Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Laundry is My Emmamy

At the very end of 2009 the obligatory Facebook app made the rounds, summing up a year's worth of posts with cloud labels.  Coming off a high-low year that contrasted the demands of running a household with three children aged six and under with the incredible experience of training for and completing the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3 Day, I installed it.  I expected to relive all the satisfaction of the work I did for the 3 Day, something that reflected my hard work and success.  Which I did.

But the mentions of the laundry were a lot huger.

I'm going to backtrack a bit to a Cute Thing My Kids Said a couple of days ago.

Me, serving dinner: "Quentin, would you like any grape tomatoes?"

Quentin (age 4), looks up: "No." Looks back at his plate.  No expression.

Duncan (age 6), astounded: "But why not?  They're the most delicious things ever!"

Quentin, deadpan: "Vegetables are my emmamy."

Which is it, in one.  Laundry is my emmamy.

Now, I do try not to be Debbie Downer on Facebook.  So I use little euphemisms, like "I'm off to tackle Mount Washmore!" because it really was the most interesting thing going on in a day that is typically filled with various potty responsibilities and the making of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Also, I think just lurking is sneaky and Facebook was, at that time, pretty much my only adult interaction for days on end.  On a really good day I might post "Mount Washmore is a molehill!" but by the next morning somebody would have wet the bed and I'd be in silent despair as I contemplated the loads of bedding to be dealt with.

I don't expect many men to have made it this far into the SAHM's lament, but just in case my husband's eyes haven't yet glazed over, and also to enumerate the pain of fellow laundry haters, I will spell out exactly why I loathe a job that is primarily done by two (mostly) automatic machines.

First is sheer volume.  In my household there are two adults, three children, and a cat.  Now, though I don't actually dress my cat, he does generate more than his share of laundry... if you get my drift.  He's old and not as spry as he used to be and, like the children in 2009, he doesn't always get there in time.  Which is fun.  I expect the rest of the family is self-explanatory, but what it all amounts to is that there is a lot of laundry and it's generally very disgusting, especially in 2009, when my children were 6, 3, and 1.

Second is my own idea of a job well-done.  Apparently there are a lot of ways to separate laundry (one friend divided them into "whites, reds or pinks, and everything else") and I use one of the more elaborate systems, involving not only color but fabric care. So nobody else is allowed to separate the laundry but me.

Third is the amount of time the machines take and the nature of parenting.  The washing machine takes just under an hour, but the dryer takes just over an hour.  This means that if I start the washer and the dryer at the same time, the washer will have to sit, completed, till the dryer finishes.  Except, if I put a load of line-dry only clothes in, I can squeeze two loads into the washer before I have to move the second one over to the dryer, so theoretically I get more done.  Except, when you are the only adult in the house reponsible for three children under six, inevitably there's going to be some reason to forget that you are supposed to go back and move everything over, and you certainly can't babysit the machines when you have to prevent the children from killing each other, or poisoning themselves, or when you have to fetch them from school or take them to baseball practice or... take your choice.  Children are distracting... as is Facebook.

Then there's the folding... the endless, monotonous folding.  It's not so bad when I can watch a lot of TV while I'm working at it, but I can't really watch TV while the children are around if I don't want their brains to rot in their heads and leak right out of their ears, so I inevitably end up taking 2 nights a week with a gargantuan mound of laundry next to me and watch something like 4 episodes of Star Trek Voyager until I get it all done.  Which is fine, I guess, although we are now a one-TV household and my husband really likes his xBox.

I won't talk about lugging it all around to the five rooms in the house where it is all stored.

Are you tired yet?

So in 2010, when my youngest son was 2 1/2 and we judged that my parents wouldn't hate us if they kept the three children while my husband and I took a long weekend to ourselves, we went to stay at a resort in Jamaica.  We went there to sit on the beach and just rest.  I exerted myself far enough to get a pedicure.  While I was at the salon, just me and the aesthetician, there was a terrible thunderstorm and the power went out.  She opened all the windows and we had enough light for her to keep working.  It was quiet, really, really quiet, and peaceful, and she was a very beautiful woman.  Not magazine beautiful, but character beautiful.  Someone you could really like.  And in that peaceful setting, with her working on my feet, we got to talking like women, sharing about our families (she had two teenage daughters) and how things were in Jamaica, which at that time was experiencing a lot of unrest in Kingstown, on the other end of the island.  (Now that I think about it, I don't know how or if or when that worked out, and I'm a little ashamed).

She said, "Three children, that's a lot of work."

And I, feeling rested and relaxed after two and a half days of enough sleep and nobody begging me for anything, said, "Yes, they are a lot of work.  But they're a lot of fun, too.  The laundry is the worst part."

She was surprised and we got to talking about laundry.  She never even thought of it as a chore, she said, because nobody has a washing machine, let alone a dryer, you just wash all your clothes in a tub, and it takes maybe ten or fifteen minutes.  You put it out on the line and a couple of hours later you bring it in and that's all there is to it.

So it got me wondering.  Has our labor-saving device turned what could be a short, quick job into something that requires hours of thought and effort?  If I did all my laundry in the bathtub instead of in a high efficiency front loader would I be able to make peace with that chore?

But then I look at Mount Washmore.  And I think of putting all that in a tub, and scrubbing it by hand, and hauling it out to the clothesline my neighborhood won't permit me to have, and how long it would take to dry in the San Francisco Bay Area fog belt even if I had one, and I think, not bloody likely.

So, laundry is, and shall remain, my emmamy.

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