Hello 2021: On Catchalls

Women and especially mothers are the catchall tray of civilization. The world has needs. Governments, institutions and individuals carve out the areas of need they will care for. And the rest? It usually falls on women. We carry the burden of caregiving, shopping, planning, decision-making, and general and specific responsibilities that are left unclaimed by others in our home and in our society.

I vaguely remember the moment I realized what a catchall tray was. I was in my early 20s and I think I was visiting a much more sophisticated friend’s apartment and saw that she had a beautiful tray specifically for the purpose of catching and giving a purposeful home for those items that didn’t otherwise have a home or were “in transition” to being put away somewhere else. I thought to myself, “what a genius, grown-up idea!” And with more adulting I have learned just how essential a catchall tray is to a home. There are ALWAYS items that need a home in a catchall tray. And similarly, there are so many needs in our families and in our society that naturally need a catchall tray — especially when it comes to caring for our children. 

Our society has decided that public school generally begins when kids turn 5y (in some places with universal pre-K, that’s 3y). Until then, childcare falls in the catchall tray. The default schedule of our school system is 9-3, yet the default schedule of our work is 9-5. From 3-5p, childcare falls again in the catchall tray. 

In the spring when governments issued stay-at-home orders, schools and daycare centers were closed, our hired help at home was no longer. Yet work continued for, either at home or on the frontlines… EVERYTHING fell in the catchall tray — childcare, distance learning, cooking/cleaning, and so much more. And the weight of this catchall tray was borne largely by women.

How do we reckon with this catchall tray function in our families, in our communities, and in our society? And why are women de facto responsible for it?

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