Mother Loads

Posted: April 23rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Housewife Superhero | No Comments »

My oldest sister Marie has 12 years on me. And like 97% of America, she married and starting reproducing at a younger age than I did.

So when Kate was a newborn and I was adjusting to a break from office life, living in a new city, and caring for an infant 24×7, Marie was working through some domestic changes of her own. Hers was on the opposite end of the parenting spectrum though; the oldest of her two sons had just left for college.

With Mom gone, my sisters and I call each other when there’s something we want to tell Mom about. It’s not as good as the real thing, but given the situation you need to make do. Marie will call: “Since Mom’s not here to brag about this to, I’ll just have to tell you that John made the Dean’s List!” Or Ellen will just leave a message, “I miss Ma! I really wish I could call her right now.”

Anyway, being at home with a baby increased my calls to Marie exponentially. I needed someone other than Mark to prattle on to about Kate’s dazzling beauty and brilliance, and to celebrate her most mundane accomplishments and grocery store interactions. And with her Nearly Empty Nest Syndrome newly engaged, Marie had her share of stuff to talk about too.

Oddly, more often than not, our conversations turned to the topic of laundry. I was living through what everyone forewarns happens when you have a kid–an alarming increase in washing, drying, folding, and putting away clothes–and endlessly repeating this process. For Marie, her laundry had fallen off dramatically. She’d often say that with just one son at home and always off doing things with his own car and friends, there was so much less for her to do–and God knows, there was also less laundry.

Call it wacky, depressing, or weird, but I’ve come to see how the cosmic cycle of laundry (no pun intended) creates a bit of a natural and calming rhythm to things on the home front. Laundry is rarely stressful. It’s not demanding or physically taxing. And it’s often satisfying in the way that something dirty becomes clean and renewed, and a pile of disorder moves towards order and harmony. It’s ever-present in some state of completion–and there’s nothing you can do but accept that. The moment you
finish a white load you end up dropping a white t-shirt into the
hamper. And so it goes. There will be another white load soon enough. (I’d also say that there’s that great clean laundry smell, but these days we’re a no-dye no-fragrance kinda family.)

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I can think of a million things I’d much rather do than laundry, but of all housework crap that must get done, it’s not half bad. And it beats emptying the dishwasher by a long shot.

So here I am again, home with a newborn and having pressed the pause button on my work life once more. And now with two kids–oy the laundry! And by sheer coincidence, Marie’s in a new place too, this time with her youngest off at college as a freshman. No one at home but her and her husband, generating a relative dearth of dirty clothes. Once a bustling hive of activity, a place she’d pop into several times a day, all is now quiet on the laundry room front.

But in our recent conversations she’s outed herself a bit on how she’s managing the change. Her son’s at Brown–an easy drive from their Boston suburb home. At first she’d mention having to go there to bring him something–his blue blazer for an upcoming formal, his mouth guard. More recently she’s been attending his lacrosse games. She started mentioning how bedraggled he looked when she’d see him. “His North Face jacket reeked. I think it had been soaked in beer.”

It was her entree to admitting that he was clearly in need, so she’d say she took some of his laundry with her when she’d go visit Dad who lives nearby. “I just ran a few loads while I was having lunch with Dad,” she’d say.

The other day she mentioned having brought Rory’s dirty clothes home with her. She went so far as to say how satisfying it was to soak them for a while and see the water turn gray. How good it felt to really get them clean. It made me remember there was a pair of Kate’s poopy panties awaiting me on our laundry pile downstairs.

But I didn’t want to show off.

Last week Marie called to check in. They’d been to Brown to one of Rory’s games, and she mentioned she dropped off the laundry that she’d taken from him on her last visit. And in the peaceful voice of a woman who’s come to terms with what it is that makes her happy, she told me when she was there she offered to do Rory’s roommate’s laundry too.

I managed to swallow saying, “No fucking way!” because I knew she realized herself it was utterly wacky. And who am I to get in the way of that other kid getting the yellow stains out of the armpits of his t-shirts?

Besides, it’s impossible to know what things I’ll be clinging to when Kate and Paige are off to college. God knows there’s an inner Smother in me just waiting to come out.

One thing I’m fairly certain of is when it comes to unloading dishwashers, they’re on their own.

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