My son is old enough to learn to iron his own clothes, but we don’t own an ironing board. Initiating him into this undesirable practice while requiring him to navigate our awkwardly shaped and unwelcoming flat surfaces is cruel, kind of like forcing him to learn to drive on a stick shift, which by the way is only about a year away. Good luck, dear son. Just pretend you walked into a time machine and you have no choice, which of course you don’t since I’m not heading off to buy an automatic.
On the other hand, putting my son behind the wheel of a five speed with the worst blind spots of any car I’ve ever driven is foolish. A friend recently told me that the period of driving under a learner’s permit is mostly to get the parents used to the idea of the child driving. He said his son is already quite skilled behind the wheel, but he and his wife need the time to digest their son’s progression to adulthood. I don’t doubt it. When I look at my son and imagine his navigating a large moving vehicle through our traffic-crazed city I pretend it will never happen.
To fend off the inevitable, I come up with a set of preliminary tasks.
“You must first learn to iron. If you can’t drive an iron, you can’t drive a car.” Or cooking. “If you can’t find your way around a stationary stove, I’m certainly not setting you loose on the open highway.” Laundry will follow close behind, or maybe take the lead since it is the safest and easiest of the three.
Ironing, cooking, laundry. Maybe this has nothing to do with priming my son to drive. Maybe I just want to lighten the load around the house.
My ex-husband was raised in a foreign rural village where his sisters taught him self-reliance. When we moved in together, he knew his way around the kitchen better than I did. Not only could he mend clothes but he could also create them from scratch. Mother of necessity, they say.
For the few years that my son saw his parents living together, he didn’t witness stereotypical gender roles. There wasn’t a go-to parent for certain tasks. House duties were spread around. But there is something in me that has ratcheted up the nurturing since the end of the marriage. I feel my son has taken on added responsibility in his role of ‘man of the house’, and I want him to still have a childhood, to feel cared for and not be rushed into adulthood. I don’t want him to feel that he never had a chance to just play and be. But I also don’t want him to sit back and wait to be catered to.
Sometimes after spending times at friends’ houses, he returns home and when I ask him to vacuum his room he replies, “Kids aren’t supposed to do that.” And I challenge him on the notion, ask him if he really believes that the mountain of cleaning duties should all fall to me. Faced with the accusation and shame I throw at him, he reaches for the vacuum or the scrub brush and gets to work on his room and bathroom. Part of me is really proud and part of me dreads his inner thoughts of how his friends have it easier, how he might shift to a moment of, “If only.”
I know that when he heads out on his own, he’ll inwardly thank me for his knowing his way around home maintenance, that he won’t feel robbed of a childhood but that he’ll feel a bit grateful that his apartment won’t make the first girl he brings home grimace. And I imagine that girl thinking that my son is something special beyond all the obvious traits and assets he puts forth, that she’s finally met a guy who can keep his own place clean.
And then I wake from my delicious fantasy and iron my son’s next shirt and try to figure out in which car he’ll learn to drive. Luckily I have a year to solve that problem.