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Laundering by Example

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I was fuming. A 30-minute task was well into an hour-and-a-half, and I still hadn’t worked through all the piles.

Never again, I vowed.

With two daughters, two dogs, a husband, a home, and seemingly incessant deadlines, I had developed an amazing ability to tune out all distractions when working on a book. At those times, the phone, mail, kids, bills, cooking, laundry . . . all fall under “ignore.” If the kids are still breathing and there’s no blood—if Mom’s at the computer, ask Dad.

This strategy won’t work for all working mothers, but it seemed to be working for me until I surfaced one day to see what my family had put on “ignore” during my writer’s hibernation.

This brings us back to that hour-and-a-half sorting laundry. Not doing laundry. No. I spent the better part of two hours sorting it amid thigh-high piles of dirty clothes after my daughters’ desperate search that morning for clean underwear and socks. Certain items, I suspect, were “recycling” for days, if not weeks. Or maybe my husband bought the girls six-week supplies when I wasn’t looking. Either way, I resolved never again to lose that much day to dirty clothes.

Yes, my daughters were young. And though not what I'd call technologically proficient—certainly they were more “computer-fluent” than their father. Hoisting the 153rd dirty sock, it occurred to me that children able to download iTunes, program a VCR, and assemble a PowerPoint presentation could work a washing machine.

So why didn’t they?

Answer: My daughters knew their way around a computer because they had “played” on one since they were small enough to nap in my lap while I wrote. Computer keyboards could not intimidate my girls. But washing machine dials set them back. To expect them to launder their own clothes was no different than asking them to balance a checkbook—both were learned skills, not instinct; both took time.

Two weeks later, my two daughters and I initiated the first of countless sorting parties: crank up the stereo; enhance mood with donuts and vanilla lattes (I’m not above sugar and caffeine); enter laundry room. Some sorting parties turned into the dirty laundry equivalent of pillow fights. Over time—via a few shrunken sweaters and pink socks from the errant red shirt in a load of whites—my girls learned to do their own laundry.

They are teenagers now and still more comfortable in front of a computer than in a laundry room. I still enter writer’s hibernation. And some school mornings, I still find two girls desperately searching for clean socks and underwear. But they know their way around a washing machine dial, and I’ve never since lost an hour-and-a-half in dirty-clothes damage control.

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