Joseph F. Berenato
On housework, heated debates and having to admit I’m wrong
My wife and I have been engaged in a friendly debate but appear to be at an impasse. Maybe you fine folks can weigh in and help settle it.
Until recently, we have always split our housekeeping duties, but Robyn’s job now requires more of her time than mine do of me, so I have been doing the majority of the chores at home. One duty that has switched from her column to mine is maintenance of the floors.
Part of that includes vacuuming our carpet, but the other part is cleaning the kitchen and bathroom floors.
As anyone with linoleum can attest, using a Swiffer WetJet is really only a stopgap measure, and even using a mop only gets the job half-done—but those methods have gotten me thus far in life, and I was happy to continue utilizing them until the floors wear out.
Robyn has always insisted that, to really get them clean, the best method requires getting on hands and knees with a bucket and a brush—or sponge, or rag—and manually scrubbing every inch, then using the mop to put the finishing touches on it.
I hate it. She loves it.
Sometimes she’ll even sing while she’s doing it; her favorite number being “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from Annie, and she’ll beam with pride when the floors “shine like the top of the Chrysler building.”
Her reasoning is that it’s calming when she focuses on the task, going inch by inch, watching the dirt lift and the floor become clean. Don’t I want to give it a go?
Now, she knows full well that that is exactly what I love about shoveling snow, and also about mowing grass and weedwacking. It’s slow, arduous work, but the progress is visible, the effects are immediately evident and the satisfaction that it produces is immense.
In other words, she knows exactly which of my buttons to press.
Truthfully, I respect her tactics, despicable though they may be. I mean, people have been falling for such nonsense since Tom Sawyer convinced his friends that whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence was the best thing going, and probably long before that.
I’m just mad that I fell for it.
On top of that, she has, on more than one occasion, gleefully pointed out that my grandfather—who she never met, I might add, so she’s only getting this information secondhand from me—used to scrub the floors when he lived in this house, and did so well into his mid-90s. And if he could do it, what’s my excuse?
Like I said. She really knows what buttons to press.
So I acquiesced. With a bucket full of hot water and detergent, I began to scrub the floors on my hands and knees.
I started in our downstairs bathroom and worked my way out into our washroom, hitting corners of the room that I honestly don’t think have been touched since we moved in more than five years ago. After I was done those two rooms, I went over them with a wet mop, picking up the remainder of the dirt and grime and Lord-knows-what-else—including random Skittles from when our grandson, Jethro, lived with us, but he hasn’t lived there in a year and I can’t even begin to fathom how they got behind our washing machine anyway—and made my way into the kitchen to allow those floors to dry.
There, it was pretty much the same procedure—but sub out Skittles behind the washer for a Matchbox car in between our refrigerator and the gas range—working my way through the food prep area to the eat-in portion and finally out the front door.
My knees were wrecked. I was covered in sweat. I was tired, but I got the job done. After a few minutes, I peeked my head back inside to see how the floors looked.
I’ll admit it. The end result was staggering. Robyn was right, and I was wrong.
Until now, I’d gotten by with brooms, mops and Swiffers, and spot-cleaning when I spill something. Whenever Robyn scrubbed the floors, they always looked good, but, I admit, I don’t know that I ever really noticed how good they looked, and I hereby officially apologize for that.
The great Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing; I love having written.” That sentiment can be applied to any task, really, and it certainly applies here.
I hate scrubbing the floors, but I love having scrubbed them.
My wife still loves the actual act of scrubbing, though.
I really don’t think we’re ever going to agree on this.
Joseph F. Berenato began as a mild-mannered reporter for The Hammonton Gazette in 1997, and returned to that position in 2019 after an 18-year sabbatical, during which he farmed, taught, became a grandfather, dug graves and wrote, but never so prolifically as he has since his return. You can email him at email@example.com or find him on social media at @JFBerenato.