Life tells some of its best stories in a clothes basket. Trust me, I know. I recently spent a few afternoons in close communion with somebody else’s laundry.
It started a few days before Christmas when my youngest daughter, a busy lawyer, wife and mother of three, called to say her washing machine had broken and she was stuck for a week or more before a repairman could come. No problem, I said quickly, thinking of the family gatherings planned for her house over the holiday season. Just bring your wash over here, I offered. I’ll do it.
Thus began the invitation to a tsunami.
I had long forgotten how many washables a family of five can generate. By the time I was finished with the visiting laundry, I began to believe my daughter was staging “Pirates of the Caribbean” in her basement. Never had I seen so many shimmering, slippery, bright-colored blankets and large pieces of cloth, some easy to fold, some not, some plain and some with ruffles that refused to lie down.
As for human-shaped clothes, take your pick. Football shirts? We got ‘em. Soccer shorts for girls? We got those, too. Want a nice warm Bill Belichick hoodie? Reach into the pile. And how about a variety of T-shirts commemorating schools and tourist attractions in a rainbow of colors? I learned more about what’s been keeping my grandkids busy from working my way through their laundry than I’ve ever learned from one-on-one questions.
I also learned how addition turns into multiplication. Outfits that pre-teens wear one by one don’t add up, they multiply into baskets of laundry at the end of a week.
All in all, however, nothing was amiss. Dirty laundry was behaving just like it’s supposed to behave – waiting to be sorted and washed and made like new again. Family history was recording itself in warm, clean cloth. Surely, that beats keeping track of history in hard, cold headlines.
Just ask Gov. Paul LePage. Think how pleased he might be to cover some of his boomeranging misstatements about Maine in a pile of T-shirts and denims ready to be washed and folded clean. How much easier those smudges would be to wash away than some nay-sayer from Forbes determined to focus the governor on what is – and is not –reality in the world on both sides of the Maine border.
On a more serious note, the laundry basket also offers a real New Year’s observation on life for young career mothers who are determined to have it all. Why? Because “all” can sometimes be too much.
Home and office offer a wonderful combination of commitment and adventure. Making decisions in an office setting can be a quiet, well-focused, rational activity. Making decisions at home, by contrast, can feel more like saddling up a tiger for a ride. In their different spheres, however, both approaches accomplish something and both require considerable skill. Both also require something else – time. And that’s where the toughest decision-making comes in. Choices pile up faster than dirty t-shirts. And they have to be made.
Footsies and socks sum up the story. They come by the dozen and they match up with kids who don’t like to wear shoes in the house. What they don’t match up with is each other. Still, they create a strange and colorful code.
And isn’t that what a family is? A code deciphered by mothers – no matter what shape the washing machine is in.