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The labor of emotional labor class
By Rebecca Rindler
Not long ago my husband and I went to a book event with our local parents group for Fair Play, Eve Rodsky’s book about equal division of household labor. It sounds, like it would be dry and painful but it was light, smart and fun. Imagine a 12 person salon chat in an actual house in Brooklyn with owners so nice you don’t begrudge the house, and a preternaturally beautiful author just loud enough and short enough to remind you she’s a real person.
So, my husband asked a question about how our household can complete a task like holiday cards when one of us (him) is so much more detail oriented than the other (I’m gonna assume he means the baby), basically saying it requires both people (again, him and the baby) to participate in putting together a holiday card.
The author jumped in and just said, ‘Nah.’
If you haven’t had an expert who’s been studying a topic for 7 years side with you in a domestic disagreement, well, I HIGHLY recommend it. I should mention that my husband and I are good-spirited about the whole thing. Both of us treat an unknown audience of our peers as the perfect place to try out new material for our two-man routine, even if we have to tailor it to our misunderstandings around household tasks. In that sense, I was incredibly affirmed: I married the right person.
Also, I was right. An expert said so!!!!
Naturally, the rest of the Q&A involved a lot more surfacing of anger. Husbands as employee, rage-filled wives, serious values conflicts. It was angry, and depressing, and sad. It was relatable. Yet the author said she wanted the book to be optimistic, and I still think it is. I personally felt energized enough that the tickle in my head about starting to write again overtook the issues I must have gathered at the maternity ward check out: a multitude of tasks, constant thinking about tasks, and waves of anxiety lapping at the actions I do or don’t take.
I write a quarterlyish newsletter to friends but when I got pregnant, I worried that writing about my pregnancy would make it disappear. Picture a meme of a pregnant woman going, “Good morning to my anxiety and no one else!!!” Between the emotions, hormones, newborn and back to work, I didn’t write anything for two years. It was radio silence and then what popped in people’s inboxes when they were expecting a syrupy holiday letter with baby pics, omg, was a missive about invisible labor. Surprise!
When we got home from the book event, I suggested to my husband that he could take full ownership of garbage and it could become his task like the book said, the book we just spent two hours discussing with the author. His response? “Whoa! We don’t have to start right now.” Just in case you were thinking this is an annoying success story. Oh no. We are still deep in the invisible labor bad place.
One thing the book talks about—and we’ve barely just begun reading it so who knows if it works—is finding space for yourself to be you and have fun. But over the weekend I extended it to space for our family to be us and do something for the kid. It’s so easy with a baby or just starting to be a toddler like ours to say, “You do what we do” and plop him in the stroller with 2 crackers. I’m lying, he’s screaming if it’s less than 6 crackers. It was actually magical to take him to a children’s art museum and follow his creative lead. It reminded me of what we have in us from the youngest age: the urge to share, to create, to explore. To subvert expectations of how things should be. Also to eat play dough. Unless that goes away with time. My husband can give you that update in our holiday card 2020.
Rebecca Rindler has an MFA and an MBA, so she’s prepared for any artistic or business emergency. She works in finance and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and redheaded son. She’s an occasional writer here.
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