I need to locate the article mentioned here so I can offer proper credit…it’s in a stack of papers somewhere…along with everything else in our house...
A few years ago, I recall reading an article about middle/upper class women who have forgone or postponed a career in order to stay at home to raise children. The article discussed such issues as how this is, or isn’t, demolishing the “advances” of feminism and also how hiring nannies without offering health insurance perpetuates a system of injustice, etc. Perhaps this should be another topic for another time (along with my imagined conversations with Virginia Woolf about how women now have too many rooms of their own…and my diatribe with Sylvia Plath about how she could be such a pessimist in the most dire sense of the word…).
But what I really retained from the article was this concept of who in a marriage is going to do the “sh!t work”. Yes, the “sh!t work”. I liked that terminology. I liked the frankness. As a wife and a mother of 3 young children, 2 cats, and a blind elderly dog, I have reflected on this in the literal sense of the term…multiple times daily…too many times daily. I have had discussions about whether one’s “poo poo” is loose, runny, small, medium, brown, stinky, etc. I have cajoled when, “Agh! It’s just not ready to come out”, and I have lamented (as far as outwardly appearances go) when we wave good-bye as it swirls down the toilet to the abyss. I have assuaged myself by claiming we are practicing early math skills as we count the number of poops in the toilet. I have rejoiced when we make it in time, and I have sighed with relief after we barely make it in time. We have also talked about all the people among my children’s sphere of influence who happen to poop also, and where they proceed to do aforementioned doo. For instance, babies go in their diaper, while our dog and the elephant at the zoo go in the grass. And what a story it was to watch the elephant at the zoo go poo! “But people don’t go in the grass – no!” (“Sometimes boys can do pee-pees in the grass” or have even been caught doing them off our deck…but these are of an entirely different subject and writing entry.) Let’s face it, perhaps Sigmund Freud was onto something when he discussed the “anal stage” of development. With one of our children, prunes were a major portion of his caloric intake, and his prescription laxative is something that, if forgotten, makes us all quite miserable - him specifically of course. Poor guy. We continually are asking each other, “Has he pooped today?”
While the literal sense of this concept “sh!t work” has been quite consuming for the past several years in our personal household, many others have now evolved beyond this predicament (and hopefully the anal stage of psychosocial development as well). Many households have everyone’s bowel movements pretty much in-check, predictable…and in the toilet.
However, the author of the article I mentioned is referring to a different definition of this term “sh!t work” – a more global connotation.
The author mentions that often newly married couples in their state of bliss never think to discuss the details of who is going to do the “sh!t work” once they are married. Think about it – someone is going to have to handle the detestable items. Someone is going to have to clean the grime from the toilets, and wipe out that assortment of gunk that accumulates in the garbage disposal, the bottom of the kitchen trashcan, and between the counter and the stove. When it comes down to it, who really enjoys the inconvenience of changing light bulbs – especially a light fixture that requires hauling the ladder out of the garage in order to reach it? Who is going to change the diapers, or RSVP, or clean up the dog’s puke at 1:38 a.m. in the morning? Or your son’s puke for that matter…who has already gone through 3 changes of sheets on his bed that night from previous episodes and happens to be laying next to you in a sleeping bag on the floor? Who is going to catch the mice, remember everyone’s birthdays, carry in the firewood, pay the bills, wipe the snotty noses, paint the trim work, and return the movies? Who is going to rake the leaves, balance the checkbook, scrub the greasy pan left on the counter over-night, and fix the toilets that perpetually seem to leak? Who is going to dispose of the mole your dog caught, scrub behind the faucet with a toothbrush, give the cats their flea medicine, or stain the deck? Who is going to shovel dog sh!t from the yard before guests come over to play? Who is going to retrieve the dead mouse under the insulation in the attic as the distinct smell of death flows through the air vent in the ceiling below? Will you or your spouse decide whether to salvage the fungus-filled spout from a sippy cup with days-old milk in it found under a bed? Who is going to take out the garbage, fold the socks, spread the mulch, empty the vacuum and apologize to the vet for your dog’s diarrhea that is now all over his floor? Who is going to clean out the gutters, iron the shirts, repair the screens, send the thank-you's, mop the floor, caulk the bathtub, repair the flashing, dry-clean the curtains, or change the oil in the cars? Who is going to wipe the baseboards, give the dog his heartworm pill, change the air filters, or get the directions? Who is going to bathe the dog who just returned from rolling around in…yup – you guessed it – horse sh!t!? Who is going to dust off the ceiling fans, clean the oven, set up the doctor appointments, seal the tile, wrap the presents, take the son annually to get blood drawn? Who is going to empty the compost contents, fix the clogged drain, and bake the cookies for the kids’ Christmas parties?
And you get the picture.
And the bigger picture. Who is going to fight the wars, tenderly care for the disabled and the dying, or change your parents’ diapers when they get older?
Sometimes, I catch myself feeling downtrodden about all the “sh!t work” I do. I ponder: “How did I come to this? I used to have a ‘paying job’ and benefits. I used to manage people, and situations, and events – not sh!t.”
Ironically, it’s during these times that I try to remember Christ. Jesus Christ did a lot of “sh!t work” in His day…and is still dealing with all of our sh!t too. He healed the sick and cared for the lepers. He blessed the poor, and the adulterous, the tax collectors, those with disease. He washed feet. He was betrayed. He was tortured. He suffered. He bled. He died.
Depending on your perspective, the “sh!t work” can be merely that, and a subsequent burden…or it can be symbolic of something much more. In our love for each other and for our children, we can each suck it up and do the “sh!t work” as a proclamation of enduring love and commitment, and as an example of how to love unconditionally. Someone changed our diapers, and wiped our noses, and took care of us when we were sick. Someone showed us that love is often displayed in the seemingly inconsequential – or even unpleasant - things we do for those we love. It’s not glorious or glamorous, or even pleasant some days. But to lose one’s self enough to not think twice about it…There is LOVE. To lose one’s self enough to not think about keeping score…There is LOVE. In the daily grind and grime around here, we can show love by simply doing the “sh!t work”. And we can choose to do so selflessly. Sometimes, we can even sing joyfully all the while and wear a fun polka dot apron while we dance with the vacuum across the crumb and dog hair infested floor…
Jesus can be present in the strangest of “work” places…