I thought I knew tired. I’ve done 8-hour mountain bike races solo. I’ve competed in 24-hour endurance races. I’ve worked a job so stressful that I couldn’t sleep for days on end, and yet every day I managed to come home to tend to my critters. But this – this is something far beyond any of those things.
We used to buy hay from a guy named David Shaw. When Troy first mentioned to him that I planned on become a farmer, he sat back on his haunches a little, looked me in the eye, and asked with a devilish grin, “So you like hard work, do you?”
I didn’t hesitate to confirm that yes, I am a little bit odd. I do like to work hard. I was sincere in my response, but in retrospect, I can confirm that I really had no idea what constituted “hard work”.
Hard work can be many things. The immediate connotations are nose to the grindstone, and back breaking physical labour. Certainly I’ve been no stranger to either lately, but the long days trump both.
Getting up early to feed animals is not a big deal, I’ve never been one to sleep in. I’m not good at sitting still, so being busy during the day is no problem, either. And doing your last feeding at 10 at night? Makes for a long day, for sure, but it’s totally manageable.
So what’s the problem? Well, quite simply, the problem is dishes.
When I started this venture and Troy agreed to let me try out farming we were both excited that I would be in a position to take on the chores that made him even more tired after 12 hour shifts. I reasoned that doing laundry, cleaning the abode, and cooking 3 squares a day would become a part of my mandate. For a while I did succeed at keeping house (as well as you can with a woodstove and 3 large dogs, anyway). My daily agenda included homemade bread, granola bars, neatly folded laundry and supper on the table at prompt times.
Suddenly there is urgency and tending to like never before. My Giant To Do List has become humongous and things can’t wait til tomorrow, they have to happen NOW!
Early this morning I prepared bottles and went out in my pjs to feed the lambs. Troy came home in the interim and started to make breakfast. After breakfast I looked at the mound of dishes on the stove and the countertop, and in the sink, and noting that the dishwasher was full of clean ones, I decided cleanup could wait until after the other animals were fed. Well, between giving them their meals, milking, trimming Axle’s hooves, taking the cover off the tomatoes, and putting fly masks on the horses, it was nearly 11 by the time I made it back to the house. The dogs were bouncing off the walls in anticipation of their walk, so again the dishes were put on hold.
Once I’d taken the edge off my crazed canines, it was getting close to lunch. Rather than emptying the clean dishwasher and then turning around to dirty those dishes immediately, I decided to demolish the old chicken coop and do the dishes after lunch.
At lunchtime I finished eating a container of leftovers scrounged from the fridge and added the Tupperware to the pile as I realized it was time to run back outside and give the lambs their next bottles. Seeing as I was in the barn anyway, I picked up where I’d left off with the coop and started rebuilding.
At 3:15 I had to drop everything and go inside to get supper ready for Troy, who would leave around 5 for work. We ate supper, Troy left, and I went back outside with more milk for the lambs. I finished the work on the coop, fed everyone their bedtime meal, milked the goats, checked the weather forecast and made the call to leave the tomatoes uncovered, collected fly masks and feed buckets, and finally, went inside for the night. At that point it was gunning for 10, but I was proud of how much I’d accomplished. I kicked off my work boots, flicked on the kitchen lights, and D’Oh! I’d forgotten about the dishes which now teetered above the counter like a scene from a Dr. Seuss book.
There is a time in this world, when faced with a mountain of dishes, you rise to the challenge, take a deep breath, and plunge in rubber gloves first. I considered that this might have to be one of those times. Then, I looked at my watch. I stacked things a little more neatly. I mixed myself a drink.
I can cart wheelbarrows of manure and compost and dirt, wrassle tillers and pigs, demolish, construct, and pound fence posts ’til I’m blue in the face. I can work from sun rise to sun down without complaining much at all. But as soon as I walk into a kitchen that has to be cleaned before I can use it, my hard work ethic and go get’em attitude turns toxic.
I always thought it a little sexist that the stereotypical farmer of olde was a male and the stereotypical farmer’s wife put meals on the table, did the laundry and tended to the kids ( with stints on the land in between). While I don’t agree that’s how it should be, I do understand now why it was. Keeping house is, at the very least, a part time job ( and more if you throw children into the mix). Farming is a full time job and a half. Doing both at once is impossible. Sure, Troy helps when he can, but he’s also pulling 12 hour shifts at work so he’s no more inclined to scrub pots than I am.
I’m not sure what the solution is. So far I’ve come up with buying stock in Chinette paper plates, barbecuing hot dogs for every meal, or resorting to eating off dishes that the dogs have licked clean. None of those options is particularly appealing.
Today’s looming tasks include putting more seed in the garden, fencing the lower pasture, more hoof trims, and cleaning stalls. At least it will give me lots of time to think about dishes. Or not. When Defoe quipped about life’s only certainties, death and taxes, I figure he had someone in the background washing his knickers and scrubbing his pots. In my world there are three certainties… death, taxes, and food encrusted plates lurking in the wings.