Household Anthropology

by doodaddy on April 26, 2007

Diaper ArtParenting isn’t a career, it’s lots of careers rolled into one. So today, I am an anthropologist. Or maybe an art critic.

Last night, I was straightening Boobaby’s room, which is at the end of a long hall. I shelved the laundered cloth diapers (which, incidentally, we don’t use on Boo’s butt but just as general purpose burp rags — I don’t want to exaggerate my green credentials). As usual, Boo came over to “help,” which usually means pulling down everything I’ve put away as quickly as possible.

This day, though, she had a purpose.

Boo took one diaper off the stack and carefully unfolded it. She then walked to an aesthetically pleasing spot in the hallway and dropped the diaper. If the diaper fell flat, she tapped it down with her feet and hands for a minute or so, squatted to press her cheek to it, and then came back for another one.

If the diaper landed bunched-up, though, she slapped at it a couple of times, picked it up, brought it back, handed it to me, and took the next one off the pile.

After about ten minutes of this — and as you know, ten minutes in baby time is like an hour to you or me — I just sat down and watched. Over she came for the next diaper, sparing me no attention at all. After a bit, her grandmother came into the hall and tried to pick up one of the diapers. Boo ran over and hugged her legs, grabbed the diaper, and put it back in its place on the floor.

As I got up and left Boo to her installation artwork, I smiled inwardly at how aboriginal babies can be sometimes — they behave like something out of a Margaret Mead essay.

Hee, hee, I thought to myself. Our babies. So primitive.

Then the remainder of the family (tribal?) dynamic struck me. Out of four adults in the house that evening (my father and stepmother are still here), I was the only one doing anything remotely domestic. Caregivers and parents know this type of multitasking well: I was feeding and entertaining the baby, cleaning the kitchen, ordering grownup food, putting away laundry, and probably three or four other things I’ve forgotten. The other adults’ occupations at that moment were: watching television, checking e-mail, ordering a birthday present (and not for me!), drinking, drinking, and flipping through a photo album. Gender roles be damned, I was acting the nest-keeper, taking care of the young and preparing food for the kinfolk returned home from the hunt.

No point getting annoyed, I thought to myself, because I have the power to control the situation! Remember that great line from African Queen? Prim missionary Katherine Hepburn tells gritty, drunken Humphrey Bogart that

Nature, sir, is what we are put on this Earth to rise above.

So I deftly called my languishing managerial skills back from the dead and started to delegate. I got grandma setting the table and asked Working Mom to give Boo some more food, while grandpa and I went out to pick up the food. Down the stairs and out the door, I thought smugly about how I’d cleverly transformed our primitive gathering into a true modern-era, full-participation village.

Just before the door closed, however, I heard the television snap back on as well as the unmistakable sound of an entire box of Cheerios being dumped on the kitchen floor I’d just swept. (Who gives a baby the whole box? Sheesh. And yes, they were still there when I got back.)

Sigh. Maybe our nature actually does requires a householder, a member of the family who holds together the domestic tranquility and ensures that everything’s vacuumed occasionally. And, like me, I’m sure there are a lot of housespouses who actually enjoy the role.

Rising above, though, there’s nothing to match the grateful feeling like when y’all hunter-gatherers pitch in a bit!

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tagged as in housework,mischief,stay-at-home dad ·

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann Marie April 26, 2007 at 5:27 pm

Oh. My. God.

that is what I would have said and how I would have said it had I walked back in to Cheerios all over a clean floor. I must say considering you posted this post cheerio floor covering that you are a much much much stronger person than I.

I would be in one of two situations if that was me..
1. In Jain awaiting arraignment for commiting homicide.
2. In the state mental hospital because anyone that would shove a box up the rear of another human being MUST be nuts.

I am sorry… I am slightly furious FOR you.. See now you don’t have to be.

Also I just caught up on two days of reading.. I am out of town.
I cried. I don’t want to think of losing my Dad.. ever.. and you made me thinking about it.

Hugs to Boobaby!

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doodaddy April 26, 2007 at 5:32 pm

Thanks for the sympathy! I’m sure there were a thousand reasons the Cheerios didn’t get cleaned up — goodness knows I’ve left messes before when other crises intervened — but I was astounded that they thought Boo could handle the entire (admittedly 1/4-full) box in the first place.

I think, though, that I decided that too much of that sort of anger is just no fun. I don’t like to be cranky. So I’ve decided not to be — most of the time.

Sigh. Do you have a manual sweeper? They’re lifesavers.

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aimee/greeblemonkey April 26, 2007 at 8:11 pm

Great post. Felt like I was there with you guys.

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blog_antagonist@yahoo.com April 27, 2007 at 10:31 am

Yep. There’s never any “vacation” or “downtime” for the denizen of the household. Even when we go visit my parents, I end up doing the lion’s share of domestic duty because my Mom is ill and my Dad is useless and I want to give her a break. But you see…instead of delegating, I just seethe. So, you handled it very well, in my opinion.

The Cheerio thing would have sent me over the edge.

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doodaddy April 28, 2007 at 11:57 am

@BA~ Funny that everyone is focused on the Cheerio incident. I’m inclined to be generous about it… Boo has recently decided that she needs to be holding the receptacle holding her food (bowl, box, bag), but she doesn’t quite have the concepts of “upright” or “spill” or “everything will fall out and be gone”… this might have come as a surprise to my wife, since I do feed the baby a lot more.

Besides, the problem with going over the edge is that then you’re over the edge, which I never find any fun. I got lots of sympathy and gratitude later, probably the best I could hope for!

Dd.

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