Nothing demonstrates the unequal distribution of domestic labour than the preparations your husband has to make before he goes away for a week’s work in New York.
If it were me, I'd need to spend six months beforehand compiling a nine-volume laminated set of instructions that began with basic laundry skills (“This line drawing of a white pair of knickers represents A Light. This one of a black T-shirt represents A Dark. Never the twain shall meet”) and ended with how to parse and react to different levels of distress in a six-year-old child (“An elongated roar is a sign of frustration with a toy and may safely be ignored. Tears suggest a deeper, emotional distress. Respond with sympathy, even if the cause of such grief seems insubstantial, nay even risible, to a 43-year-old man”).
He, on the other hand, simply says: “I’m going to New York for a week. You’ll have to take him to school. Do you need anything off a high shelf before I go?”
I linger not over this discrepancy for it would spoil the joy of seven days to myself.
Seven days of sleeping alone, with full duvet coverage throughout the night and no snoring disturbing my slumbers from 5am onwards every morning.
Seven days of not having my decisions questioned ('I’m not arguing,' he always says. 'I just want to know why') and analysed by someone who insists that the oven gets hot quicker if you just turn it to its highest setting
Seven days of not finding the leftovers I had planned Thomas’s tea around mysteriously vanished from the fridge overnight and having to cook something at the last minute from scratch.
Seven days of not having my decisions questioned (“I’m not arguing,” he always says. “I just want to know why”) and analysed by someone who insists that the oven gets hot quicker if you just turn it to its highest setting and who stores his trousers on a shelf instead of keeping them on hangers.
Seven days of not stiffening in anticipation of a rant whenever the neighbours (our lovely, lovely neighbours) make a sound next door. “They’re vacuuming,” I say. “It’s a reasonable thing to do.” “But I’m having a relaxing bath!” “Occasionally, even the most pathologically inflexible of us must put up with a slight deviation from the plan of having the universe revolve entirely around you and your chosen timetable. Also, I haven’t had a relaxing bath in over half a decade.”
“And above all,” I say to my best friend Maria as we are enjoying a coffee in my sitting room that is miraculously free of newspapers, giant shoes kicked off and crumpled suit jackets everywhere, “there’s the silence. There’s nobody crashing and banging about and knocking into furniture. Or swearing when they do so, as if the sofa has just leapt at them out of nowhere. No one just filling the air with their thoughts and jokes because they can and think they should. It’s like magic. I feel like I’m living in a magic bubble.”
“Tell me more,” says Maria. “Or don’t. We could both just sit here and read in peace.” Which we do.
Richard came home yesterday morning. He broke two mugs and a butter dish while jetlagged, has a virulent cold and toothache, has lost a notebook containing all his online work and home passwords, and been bitten by fleas in his hotel. He is in bed, raging at the airline’s lost property office, and I am sweeping up shards of china and delivering Lemsips in between disinfecting his suitcase and boilwashing a week’s worth of clothes.
“Thomas,” I say, “has really missed you.”