We’ve done quite a bit of traveling lately, and now we’re recovering. Which means I’ve been doing laundry.
Years back, I purchased a small laundry basket for each daughter so that she was in charge of ferrying her own clothing upstairs and putting it away. At the time, it seemed like an excellent accomplishment. It was a manageable little chore for them, and it cut work down for me. But the truth is, when it comes to laundry, the girls’ development has stagnated over the years. That hit home recently when a colleague wrote an article called Love Your Laundry in which she declared that everyone ages 8 and over should be doing all of their own laundry. That’s definitely not happening in my house, and just in case it made other mothers feel like losers, too, I responded by re-sharing my printable Handy Laundry Flowchart for Kids, which I’d made years ago because my kids kept tossing perfectly clean clothes into the hamper. In spite of their hamper-happy behavior, the girls do occasionally help fold, and M did her own laundry at soccer camp.
And I don’t particularly mind doing the laundry. It’s clearly more efficient to put it all in together. I just don’t want any Laundry Drama. In fact, the couple of times one of the girls has gotten upset about not having something clean and available, I hit them with my go-to response: “Clearly, anyone who feels as passionate about clean clothes as you do should be in charge of her own laundry. . . .” and next thing you know, they are no longer concerned about the clothes that were essential to their survival a minute ago. It’s like when your child desperately needs something until you remind them that they have enough money in their savings to buy it on their own, and suddenly, poof! They’ve decided that it’s not worth it.
So the girls help, but of course they could do more around the house. They’re in charge of making their own school lunches at the beginning of middle school, they help with setting and clearing the table and tidying up, and they are theoretically in charge of keeping their own bathroom clean, but it is not as clean as I’d like (and frankly, my standards aren’t super-duper high). They’re good at magically chipping in when they see I’m stressed or doing something when I tell them to do it, but they remain oblivious to some of the most obvious and simple ways in which they could potentially help.
Lately one of my chore-related themes has been, “Let’s take that to the next level.” So I have conversations like: “Great, girls, you’ve cleared the table and brought everything into the kitchen, but whatever could you possibly do with that bottle of salad dressing. . . . ? Ideas. . . ? Yes! Actually put it in the refrigerator!” Or “You’ve carried the plate in, but what do you think we might do with the plate now . . . ? Yes! Just go ahead and put it into the dishwasher! It’s not a magical secret chamber that only the adults are allowed entry into. . . you kids can figure it out, too! Go for it!” Or they’ll snack away the end of a box of crackers and leave the crackers on the counter and I’ll be like, “Really? You’re just going to leave the empty box of crackers on the counter? How can you take this to the next level?” And they’ll roll their eyes and they’ll tell me that they totally know that the box goes into recycling. And then I gleefully congratulate them and explain that even if they understand this concept, there is no evidence to support their vast knowledge unless they prove it by actually putting the box into the recycling bin.
Honestly, it’s exhausting.
But sometimes it’s just not their fault. Because, sadly, they continue to not be psychic. Take laundry. After this trip, I did approximately a shit-ton of laundry. I don’t particularly like that term, but it’s expressive, so we’ll go with it. Now, here’s my laundry system. I have two dark wooden hampers that sit in our hallway collecting laundry. Then I have two blonde wooden baskets that I use for transporting laundry from the hampers to the washer as well as bringing folded laundry back upstairs (the girls still have their little baskets, too, so it’s mostly my stuff or Cute W’s coming back upstairs).
Sometimes, on rare and beautiful occasions, I manage to do every single bit of laundry in the dirty clothes hampers and I empty the baskets full of clean, folded clothes into our drawers and basically get entirely caught up with my laundry. When that happens, the archangels sing, unicorns prance, and then I place a basket, like so, on top of the hampers, and put whatever my first new piece of dirty laundry is into the basket. Because that dirty laundry’s on the fast track, baby! It doesn’t even have to collect in a hamper and get emptied into a basket in order to go downstairs. The basket’s eagerly awaiting the next load of laundry. Because I am Entirely Caught Up With Laundry, and I am a Mistress of the Universe.
See, part of what’s sad here is that I am the only person in the house who sees this as the hallowed accomplishment that it is. They hardly think about laundry at all. And thus, they do not understand the message communicated by the basket on top of the hamper. What seems entirely obvious to me requires psychic powers on their part.
This situation reminds me of a Home Improvement scene that really stuck in my mind years ago. I have no idea why. I wasn’t a particular fan of the show, but it just completely resonated with me. Jill is explaining her dish towel system to Tim in the kitchen. It was something along the lines of, there’s the cleanest towel which hangs here and is used for drying clean dishes and wiping off washed hands, and then there’s the so-so towel, which can be used to wipe the counter for a little while, but then its destiny is to become the wiping-the-floor towel, and then it has to go into the laundry to be washed and then rise, phoenix-like, again and become the dry-the-clean-dishes towel. It was so comic because Jill thought too much about this, and yet it makes perfect, really good sense, but it is entirely opaque and mystifying to her husband and presumably the rest of the family, and it makes them afraid to use a towel the wrong way. No one’s really a bad guy here. It’s just that no one else is psychic.
Anyway, I’d left my Laundry Basket O’ Triumph on the hampers, and each time I walked by, I’d take a peek, because of course when you’re Entirely Caught Up With Laundry you begin to understand that it is your Destiny to be Always Caught Up With Laundry For Infinity. It becomes possible. And it feels Powerful.
I’d take a peek at the basket as I walked by, because as soon as it was full, I was going to take it downstairs and throw it into the wash and remain Entirely Caught Up With Laundry. And I’d look and it wouldn’t be full yet and I’d feel this little surge of joy that I was so on top of things. Every time I passed by, a small surge of Triumph and Joy.
I’m not sure how long it was until I overcame my delusion.
I noticed that the dirty clothes were all mine. Wait, what. . . ?
And then I realized that the rest of my non-psychic family had been filling the small hamper, then lifting the basket to fill the large hamper, then stuffing things in tighter and tighter as the hampers were not magically emptied. Think, Strega Nona‘s pasta pot. If, instead of delicious pasta, it were full of sweaty, days-old workout clothes.
Ohhhhhhh. I was not Entirely Caught Up With Laundry. I was way behind. And the clothes were gag-worthy. And, really, couldn’t someone shoving clothes into the hamper that hard put two and two together? I filled up both baskets and groused to myself as I hauled them downstairs and started sorting.
And then, in walked little J to save the day and salvage my mood.
“Oh!” she gasped. “Are you doing laundry? Can I pour the fabric softener in? Will you teach me how?!?” In the face of such mystifying excitement, it occurred to me that the child’s usually at school or practice when I’m doing laundry. She doesn’t see it happen. It really does seem like magic. And she’s excited to learn about that magic. I happily taught her my sorcery.
J may not be be psychic. But she’s definitely taking it to the next level.