The famous actor Ed Asner said, “Raising kids is part joy and part guerrilla warfare.”
He had to be thinking about the laundry room when he said this — the combat zone — the space in which reasonable parents are transformed into bloodthirsty warriors hell-bent on victory.
An empty wash basket is a sublime sight and offers a fleeting moment of complete satisfaction.
With two teenagers, these moments are as rare as spotting a purple-striped zebra in the forested hills of Pennsylvania. The quantity of dirty clothing produced by human beings between the ages of 13 and 18 is remarkable. The basket is never vacant for more than 60 to 90 minutes, and this only happens if wash cycles are precisely matched to said juveniles’ forced time away from home, i.e., when they’re at school, practice, or work.
It’s not common knowledge, but our youth take a secret laundry vow when they enter puberty:
1. Should a garment be tried on for a possible outfit, but doesn’t work, it must be washed instead.
2. Do not hang up wet towels. Their proper place is curled in a damp ball in the bottom of the wash basket.
3. Under no circumstances should one wear pajamas two nights in a row.
4. Coats must be washed two times a week.
5. The most sensible place for anything that you don’t want to put in a drawer or closet is in the laundry basket.
My husband, a sort of I-love-to-do-the-laundry type of guy, while well-meaning, doesn’t understand that should I wait until Saturday when he’s free to do the wash that there would be clothing spilling out of the washroom, into the hallway, and over the second-floor foyer.
You might have guessed that doing the laundry has never made my top 10 list of favorite activities. But by default, because I work from home, the majority of the wash duties fall on me.
Recently, though, I reached my laundering threshold. After having completed four loads of laundry earlier in the day only to find the laundry basket overflowing that evening, I broke.
I was resentful, snappy, pissed.
I was freaking sick of doing the laundry!
And forget about folding it!
This was not my job. I had houses to sell. Novels to write. Unending meals to make. Walks to take. Five hundred kids’ sporting events to watch. Books to read. I was not getting paid for doing the wash, and I was gaining no emotional satisfaction from it whatsoever.
So I did what any reasonable human being would do under such dire circumstances.
I went to Target. The home goods section.
And I bought four hampers.
Then I called a family meeting and explained that I was no longer doing laundry.
My husband was all for the new plan. But my daughter whined that it was absolutely unfair as I’d been doing her brother’s laundry for 17 years, and if this new law were to stand, she’d only gotten 14 years out of me. My son sort of moaned and then went to his room. I happily set my new hamper in the back of my closet. For a couple days, I felt bad for it as it had to be lonely with so little clothing in it.
My best friend thought I was being completely unreasonable. “The kids have enough to do. They won’t have time to do the laundry.” Another girlfriend sort of smirked, and I could tell she was thinking, “That’ll never stick.” But other women looked at me with shock and awe.
Could it be?
Is it possible?
Now, part of the success of laundry relinquishment is letting go of any this-has-to-be-tidy-OCD-type-tendencies you might have. I like things neat, so this was a bit hard for me. Oh, how I lie — in the end it was sooo easy to stop doing the laundry. The solution was for me to close the doors to my kids’ rooms.
Eight weeks have passed since my “Done With the Laundry” proclamation.
How is it going?
Well, I’m not doing anybody’s laundry but my own.
Week by week, my darlings are developing their true laundering personalities. My son has gone from storing the clean wash in the dryer to throwing it on his floor to stuffing it in his closet. He hasn’t figured out that he’s creating a lot of ironing for himself. (Nope, not doing that either).
My daughter’s laundry skills are evolving rapidly. At the beginning, she’d toss the clean wash on top of her bed. But this made it hard to sleep. The wash basket proved to be a convenient storage vehicle, and now — drumroll, please — she is folding her clothing and putting it in her closet. Score!
My husband loves doing his own laundry every Sunday.
I’ve had to buy more underwear.
This battle has been won!
Not to brag, but I may be reaching mythic status. People whisper as I pass. A friend texted me a Happy Mother’s Day greeting with a postscript saying she bought her whole family hampers.
This post originally appeared on HeatherChristieBooks.com