I don’t like to discuss politics. I avoid political conversations like I avoid mud puddles. I go around. It’s just cleaner that way.
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So I am still scratching my head about how I, a conflict-dodging home improvement columnist, and Pat Schroeder, former U.S. congresswoman, presidential candidate and political powerhouse, got aligned this week behind an all-consuming domestic issue:
We are in complete agreement. Much needs to be done, and everyone needs to pitch in.
Our worlds collided when I learned about her new digital book, “The House That Went on Strike,” out last month from Jumping Pages ($2.99). The interactive book app for the iPad teaches kids (and their parents) to tidy up, or else. Schroeder narrates.
Why her? Because after Schroeder retired from the U.S. House of Representatives, where she represented Colorado’s first district for 24 years, she published a memoir titled, “24 Years of House Work and the Place is Still a Mess.”
As the author of books titled “The House Always Wins” and “House of Havoc,” I was drawn to her titles like a horse to a salt lick, and to Schroeder, who is 72 and lives near me in greater Orlando.
“When I first read the manuscript,” she said, when I called her to discuss our common cause, “I thought, ‘This is really lovely.’ It’s a fresh approach to solving one huge problem everybody deals with. It’s not a finger-wagging-do-your-chores message. The parents are just as bad as the kids.”
Intrigued, I downloaded the interactive rhyming tale, and was soon sucked into a story about a house that gets fed up with its family and their slovenly ways, and rebels. The dishwasher tosses plates. The oven catches fire. The book shelves cave in. Finally, the house throws the family of four out, until they can find some respect for the place.
I was smitten. Where was this when I was riding hard on my kids and husband, shouting to the cobwebs in the corners: “Am I the only one around here who has any standards?!”
Schroeder’s voice tells the story “of naughty people who couldn’t care less” from the house’s point of view:
My roof was ancient, my chimney was grimy,
My windows were streaked and my walls were all slimy.
My shingles were battered; I had no sense of pride,
And if you think that sound gloomy, take a look inside!
I asked Schroeder to help me connect the dots between the house she tried to clean for the country, and the houses we live in that also need cleaning. “When you think about it, we can’t do it all by ourselves,” said the wife, mother of two, and grandmother of four. “In both houses, we need teamwork.”
Women are still coming out of a generation where they want to be super women, she said. “They want a fabulous home, a fabulous career, and to be fabulous wives and mothers. Well, that’s two or three full-time jobs right there. That’s a crazy myth. There’s so much women can do to relieve the stress on themselves. I hope this (book app) helps.”
Happily, the cautionary tale ends well:
Today, my oven bakes bread, my computer computes;
My fridge is chilly, my teakettle toots.
My ceilings sparkle, you could dine off my floors.
And why? It’s simple. My folks do their chores
As I wind up our phone call, I am reminded that as much as I avoid politics, that old feminist mantra still holds true: The personal is political. And housework, whether on Capitol Hill or at home, is everyone’s responsibility.
Here’s how Schroeder says to get families engaged in housework, and why it should be everyone’s job:
Use humor: Everybody hates a lecture, she says. So when the kids’ rooms get out of control, put crime-scene tape over their doors. When disorganized family members ask you where their things are, remind them, “Women don’t come with a GPS inserted.” When they say they don’t know how to work the (fill in the blank dishwasher/washing machine/vacuum), reply, “If you can drive a car or operate your laptop, you can run the washer.”
Don’t spoil them: Women who do all their kids’ laundry, cook every meal and clean up after everyone don’t do anyone any favors. The goal is to raise kids to become captains of their own ships.
Find the sweet spot. Know when the place is clean enough. “Women have to let go of that 1950s image of the mom baking and running a white glove around the house,” she says. Your floor doesn’t have to be clean enough to dine on, but you shouldn’t stick to it either.
Offer an incentive: If you have a family of four, and they all pitch in, the place will be clean in a quarter of the time. That frees everyone up to have fun. Say if we get this done by 2 p.m., we can all go to the movies. (I recently got my teenage daughter to clean the house in exchange for new school clothes.)
Explain why: Kids often don’t understand the importance of housework until they get to college and their room soon looks like a landfill. “Explain early that the reason everyone needs to tidy up is not to make everyone miserable,” says Schroeder, “it’s so you can live in a sanitary home, find your stuff, and feel proud to have friends over.”
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.