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Delineation of 'duties'

Published November 26. 2011 09:01AM

I am in the kitchen happy as a songbird at sunrise as I experiment with a new recipe.

I love cooking and I love creating new dishes. Maybe it's my Italian heritage that makes every meal a celebration of life. Whatever the case, I love everything that has to do with food both making it and eating it.

While I am in the midst of cutting the fresh rosemary from my garden, my husband comes into the kitchen.

"Are you ready to help me with tiling the bathroom?" he asks.

I laugh, thinking he is joking. "I'm serious," he says. "I think we should work together."

"Here's what works," I tell him. "You tile. I cook."

He keeps insisting we do everything together. I'm surprised he's even suggesting I get anywhere near tiling after my last fiasco.

When I was remodeling my bathroom before we were married, David offered to do the tiling. But he insisted I help cut tile.

When I retorted I had no mechanical talents, he said it was so easy anyone could do it. "My 11-year-old granddaughter cut the tile for my last job," he said."Then call your granddaughter and she can help you this time," I answered.

I gave in and said I would do it, but I warned him I would probably break some tiles. "Nonsense. You just have to believe in yourself," he said.

After I broke so many tiles that we were in danger of not having enough to finish the job, he finally realized the wisdom of doing it without me.

That was three years ago. His memory must have faded because here he was, back again, wanting me to help tile the so-called master bathroom.

This time, I held my ground, explaining to him what I regard as a proper delineating of duties women work in the kitchen; men do the remodeling around the house.

"But I help you with everything you do," he reminds me. That's true. No matter what I'm cooking or what I'm doing, his first question is, "How can I help?" I always decline his offer, but he pitches in and helps anyway.

The guy is a gem when it comes to working around the house. Every night after dinner, we work together to clear the table and do the dishes, working in unity and harmony.

That harmony would end if I did remodeling projects with him. When I try to use an electric screwdriver, I end up stripping the screw. When I try to nail something on the wall, I bend the nail and damage the wall.

I explain to my husband that I would have been more than willing to learn how to do projects when I was a kid. But my father worked with my brother, not me.

After my first husband became disabled, I wished I knew my way around a toolbox. When I asked my dad why he never taught me how to use common tools, he said, "Because you're a girl."

So there. I'm a girl. I cook. I keep house. I don't tile.

My husband says he loves to see me happy as I work around the house. He likes the way I sing and enjoy what I'm doing. But there will be all sour notes if he fails to understand what I call gender roles.

He doesn't believe in them. Thankfully, he never did. Since there were no girls in his family, his job during high school was to start supper before his mom got home from work. He learned well.

Now, he makes the bed in the morning while I put the coffee on and he more than does his share of chores without being asked. He does laundry, cleans windows and scrubs floors.

All that and he never once talks about gender roles.

So, you can see the position that puts me in. But if age has taught me anything, it's that we need to know ourselves. I know I'm a good homemaker. But I'm more comfortable staying away from anything mechanical.

David is superb at just about everything. But he's not a superb listener when I say I can't do something. He insists I can do anything I put my mind to.

Since I don't have a leg to stand on in citing gender roles, I have to give in to his request that we work together on home improvement projects.

This week he asked me to help him do grouting. My role was easy. After he put on a layer of grout, I was to wipe down the tile. Sure, I know how to wipe. I can do it, I thought.

Too late I learned I had to wipe on a diagonal. He stayed patient when I wiped all the grout away and he had to do it over again.

Coming up are some painting projects. He says paint is cheap. If I goof, we can do it again.

Today, while we were in a home supply store, there was a class going on, teaching young children how to do simple projects. I saw quite a few little girls working with their dads.

I wish I had done that.

I wish I had learned a long time ago there doesn't have to be gender roles.

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