Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Houseboy and the Mother-in-Law

I recently finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's novel Half of a Yellow Sun, which included the wonderful character Ugwu, a boy from the bush who becomes houseboy for a Nigerian professor. From day one, Ugwu greatly admires his boss (his "Master") and tries to anticipate his every need. At one point, he irons the master's socks. They wind up getting stuck to the iron and the master calls him an ignoramus, but the kid was only trying to be helpful. Ugwu also sometimes listens at doors. Although I loved him as a character in a novel, I was reminded of why I don't think I could ever deal with household help. I like (no, LOVE) my privacy, what little I have of it, and even a once-a-week housekeeper would intrude.

At times, the one person Ugwu most reminded me of was my mother-in-law. In theory, my mother-in-law has her own chores and her own life, but she has taken it upon herself to do my laundry (even though I've asked her not to, even though at one point she told my husband she was exhausted from hanging out and taking down our laundry).  My husband said that she just wants to help us. A week or so ago, I didn't do the laundry and she was very agitated when I came home and asked me do it then (at 5PM) so that she could hang it out. This morning, I didn't get around to doing my laundry, but when I came home it was hung out on the poles. My mother-in-law told me, in a mildly chiding voice, that she had done the laundry. She came into our quarters and unloaded the laundry basket, in which hand-washables are sort of mixed with machine washables. My bathing suit was ruined in the wash. Oh, well. She was just trying to help.

I've decided that I've got enough material by now to write a short story with a laundry motif. I think it'll be entitled, "The Laundry Wars."



Blogger jean said...

Gaijin Mama, I feel your pain. I'm also a veteran of the laundry wars. Whenever my MIL visits she seems to feel the need to do the laundry (also scrub the toilet). Doesn't matter that I have just done the laundry (she picked up a sock and a dishcloth so the washing machine needs to be run again) or that it's pouring rain and forecasting sun the next day (I HATE coming into the house and having wet laundry hanging all over the place -- why not wait a day for Pete's sake so that you can put it outside?). I'm also very anal about sorting the clothes and get really peeved to come home and find my new white clothes are now pink ESPECIALLY when I had told her clearly that I did not want her to do the laundry that day (that's happened twice). This sort of rant probably sounds over-the-top selfish and childish to people who don't have a Japanese MIL, but, when you do have one, the lack of being listened to and treated as an independent and equal adult can be really stressful.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Gaijin Mama said...

They must be twins.

3:08 AM  
Blogger jennifergg said...

Oh I can't wait to read the laundry short story! I remember some of the other laundry posts too...good luck!!!

11:21 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

This comment is off topic, but I wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your recent book reviews in "Brain, Child"! I appreciated how you wove your own story in with those of the authors you read. It's a dream of mine to submit there someday, and seeing your article gave me a boost.

5:07 AM  
Blogger Gaijin Mama said...

Thanks, Liz! I haven't seen it yet, so I didn't even know it was out yet.

6:15 AM  
Anonymous Deborah said...

Gaijin Mama,

I feel like I'm talking to myself. I just read about you in the Daily Yomiuri today and quickly googled you and your books. More about that later. I finally resolved the Laundry Wars by getting a laundry pole set up under the eaves on the second floor (where m-i-l) is not allowed. I used to hide my laundry upstairs too when I wanted her to stay away from it. Power over the laundry meant the right to comment on our lives. Eventually I forfeited the right to any assistance in our daily lives to keep her out of our business. Death by over work or neurosis? Which will it be? I chose overwork--children eventually grow up--mother's-in-law don't even fade away. Love and hugs, Deborah

3:11 PM  

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