What are you good at?

Recently I was mending an old hand-me-down, family comforter.  I had washed the blanket, enhancing its deterioration, and then it laid around for over a year.

Every edge was open, exposing torn and matted batting.  The patterned top had tears, some where there was no more fabric remaining to sew together.  It was like sewing very little of something, to nothing.  Even the batting needed a bit of sewing so that it won’t bunch up when all is said and done.

Last year I had just started mending it when so many other things took precedence for my time and attention.  So, it laid in view, needling me from time to time to “get er done,” but apparently the needles were tolerable enough to delay getting at it, for a long time.  Perhaps the needling was the acupuncture of delay; not that bad.

I’m no seamstress.  In fact, I pretty much know, one, hand-stitch that I learned in junior high, home ec. class, to make an apron, no less, and a simple A-line skirt.  That’s it.  I still have that cute little green apron, in a cedar chest.

Having not one ounce of interest in marriage, children, or domesticity at that age, I tolerated home ec., with sewing the lowest of low on my list of learning-priorities.  But I guess that “survival-stitch” stuck and has served me over the years.  One should be able to sew a button back on a favorite garment and hem a pair of must-buy pants created to fit a giant in a size 10.

I call it a lock-stitch because it knots the thread after every stitch.  And I’ve used that stitch ever since then, to mend torn seams on hundreds of cloth items that have passed through my life.

So, recently, after hours, on multiple days, of mending that blanket, my husband was so appreciative and in awe of my domestic skill, he reminded me that “you know, our favorite spare comforter (at the ready for napping and general winter cuddling) really needs the same thing.”  This is a cautionary tale; in that you really must be careful about what you’re “good at.”  Because like it or not, what you’ve proven to be good at, proper grammar aside, will come back to haunt you.

For example, one can become so good at doing a menial chore, or what I’ve heard called, “scut work,” that no one else even attempts to do it anymore, because “you’re so good at it.”  This can become a catch22 if you’re not alert to its pitfall.

Being “too good at” doing everything might just come back to bite you in the, well, you know what.  And it’s your fault because you wouldn’t let they do the job because they didn’t do it “right!”  You showed them one time how to do that job “right,” and they can’t quite achieve your exacting standard.  Guess what, you’ve locked yourself into that particular chore-prison for life.

I don’t know what sap first said, “if you want it done right, do it yourself,” but if you’ve fallen for it, you’re putty in the hands of those you serve.  Now you’re the only one who can do that job “the right way,” from now to forevermore.  That job is yours alone, because “you’re so good at it!”

“But you always do the dishes because you’re so good at it.”  “You change the diapers because you’re so good at it.”  “You talk to the customer service people because you’re so good at it.”  “You clean the garage so much better than me.”  “I don’t do it because you’re so good at it.”

Every household creates a division of labor at the outset.  It’s simple economics of time.  Sometimes that division is fair and other times it just doesn’t add up.  And at each addition of members to the household, including pets, that division of labor changes.

The division of labor changes with age, also.  In our case, it has become even more equitable than at the beginning.

I recall that one of my marriage terms was “I don’t vacuum.”  I think it was around year ten that that particular term flew the coop.  Today, my husband washes some dishes but his limit is, “I don’t do plastic.”  I wash the storage containers.  He feeds the cats in the morning.  I feed them at noon and night.  He cleans up their vomit chunks and I clean up the stains.  I organize the trash; he carries it out.  We both cook.  Off and on we renegotiate these terms. 

I must in all fairness add that my husband dispenses sincere thank-you’s regularly, even frequently, for the mundane chores I sometimes reluctantly perform around our house.  I never thought a thank-you was necessary for doing what has to be done, but he’s a kind man.

Be careful out there, with what you’re good at.

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