This started way back. Way back when apparently our dishwasher began to emit nearly lethal amounts of radioactivity. I was the only member of our family unaware of it, and apparently the only one immune from it.
We all liked having a dishwasher. We would have felt deprived with out one. No one minded putting dishes into it, and I think there was a kind of satisfaction to be the one who would declare, “I think it’s time to run the dishwasher!” No one, except me, seemed to understand that the appliance became essentially useless once it was sitting there full of clean dishes.
However no one, and I mean no one, would voluntarily empty the dishwasher. Except me.
I accept the idea that there are certain things that are “dad” jobs. I understand the division of labor. I knew that I maintained the outside of the house, and that it was my role to fix things (or make them worse at my discretion), to build walls, and dig up pipes. As a modern guy, I didn’t mind splitting the household chores as well, and the whole family agreed that we were all better off with me not being the head cook. For some reason though, bags of trash never made it farther than the middle of the garage, as if my two kids and my wife were incapable of the 7 extra steps it would take to go through the garage door and actually deposit them in a trash can.
And there was emptying the dishwasher.
On a Friday afternoon when my teaching friends were gathered at the local pub, celebrating the end of the week with a few beers, I launched into my lament, the unfairness of it all. Stephanie, ever able to turn the phrase declared, “Oh honey, you’re just the dish bitch.” Along with everybody else, I burst out laughing at the label. “Damn,” I said, “you’re right! I am the dish bitch.”
I went home determined to ditch my new-found title. At this time the kids were still in their teens, and therefore basically indentured servants. Chores around kitchen clean-up seemed to be split between “washing” and “drying” only. Everyone was long gone by the time the dishwasher shut itself off. It just so happened that we filled it that night and as I fired it up, I declared “Just so you know, when this gets done, I am not going to empty it.”
The kids (and my wife, I think) rolled their eyes, saying silently to each other, “Ah, dad’s having a thing” and went about their business. The dishwasher sat full, the dishes cleaned, for another two days. After all, we had other dishes. If someone had a favorite glass, you could always pull it out. Eventually, once I had reiterated my stand loudly and repeatedly enough, the kids broke down and split up the task.
And then things went right back to normal. Every now and then, I’d try the silent, passive-aggressive approach. After a week or so, the kids might notice. “Oh, “ my son would say, “gone on strike with the dishwasher again, dad?” and then he would do the responsible thing. He’d figure out a way to manipulate his sister into doing it.
Now the kids are grown, and it is just my wife and I and the appliance. For some reason, she takes great care in making sure the dishes are positioned properly, frequently reorganizing them once I have put them in and occasionally pulling some things out and informing me that “these don’t go in the dishwasher!” although the rules about this always seem to be changing.
I knew I had finally lost the war when I returned from a 10-day visit to my sister in Hawaii and in the morning began to clean up my breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher. “Hey,” she said, “the stuff in the dishwasher is clean. I ran it right after you left.”
I was speechless. She was busy getting ready for work, and said it so matter-of-factly that I checked myself from saying what seemed so obvious to me. In fact, to save time, I just ran the dialogue through my head.
Me: So, you ran the dishwasher and let clean dishes sit in the dishwasher for 9 days until I would return to empty it?
Her: Look, when you’re gone, I barely cook, I use paper plates. I never needed anything from it. I don’t even think about it.
Me: (long silence, since I have no idea how to respond—this happens a lot)
Game, set, match. After all, what if Mary insisted we split up the cooking responsibilities 50/50? She is nearly a professional chef, and I get confused when the recipe says words like “bake for 30 minutes”. We would live in a culinary wasteland for half of each week.
So now, I embrace my inner dish bitch. I am one with the dishwasher. I will make sure that it is cared for and well tended, like my vegetable garden. Putting away the dishes will no longer be a chore, but my spiritual communion with the kitchen gods. I will hear Rodney Yee’s voice coaching me as he does in my yoga videos. “Feel your sidebody stretch as both arms extend to put the big plates on the second shelf. Breathe…”