Sunday, February 24, 2008

An Unbroken Circle of . . . laundry

Since my primary function in life is being a mom, I often lament that the greatest intellectual feat of my day is matching the socks in the laundry basket.

Sure, there are the days when I have to balance checking accounts and project expenses. I sometimes have to write a coherent sentence or two for my column. I can troubleshoot a fever or a rash with the best of them. But when it comes right down to it, I find laundry to be the most consistent source of mental stimulation.

As I was folding tiny socks and Pooh Bear underwear last night, I realized that no one ever taught me how to do laundry. When the time came for me to tackle that task independently, I relied on memories of my mom’s methods.

After several years of habitually washing whites first and working toward the darkest loads, with the dirty work clothes last, I questioned my mom about the method. Why is it that we always start with whites? The answer, of course, was that her mom had always done it that way.

When Grandma did the laundry, she used a bucket and a washboard, so doing the whites first made perfect sense. In those days, washing the dark colors first would have meant hauling and heating more water to keep the whites from turning grey.

In today’s world of modern conveniences, there is no reason for me to keep washing the whites first in my washing machine. It drains the water with each load. But still, every Saturday I sort the laundry into piles and always carry the whites to the washer first.

I remember swearing as a twelve-year-old girl that I would never grow up to be like my mom. I spent the greater part of my teen years promising myself that I would not. But here I am at 31, realizing that the women who came before me are ingrained in the rhythm of my daily life.

I look down and see my mother’s hands kneading bread dough, using a serrated knife to cut it into pieces, and placing the rolls in the stream of sunshine from the window to rise. I answer the phone and hear my Grandma’s lyrical hello. I admonish my children and know instinctively that my face looks exactly like my mother’s when she spoke the same way to me.

At 15, I would have recognized these influences in horror. Sixteen years later, I marvel that, from many miles away, my relatives are here in my daily routine, and that somehow brings me a quiet comfort.

This knowledge will help me bear the time when my daughters no longer adore me and instead greet my teaching with eye rolls and impatient sighs. I will smile, knowing that one day they will fold my grandchildren’s socks and realize that they, too, are part of a circle so strong that it cannot be broken.

My six-year-old, with her dancing eyes and strong spirit, will glance into the mirror and see her mother. My youngest daughter, with her patient nature and ready smile, will lovingly rock her babies deep into the night and hum a melody that she subconsciously retrieved from her memories.

Someday, they will recognize my presence in their lives is inescapable. I can only hope that when they do, they will smile.


BoufMom9 said...

This was such a beautiful post. At first I thought it was just going to be about the horrors of laundry as a mommy, but it ended with me having tears on my face.
Very moving.
Thank you.

Jen said...

Erin, your grandmother is a beautiful lady. BTW, I wash my laundry in that order too LOL.

ohfarmmom said...

Erin, I do my laundry in the *opposite* order, starting with the stinky coveralls, then filthy utility room rugs, to jeans, to "work" shirts and socks, to "decent" (school) clothes, to towels, to "good" or "delicate" clothes. Why? Because that's the way my mom always did it. : ) Our theory is...start out with the really grungy stuff, then work your way to the nicer stuff. That way, if any "filth" happens to get left in the machine, it will have washed several loads of stuff with plenty of opportunity to get cleaned out prior to washing the "good" stuff.

Anonymous said...

Lovely thoughts. Isn't it strange how things change like that? My parents were the stupidest beings on the planet when I was in high school, and "they" learned so much by the time I got married! :)

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