I broke down while doing the dishes tonight. There's a limit to how long you can do a thankless job without it affecting your mental health, and for me, that limit is two weeks. Two weeks is how long it's been since Shauna left and I got shunted back into the position of dishwasher. Two weeks and I end up crying in the garage when I take out the recycling.
I came up with three possible explanations for today's waterworks. 1) I feel unappreciated, 2) I am chronically dissatisfied with my role as housewife and crying about kitchen cleanup is a manifestation of that, or 3) I am acting overly emotionally because I am depressed. The solution to these possibilities is 1) Suck it up, 2) Suck it up, and 3) WHO ARE YOU CALLING OVERLY EMOTIONAL?!?!?! Honestly, though, I think 1) or 2) are the most likely scenarios, because I've felt pretty good for a while and it wasn't until I surveyed the kitchen disaster and the overflowing sink that I could feel this rage building inside, hot and clenching and explosive.
As the kids filed down to bed I said, "You know, if you're old enough to cook, you're old enough to do your own dishes." One of my children (who shall remain nameless) replied a little snarkily, "I'll do dishes when I cook." I turned my laser-eyes on this darling offspring of mine and growled, in a voice like Sigourney Weaver when she was possessed by Zuul, "You'll do dishes when you EAT!" Burned to a cinder, said child slowly backed away and closed the door to his room. Okay, so overly emotional probably isn't too far off in describing this reaction.
I tried deep breathing, I turned on some music, I distracted myself by thinking of possible topics for my next school paper, but all I could really think was "i hate doing dishes i hate doing dishes i hate doing dishes i really really hate doing dishes!!" Why am I investing so much venom into such a petty situation? It's not like I'm giving birth every day after dinner--it's dishes, it takes fifteen minutes, afterwards the kitchen looks nice. A clean kitchen always makes me happy, but apparently not happy enough to clean it without massive resentment.
Chronic dissatisfaction with my current life's role is a hard trait to confess to, and even harder to fix. What do I do, hire someone else to wash dishes and scrub the bathtub and create an incentive chart to get a) the four-year-old to stop peeing in her panties and b) the fourteen-year-old to practice his instruments so he won't fail band? Of course not. Even if a service like that existed, it'd probably cost a fortune. 'Cause you know why? A mother's role is really hard. And now we're full circle.
Feeling unappreciated is easily solved--I can either talk to the people whose cereal I'm scraping out of plastic bowls and teach them that when someone cleans up their messes, they need to show gratitude, or I can decide that I'm not rinsing out spit-filled, sunflower-seed-shell-holding cups in order to be thanked. I'm doing it out of love. And service. Charity never faileth, unlike the garbage disposal, which faileth every so often.
I'm reading a book called Screamfree Marriage right now, and the main advice that I took from the book is "Grow up." It's a kick-in-the-pants kind of book, this one, but it's good. Grow up, Emily. Be the adult here. This is the life you want, even if it's not the daily chores you want. An adult does her job, even if her job is running after the garbage man in her bathrobe and her ten-year-old's flip flops. An adult gets satisfaction from a clean kitchen. An adult does not create a Google calendar counting down the days until her youngest child starts first grade. An adult does not sit on the garage steps, crying about how hard her life is. If you want this life, sometimes you've got to do the dishes.
I want this life. I'll do the dishes, tonight at least. Tomorrow, I'm teaching the kids how to load a dishwasher.