Tuesday 18 June 2019

I do the shopping, my wife sniffs out dry rot. A role rejig might be in order

My wife comes into the room. She moves towards the window. She sniffs the air and announces: "I think I smell something. I think it's dry rot."

I know better than to get involved. I see an eternity of tradesmen, estimates and consultations stretching before me. I decide to say as little as possible.

"Oh?" I say.

"Remember, I was right the last time," says my wife. This is true. The builders said she was imagining it, but when they removed the plaster from the bay window, they found the web-like lacework of the dry-rot fungus all over the wall.

She also said she could smell something in the bathroom. They told her she was mistaken and made circling "she's-bonkers" gestures to me behind her back.

But again, she was on to something. The waste pipe and the shower tray were involved in some complicated plumbing pas-de-deux and had to be redone.

"I don't smell anything," I say.

"Look here, at the mark where some water has got it," she says. "First it gets wet, and then it dries out, but the rot has set in."

We are now at an impasse. I know what my wife wants. She wants me to say that I'll have someone out to look at it, that she's not to worry, that I'll take it from here.

Except I know where that leads. I have been here many times before. I call out the relevant expert, and together we peer down boreholes, examine the entrails of pasterboard and shine torches into ceiling clefts.

We agree that it's nothing, that you get smells like this sometimes in these old houses, and that no course of action is required.

"But did you ask him about the crack in the wall? You can practically see into the hall," my wife says.

"No," I reply, "because he was here to investigate the dry rot in the bay window."

So it goes. I don't ask the right questions. I accept the expert's opinion too readily. I do not put across the olfactory evidence aggressively enough. And a few weeks later, she will say: "I still get that smell . . ."

I'm hoping that a new book to be published in Ireland next week will help us. It's called Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All and it has a new introduction by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

The authors, Sharon Meers and Joana Strober, are high-achieving executives who have stuffed one mushroom too many and changed one nappy over the odds.

They decided it was time their husbands pulled their weight, and Sandberg agrees, reckoning that it's good for the parents and for the kids as well.

They show that women – even if they are in tough jobs – still end up doing 70pc of the domestic chores.

They also show that the children of working mums do just as well as the kids of stay-at-home mums. It has been hailed as the antidote to working-mother guilt.

In our family, the roles are reversed. I am the "wife". I do the cooking and shopping and school runs and playdates.

She is the "husband" who works late and comes home, opens the fridge and says to no one in particular: "We don't seem to have any milk."

But somehow – and I'm not sure how this happened – I get to do some 'husband' things too: put out the bins, cut the grass, dispose of large spiders.

I have high hopes that this book will set things straight. That the housework scales will be tipped back in my favour a little more.

After all, I don't want our daughter to grow up with the idea that a woman's sole role in the house is to open the fridge and say "we don't seem to have any milk".

I'd be happy with 70/30. That aligns roughly with the income split too. Just as long as my wife's 30pc includes dealing with the dry-rot man.


Irish Independent

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