Matching Socks: Lenten Reflections on Working at Home

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Laundry small

The final days of Lent are hazardous, riveting, deadly. They make me jittery. I feel as if I exist in two places. I am aware, all the time, of what is going on in that great Other Space, that story which is playing itself out—the saga of death and resurrection. I am making dinner, but Jesus is praying in the garden. I am setting the table, but Peter is denying Jesus. I am getting the mail, but Jesus is standing trial.

All day Thursday I try to buckle down, concentrate, settle myself in while I water the plants, scrub the blue pottery plates, answer my grandchildren’s questions, and then wheel the stroller from the dining room to the front door. I find the kids’ sun glasses, and make sure they have clean water in their sippy cups. After forty five minutes, we finally get out the door.

We are going to the three-slide playground, which is four blocks away, across two busy streets. Sophia peddles her tricycle with pride while Adalyn hurls her sippy cup from the stroller. I pick it up and hand it to her. She laughs and hurls it again. I haven’t walked two steps yet and I call to Sophia, who is wheeling far ahead of us. I want to keep us together, so no one gets hurt.

This is my work for now, women’s work. The children call it play. We’re playing. This is what I need to concentrate on today, Thursday, the day before Easter.

I'm visiting my daughter and her husband and their children, remembering my own days as a mother—filled with the mixed tedium and glory of playing Go Fish. Of feeding naked rubber dolls plastic broccoli. I didn’t call it work. I couldn’t tell people that I went to work, because I didn’t. I worked at home.

On Friday morning, after my daughter drives off to her job, I read Goldilocks three times, chase Frisbees, put away groceries, do a couple more loads of laundry, and praise Sophia’s crayoned stick figures. I try to appear appropriately jolly, though I am aware that at noon Jesus is going to be crucified. As I make lunch, I begin to smell wood: two freshly cut beams, still so green they’re bleeding sap. They’re full of splinters, because the officials think they’re not going to be used for anything important. A workman is getting ready to nail them together. The wood smell would have been familiar to Jesus, who probably spent his twenties as a carpenter.

I search everywhere to find Adalyn’s Lovey—that is, her one special blanket, without which she cannot go to sleep—lower her into her in her crib, and rub her back as she blinks her blue eyes and sucks her thumb and zones out. Then I slip into Sophia’s room to lie down with her briefly.

When they are both finally asleep, I realize that I cannot put the inevitable off any longer.

I go into the laundry room and look at the wicker baskets full of dirty socks. There are enough socks for three super loads, maybe four hundred socks, all different sizes, from a men’s size twelve to a pair so tiny they fit my thumb. Many are innocuous white standard ribbed socks. But I see orange and black socks with witches, red and green socks with Santa Claus and reindeer. I see yellow socks with green ruffles, and green socks with yellow ruffles. As I dump them into the washer, I notice pink socks—twelve or fifteen hues, all sizes. Numerous purple socks of various tints, diverse Spider Man socks, socks with turtles, giraffes, elephants, lollipops, flowers, Grinches, suns.

I am dizzy with socks. I watch them swirl around in the water, wondering in despair where I can lay out and match that many socks.

Later that afternoon I lay out about two hundred on the living room floor. I coax Sophia to help me.

“It’s like Old Maid,” I tell her. “It’s matching things.”

She’s too smart for that.

So I bribe her. A nickel a match.

She matches six socks, three pairs. Then she runs off to play with her Weebles.

Meanwhile, Adalyn toddles into the socks, scattering them.

I give Addy a cracker and then reorganize the socks. I work all afternoon. I become cross-eyed matching socks. My back aches and my knees are bruised from crawling around on the floor. I try to think of this as a meditation, a Good Friday discipline. But begin to feel that the bedlam of these socks is like the chaos of evil that nailed Jesus onto the cross.

After four hours, 37 unmatched socks remain.

I feel defeated.

Socks are trivial. But I remember now, this kind of work must be done and it can become overwhelming. I go to sleep that night with a new appreciation for women’s work. And I wait for Easter.

1. Do you view your work in the home as dignified and honest work?
2. Do you ever feel trapped or overwhelmed by work at home?
3. How can you manage all the details without feeling defeated?
4. Paul says in Romans 8:37, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (King James) What would it take for you to believe God can help you conquer jobs like matching socks?

Image by Carina Ong. Used with permission via Flickr. Post by Jeanne Murray Walker, author of New Tracks, Night Falling.

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