A friend of mine recently posted a picture on Facebook of her adorable matching laundry baskets, tidily topped with color coded piles of whites, lights, towels, and darks. The caption under the picture said, “Guess it must be laundry day!” I looked at her tidy piles and thought to myself, when was the last time that it wasn’t laundry day? I closed my computer and began surveying my house. Allow me to take you on a virtual tour.
Our home is 1200 square feet, give or take a few. There is no basement. There is a garage, but it doesn’t count as much other than a place to store a truck that seemed like a great idea when we bought it seven years ago, but now just reminds us that we don’t do projects well. Within the confines of our 1200 square feet we hold all of the trappings of life for two working adults, one 12 year old boy with autism and cerebral palsy, one four year old boy with an overactive heartbreak button, two dogs (www.dearbeagle.wordpress.com) and two foundling cat brothers.
Our laundry days spill over into laundry nights, laundry re-do days, laundry weekends, and even an occasional laundry retreat. (That’s what happens when we’re feeling fancy and take our laundry with us on the go.) Occasionally I will reach a point where I feel like it’s really going to happen, that I can say “I finished my laundry.” But alas, I’m always foiled by some kid tromping through with a ketchup stain on his shirt, or a golden retriever who decides that the freshly laundered piles awaiting their hangers on the couch looks like a great place to relax after rolling in the muddy back yard.
There are some things that I have come to accept about the constant flow of laundry through our house. I know without a doubt, with 100% certainty that my oldest son will ask me for both pants and socks when getting dressed in the morning. It doesn’t matter if his pants are hanging at the front of his closet, waiting in the dryer, or lying in the floor of the bathroom. It doesn’t matter if his sock drawer is completely full of folded, matched pairs of socks or if two mismatched hole-ridden rags lay at the bottom. He will ask about pants and socks as if he is completely baffled by their mysterious whereabouts. I know with 100% certainty that when my husband comes home from work in the afternoon, he will remove his uniform shirt and drape it across the back of a kitchen chair. If yesterday’s shirt is already there, he will drape it across the chair next to it. I know with 100% certainty that if I fold laundry in the living room a cat will curl up in the basket and swear at me in that subtle tail-flicking language that only cats speak if I try to disturb his cushiony cat cot.
Our laundry has surpassed the status of household chore and become an extension of our family’s functionality. There are days where the constant hum of the Maytag and scent of Downy fill our home and add to the feeling of warmth and harmony. And there are days where we frantically pick Batman underwear out of the jaws of one of the dogs, and hope in vain that there will be a clean pair of socks in the drawer for preschool tomorrow. But isn’t that how families function? There are days where homework gets done and dinner is served hot, where kids feel happy and secure and spouses feel loved, where the check book is so balanced it almost seems to levitate, and the dogs are fuzzy and the cats purr like an engine. But there are also days where homework leads to tears and dinner comes in a cardboard box, the kids hate each other, and the spouses wonder what they saw in each other to begin with, the bills fly in faster than facebook notifications, and the animals serve as living poster children for a Bob Barker campaign.
There are days filled with fresh soft piles and the feel of cool, clean sheets, neatly lined drawers and empty hampers. There are also days filled with wet napkins frantically scrubbing a paw print out of a white skirt ten minutes before work and tear-stained children standing in a closet full of super-hero t-shirts lamenting their lack of Incredible Hulk attire. And then there is the reality that no matter how much laundry we do, no matter how empty we get the hamper, there is always at least one more load of laundry to go, even if it’s only the clothes on our backs. Eventually, when the homework is done, the dogs are walked and the lawn is mowed it will be time to take the current clothes off, so really we are constantly generating more dirty laundry.
But our laundry is only a by-product of the greater effort that is being undertaken here, which is to live a full and productive life as a family in a small house, in a small town in Ohio. Our laundry is a symbol of both the struggles and the successes that we have getting through the day-to-day messes that come with living in close quarters with so many lives. So, for today, I will enjoy the scent of fabric softener filling my home, and tap my fingers in rhythm with the thumping of the towels in my dryer. It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I’ve still got at least six loads to go.