Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Zen and the Art of Laundry

I've been trying to get all Zen about doing the laundry. It has a repeatable series of steps and actions, and things that are repetitive are calming, right? Here are my steps to doing laundry.
1) Bring the laundry hamper from my sons room down the flight of stairs. Every time I take that first step on my bad ankle, I have an image in my mind that THAT will be the last time my ankle holds up to support weight on a step down, it will fold over like a 2x4 with a crack in it, and the sole of my foot will forever point sideways, facing my other calf where it's collapsed upon itself. I work my way down the stairs gingerly.  Counting each step, making sure my feet are secure before I tug the hamper behind me.

2) Once I finish dragging the laundry hamper down the stairs, I plan my approach into the laundry room, stepping over the pile of dirty clothes that my husband built at the doorway to the laundry area. After all, it's not fair of me to expect someone who makes 30% more in his full time job than I do in my full time job to do something trivial like stretch his tired arm out and deposit the clothes he's just removed from his body into one of three hampers a full TEN INCHES away. A mans home is his castle, after all, and there's only so much menial labor any self respecting king can do before the serfs riot and draw him down to the muck. Serfs be damned, my clothes go on the FLOOR.  It gives the little people a way to feel like they're helping their king.

3) I sort the clothes from the bedroom hamper into the three hamper sorter. Colors (which my mother always referred to as "coloreds", as in, "wash the coloreds", and I never associated with anything other than the clothes that are not eligible for bleach, because they are not white, and bleach will stain them. The first time I said "I'm going to run a load of coloreds" to my husband, I thought he was going to fall over in a seizure, his need to correct me was so strong.), whites for our bodies (socks, shirts, etc) and towels/sheets/blankets.

4) Then I tackle the pile of hubby's clothes. I know, gentle reader, I know. I am enabling him by picking his clothes up off he floor. I am enabling him by sorting the clothes and washing them. I am enabling him by folding them and stacking them neatly for him to put away.  I know.  And yet, I tackle the pile of clothes on the floor. I mutter to myself, and I start to fall into my fathers profanity cadence when faced with an unpleasant task, typically house or car repair related. He turns into a stuttering Popeye-like character, interjecting the same phrases with more frequency and vigor as the task gets under his skin. His mouth gets tight, you can't see his lips move, but this stream of profanity comes out of a tiny hole in the corner - like he'd just moved his corn cob pipe to the other side, just long enough to impart this wisdom.   To quote the movie A Christmas Story, "My father worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium, and he was a master."

My version goes something like this: "I will not pick up his pile of god-damn clothes from the god-damn floor. I'm not a god-damn god-damn slave. His god-damn arm's not god-damn broken. Either he puts his god-damn dirty clothes in the god-damn laundry his god-damn self, or he can son-of-a-god-damn let them rot in a son-of-a-pile on the god-damn floor. I'm not doing another god-damn-son-of-a-god-damn load of laundry where I have to pick another stitch of clothing from a son-of-a pile. He can just shit-in-his-god-damn-son-of-a-no-good HAT if he thinks I'm doing it. Hrumph. God-damn. Mumble. Son-of-a. Harrumph. Shit RIGHT IN HIS LAZY HAT AND PUT IT ON HIS LAZY HEAD."

(If my best friend is still capable of reading this through the tears of laughter in her eyes, she will confirm I am NOT exaggerating.  I can't count the times she and I would have to stifle our giggles into pillows, as we would hear these tirades come pouring out of the bathroom, where my dads head was under the bathroom sink and only his feet were visible as he worked on a repair. Back me up, bestie.  I am my fathers daughter, and that the profanity apple did not fall far from the god-damn, god-damn, son-of-a-god-damn tree.)

5) Now that a load is running in the washer, I remind myself, there is STILL an opportunity for some zen-like quiet time while folding. I could watch a TV show streaming on the iPad while I fold fresh smelling, clean laundry. I could broaden my horizons and compassion by listening to a  TED talk. I could bring the iPhone speaker dock and sing, loudly, making a musical selection that brings me joy. I could fill the house with the sound of me, singing baritone tobarbershop arrangements. And then I look at the mountain and I feel defeated, put-upon, resentful and unappreciated. Grandmother Nadya told me it's my responsibility and my honor to be the rock that holds my family together, and I agree.  It is an honor.  But fuck the responsibility part. Two adults live in the  house, two adults dirty laundry.  Two adults can share the responsibility.

In this day and age, my skill at my profession is paid 70% of a man doing the same jobs salary. I don't work 30% less, it's "just how thins are".   I do my job, I do it well, and I sometimes get on a soapbox about the inequality of it all. In my job as mother and wife, I get priceless compensation from my little boy (frequently) and husband (rarely). I'm on my soap box, because its fucking not equal. Every family has its own dynamic, and it's own division of labor and I am tired of this dynamic. 

I am not filled with Zen. I'm filled with a low grade state of pissed-off-ness that I cook, I tidy, I pay the person who does the real cleaning, I lug clothes, pick up lazy piles of clothes, wash clothes, fold clothes, put away clothes, soothe in the night, snuggle in the morning, make breakfast, get the boy ready for school every day, physically drive the car 3 days, keep the supplies stocked, engage with my child while daddy's too busy catching up on twitter and something awful to be bothered, read the bed time stories, organize the music class, organize the soccer class, carry the family's parent participation hours for daycare, make sure neither baby nor daddy nap too long on weekends, manage the Social life, make sure sitters get scheduled and paid, keep the zoo and aquarium memberships active and smile more than I frown.

And for my friends who are saying "why do you keep enabling this behavior?", rest assured it is an active topic in weekly therapy, and I can't change everything at once. I have to choose both the order of my battles, and the battles themselves. Right now, we're locked in a battle of wills around vehicles. If we're going to be a two car family, both cars have to meet some minimum safety requirements and be viable, safe options for our son. (More on this, upcoming post: "Tom Celica Must Die").

Now that I'm done ranting, let's talk. What are some things that work for your family? Not just laundry, although I'm certainly open to suggestions there! How does the division of labor look for you, and where does it go off the rails?


  1. I do my own laundry - simple. And sometimes I do hers. Great photos in this one, btw!

  2. I do the laundry, but with just the two of us it's not much, and he doesn't own anything that requires more work than the washer and the dryer, so that's pretty easy. He does know how to put his clothes in the hamper, 99.9% of the time, and if he doesn't do it, it doesn't get washed.