Most days, Kate will walk over from her job in the library and come to my office to eat lunch. We eat and laugh and she draws cats and boats on my white board. They are next to the smiley faces that Isaac draws when he comes--one for each day that he spends with me at work. So far this summer, there are seven smiley faces on my white board. There are also mooing cows, and Isaac's drawing of each member of our family throwing up. It's a pretty awesome white board.
The other day over ham and cheese, Kate said, "Mom, I think it's time for me to start doing my own laundry."
I said she was probably right.
"I'd better learn how to do it myself before I move out in a few weeks," she mused.
We've had this discussion before, but somehow, I always end up doing her laundry, so she's never really had to take it upon herself to do it. The same thing happened with Paul before he left home for the first time. We both thought that he should probably start doing his own laundry. But when it came time for me to do laundry, I just went ahead and got his...as long as I'm doing laundry, I might as well do it all, right?
And here's why:
There are many things that I don't do for my children. Either because I can't, or because I won't, but there is one thing I have always, always done. I haven't missed a day, or a week, or ever, as long as Dennis and I have been married. I ALWAYS do the laundry.
The only times in my married life that I haven't done the laundry, every single week, from sorting to washing to folding to putting away, is when I have been out of town. After the babies come, I do the laundry. After surgery or illness, I do the laundry. After vacation, during vacation, I do the laundry. It's not that anyone makes me. It just happens to be one of the household chores that I find great satisfaction in doing. So I choose to do it. Over the years, the kids have helped me sort, and Dennis usually carries the hampers to the basement so we can sort in the big space of the family room, but beyond that, it's all mine.
So here's the big secret, and you're going to think that I'm weird, but that's not the point here. The secret is this: I have measured my whole life, at least my life as a mother, by the laundry I do for my children. At first it was just me and Dennis, our load of whites and our load of darks, and a load of towels and sheets. It all fit in one basket at the laundromat. Then we added little tiny undershirts and for a brief time, cloth diapers. Burp cloths and hooded baby towels. A whole new load of laundry with it's own sweet-smelling soap.
Then we added little pink dresses and overalls with flowers, and my all time favorite--ruffle buns. You know, tights with ruffles on the bum. We washed a load of whites, a load of medium-colored things, a load of darks, a load of baby stuff, and however many loads of towels and sheets it took to get the job done. I had to load all the laundry hampers and baskets we had in the stroller to walk over to the laundry room at our apartment complex, and I went at 6:00 in the morning so I could take all the washers and dryers and not be in anybody's way. When everything was washed and dried and folded and neatly stacked in the baskets and in the stroller, I walked back to our apartment and put everything away in it's place. Very rewarding.
I did laundry for my family in Provo. I did laundry for my family in Chicago. I did laundry in Florida. I did laundry in Minnesota. I did laundry in Salt Lake, and ended up back in Provo. I have stood for hours upon hours, folding shirts, socks, and jeans. Jammies and jackets, hats and gloves. Taking out the shorts that got too small, throwing away the socks with too many holes. Making neat stacks for each of my children, and for my husband, too. A stack of undies, a stack of socks. A stack of jammies, a stack of shirts. A stack of pants and a stack of things that need to be hung up.
As I have folded these stacks, week in and week out, I have watched my children grow and change. I have folded Cub Scout clothes and Boy Scout clothes. Leotards and tights. Baseball jerseys and football uniforms. Swim suits and snow pants. I have also had time to think about my children. To think about the things they need, like new socks, or time alone with Mom or Dad. To think about how I can help, or how I might need to let them figure it out on their own. I have cried over these piles of laundry more times than I can remember, for it is while I fold their clothes that I have my best insights into my children's lives.
When Paul left home in the summer after his senior year of High School, it was hard for me to see his empty place on my "folding table," (aka my bed). I went from four piles of clothes to three. I cried while I moved Kate's pile to the end of the bed, and I continued on with my folding.
Today I didn't sort Kate's laundry and I moved Wade's stack to the end of the bed. Now I'm down to two. The loads are all smaller, and I suppose we'll save a little money on laundry soap. But I can't forget those little flowered overalls, the pink leotards, the brightly colored socks, and the ruffle buns. These clothes I have folded as the years have gone by, these hours I have spent taking care of my family...
But now it's time to let them go. It's time to watch them spread their wings and fly. Paul is getting married. Kate is going to college. They are leaving home and making their own way. And you won't believe me when I say this, but I'm really, really going to miss doing their laundry.
23 hours ago