Soaps & Detergents & Powders & Pastes

All this talk of housework has me remembering that cut on the ground-breaking 1972 album “Free to Be You and Me,” produced by and starring Marlo Thomas. It later morphed into an After School Special, also produced by Thomas and featuring performers from to Harry Belafonte to Roberta Flack, to Mel Brooks to Alan Alda. Check out the lyrics to this segment spoken by Carol Channing. You can hear her reciting it in her slightly daffy way here or just scroll down:

  • You know, there are times when we happen to be
  • Just sitting there quietly watching TV
  • When the program we’re watching will stop for a while
  • And suddenly someone appears with a smile
  • And starts to show us how terribly urgent
  • It is to buy some brand of detergent,
  • Or soap or cleanser or cleaner or powder or paste or wax or bleach, 
  • to help with the housework…..
  • Now, most of the time it’s a lady we see,
  • Who’s doing the housework on TV.
  • She’s cheerfully scouring a skillet or two, 
  • Or she’s polishing pots till they gleam like new,
  • Or she’s scrubbing the tub or she’s mopping the floors,
  • Or she’s wiping the stains from the walls and the doors
  • Or she’s washing the windows, the dishes, the clothes
  • Or waxing the furniture till it just glows
  • Or cleaning the fridge or the stove or the sink,
  • With a light-hearted smile, and a friendly wink,
  • And she’s doing her best to make us think that her soap,
  • Or detergent or cleanser or powder or paste or wax or bleach
  • Is the best kind of soap-or-detergent-or-cleanser-or-powder- or-paste-or-wax-or-bleach in the whole wide world.

  • But I’ll tell you one thing I know is true:
  •  The lady we see when we’re watching TV,
  • The lady who smiles as she scours or scrubs or rubs or washes or wipes or mops or dusts or cleans,
  • Or whatever she does on our TV screens,
  • That lady is smiling because she’s an actress,
  • And she’s earning money for learning those speeches
  • That mention those wonderful soaps and detergents and cleansers and cleaners and powders and pastes and waxes and bleaches.
  • So, the very next time you happen to be
  • Just sitting there quietly watching TV
  • And you see some nice lady who smiles
  • As she scours or scrubs or rubs or washes or wipes or mops or dusts or cleans,
  • Remember, nobody smiles doing housework but those ladies you see on TV.
  • Your mommy hates housework, your daddy hates housework, I hate housework too. 
  • And when you grow up, so will you.
  •  Because even if the soap-or-cleanser-or-powder-or-paste-or-wax-or-bleach you use is the very best one,
  • Housework is just no FUN.
  • Children, when you have a house of your own,
  • Make sure, when there’s house work to do
  •  That you don’t have to do it alone.
  • Little boys, little girls, when you’re big husbands and wives,
  • If you want all the days of your lives
  • To seem sunny as summer weather
  • Make sure, when there’s housework to do, That you do it TOGETHER.

When I first heard this cut back in ’74 I was desperate to get help from my groom with the household chores – I was a feminist in full fledge by that time – but I also remember being faintly shocked by the assertion that we all hate housework. Do we? Even when the sky is falling and washing the floor is the only thing that is keeping us sane?Nice job helping kids get wised up about the lies of advertising though. These many years later we could still all use more lessons like that!   

Strong Medicine

A woman wrote in to ‘Dear Abby’ about her retired husband Bud, calling him a lazy slob because “all he does is watch TV or play on his computer all day” while she works fulltime outside the home. ““Our house has become a pigsty, she went on. “If I try to do some cleaning, Bud gets mad and says he’ll do it ‘later’ but ‘later’ comes and goes. Returning to a filthy house after work is driving me crazy. He doesn’t even do the grocery shopping; I have to do it on my lunch hour.”

Abby suggested the lady try getting her husband to articulate his ‘vision’ of retirement. “You may find that it’s very different from yours.

“Also, he may be depressed at the changes that have occurred in his life… If Bud was always a ‘lazy slob,’ then face it – that’s the person you married. However, if this is a recent, radical change in his behavior, you should insist he be examined by his doctor. “

Good luck getting any guy to see a shrink just because you don’t like his behavior, right?  Still,  Abby’s tips are good tips all the same – just not as good as this regimen that  a reader of mine says she has used for her own husband and sons. She first wrote to me after reading a column I did about boundaries. We talked back and forth over the months and one day in came this email, from the lady I will here call Jan, whose last name I don’t even know:

I began realizing my effort to be a good person, wife, mom, and daughter were becoming a huge drain on me, so for a while I stopped doing everything around here. I redefined what was mine to do and let the rest go. Basically, I cooked a simple healthy meal and that was it. I gave them all their own sets of towels and dishes, all color-coded. I had to give them each their own color because that stopped them from being lazy and using someone else’s clean things ha ha! And wow what a breakthrough! I no longer wash dishes. My husband and sons rinse them off after they use them. 

I no longer wash their towels or laundry either. If they run out, that’s their problem.

As time passed though, I saw that my husband worked long hours and paid all the bills and mortgage – and he did try to do his own laundry – so out of love, I have helped out. My boys wash their clothes but sometimes, out of love, I will fold them. I try not to take over their personal responsibilities; I have my own. 

And so a switch started taking place inside of me:  I was no longer doing things out of a sense of duty, but out of love, and it felt much less draining on me.

I still don’t wash anyone’s dishes. It only takes them a few seconds to run them under hot soapy water, dry them off, and put them back on the shelf and if they can’t manage that then Jeez I have really crippled them!

I just had to just stop everything and take a step back to redefine what was mine to do and what was theirs. It took about six weeks. And I had some guilt, but then I realized:  It’s all about healthy boundaries. And so this works for us all and I feel more respected by them and more respectful of myself.

 And there, folks, is the magic combination: of self-respect, a recognition of the importance of community-mindedness and the willingness to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes. Brilliant!