Being married for 50 years allows those of us who have reached this milestone to settle into some comfortable habits. And being of my generation, the habit patterns were learned young and live long lives.
Wives are the cooks; husbands do the wall hangings and household repair work. Wives typically do the laundry; husbands mow the lawn. Wives clean the house; husbands take out the garbage. Rest assured that even then, not every marriage followed these guidelines. The feminist movement changed lots of boundaries. But regardless of the generation, each wedded union results in a division of labor set by both societal norms and the participants.
That is until something intervenes. We were out to dinner with friends recently and the conversation briefly focused on my husband’s upcoming knee replacement surgery. The couple we were with had recently experienced the husband’s hip surgery and could identify with the changes wrought by this unexpected and hopefully temporary alteration in their lives.
“The division of labor changes,” the wife said, and I could immediately identify with this truism. Last weekend trying to empty some of the trash and treasures that clog our garage meant that I would not let Oscar load the child’s car seat that we wanted to give to the Nearly New Shop into the back of the car. I carried it. At my insistence, we loaded the heavy cartons of other giveaways into the car using a two-wheeled dolly, and then lifting together. Since walking and standing are extremely painful for Oscar, I’ve learned to climb up on the toilet to change the ceiling light bulb in our bathroom. That’s usually his chore.
I know, I know. It’s just breaking the mold we have been living with for 50 years. Yes, he’s physically stronger than I am, but there’s no reason why I can’t do what he can, and he can’t do what I can with slight modifications.
Habits can be healthy, I believe, but they can and often must change when circumstances are altered. For instance, when we retired and moved to Florida, Oscar volunteered to do the laundry. He had the time and didn’t mind. And so instead of that being exclusively my job, we shared the work. He’s much better at folding than I am. Should I become incapacitated, I know he would jump in and do anything to help.
I guess what I’m seeing is that as we change with age, chores can become challenging and require modification, and we need to be wise enough to recognize what’s necessary and work in flexible tandem to do what needs to be done.
I’d call it caring cooperation, recognition of reality and reinforcing the ties that bind us to one another in a marriage. A young person today might call some of these feelings somewhat “gender bound.” However, as a woman of my generation I would disagree. I call them love for one another.
Free lance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”