing and bathroom cleaning.  I know full well how silly it sounds to say that as if it is some sort of a noble thing to have done.  Of course we should share duties as spouses, no matter our circumstances.  As time went by, Mary Ann was less able to do any of the household tasks, inside or outside.  I have come to have profound respect for single parents who must work full time to survive, deal with inside maintenance, outside maintenance, all the while filling the needs of little ones who are full of needs all the time.  I am in awe of those who have lost a spouse and must take care of everything while battling that deep and relentless loneliness that so often washes over them. 

As Mary Ann will say whenever the topic of cooking comes up “they won’t let me in the kitchen any more.”  You can guess who “they” is.  You don’t know real fear until you have seen someone whose arms and legs are waving this way and that, uncontrollably, while holding recently sharped Cutco knives.  The Parkinson’s meds produce those movements as side effects after years of taking those meds. 

While it is irrationally fearful to us, many Caregivers struggle to do the tasks our Loved Ones did before the chronic disease.  If  you have never paid the bills, or balanced the checkbook or used online banking, or entered checks in Quicken, it can be terrifying to do so.  If you haven’t learned what ingredients go with what, how long things cook, how to tell when they are done, how much salt or garlic powder or cumin or soy sauce goes with what quantity of rice or vegetables or meat, just throwing a meal together is a formidable task — give me Mount Everest, I’ll climb that, you fix dinner. 

Again, I suppose this sounds silly to those of you who can fix a toilet and cook a meal.  When it is just you, filling all the needs of someone who desparately needs you to do so, and trying to do everything that the two of you used to do, yes, when you are a woman doing man’s work or a man doing woman’s work, when you are doing it all, sometimes the smallest task seems hopelessly impossible.

One solution to the dilemma is to let go of whatever illusions may remain about what tasks belong to whom.  The tasks have no gender.   They are just things that need to be done.  Very ordinary people, just like you and me can learn to do any of them.  We actually can learn to do some of those seemingly impossible jobs.  Some of them don’t need to be done.  We just think they do because they always have been in the past, or others might judge us if we don’t do them.  We can dare to ask for help doing some of them.  We can use some of our limited resources to pay someone else to do them.  Our survival, our sanity, our need for some quality of life is worth it. 

Can you believe this all started over some scrambled eggs, microwaved bacon and a piece of toast?  Tonight I made stir-fried pork, vegetables and rice.  Who knew I could do it???  (Please do not invite me to a Pampered Chef party — unless, of course, it is held in the tool section of Home Depot.)

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