“Mmmmm. Nothing like waking up to a drawer full of freshly-washed clothing, neatly folded and available to be worn, so I can start my day with a bang.”
Said no one in my house.
Clean clothing is just something my beloved children take for granted. They just assume that the clothes they dump in the hamper (or, more often, at the sides of their beds) will eventually (magically?) reappear in their closets and drawers, without the colorful ketchup stains or grease circles that had been stamped into the fabric only hours before.
Somehow, dear daughter’s pleats on her uniform skirt will be pressed perfectly flat so it won’t look like she ever rolled it in a ball when she changed into pajamas. Somehow, sweet son’s socks with the holes at the toes will be discarded and replaced with a pair less likely to result in hypothermia while waiting outside for the bus in the cold. Somehow, other sweet son’s Shabbos shirt collar will be stiff – but not too stiff, just the way he likes it – so it will be ready when his father yells up the stairs that he is leaving to shul now, even though said son is still in his pajamas.
Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure my children – of all ages – think that downstairs, deep in the bowels of my house, there is a team of elves who sort, wash, fold, and iron. Then, when the laundry is ready to be dispatched, those obedient elves whistle a cheerful tune and place the clothing on a conveyer belt that whisks the shirts, pants, pajamas, and socks back up the stairs and to the appropriate bedroom. In each room, there is a magnificent metal claw – like the kind they have in arcades – that gingerly picks up each piece of clothing and puts it in the drawer exactly where it belongs.
How cool does that sound?
I almost believed it myself.
But, honestly, that has to be the way my kids think the laundry gets done at our place.
Why else, then, would they continue, day in and day out, to fill the laundry hamper with pant pockets lined with tissues, with tzitzis still attached to their shirts, or with shoes still attached to their tights?
Why else, then, would they wear a different pair of pajamas every single night, cavalierly tossing T-shirts and shorts into a heap taller than Everest?
Why else, then, would a single shower (lasting thirty-seconds at most) merit the use of every towel we own except for the towel they used yesterday, still dangling on the designated hooks in their bathroom?
It just doesn’t add up.
Kids with hearts as large as my children’s hearts couldn’t possibly have so little regard for their mother’s time and energy, could they?
It must be something else.
Maybe they assume those sweet little elves who live in my basement love doing laundry? Maybe my ever-so-thoughtful kids wouldn’t want to deny those little elves the opportunity to fulfill their only tafkid in life?
That must be it.
I’m raising tzadikim.
I should be proud.
Except, how do I break it to them that even in the deepest bowels of our house, there are no little elves?
How do I get them to understand that deep down in the laundry room, in the cloud of humidity and the lint-heavy air, there is only a mother who loves her children as much as life itself, but who is getting tired of dragging four tons of laundry up and down the stairs every day without anyone even noticing?
How do I help them understand that when they try on three outfits to decide what to wear and place the two discarded options – worn for only seconds – in the laundry pile, that it makes it feel like my time and my energy is being taken for granted? That it makes me wonder whether the middos I am so desperately trying to engrain in them are being buried beneath the heap of clothing they so nonchalantly send my way?
But then I remember.
They are kids.
Unless I give them a reason to pay attention to the laundry cycle, they have no reason to even care.
Unless I show them that everything they have in life – both in and out of my home – is given to them by someone to whom they owe a debt of gratitude, they won’t appreciate how beautiful it is to say thank you.
I need to help them see that nothing in life simply happens by itself.
I have a friend who is a convert to Judaism. Growing up, she was an only child, but she is now the mother of a very large family.
She insists – only half kidding – that the greatest culture shock for her since embracing religious life has not been keeping Shabbos, keeping kosher, or paying for yeshiva tuition.
The biggest culture shock has been the amount of laundry she needs to wade through on a weekly basis.
But in confronting the laundry crisis head-on, she has ensured that her kids don’t believe in magical elves.
Instead, she insists that her kids – of all ages – take ownership of the laundry process.
She has a system all worked out.
Every Sunday, she washes all the laundry from the entire week first thing in the morning.
Then, she dumps all of it on the large ping-pong table in the center of her basement playroom and calls each of her children to join.
Her kids take a position around the table and reach toward the center to find their clothes.
Standing side by side, her children fold their clothing while shmoozing with each other, and when everyone is done, they march upstairs with a basket of their clothes to quickly put away.
As soon as I heard her plan, I thought about instituting it in my own home.
Then I realized:
I don’t have a ping-pong table.
And even if I had a ping-pong table, my kids would likely spend more time elbowing each other in the sides than actually folding any clothing.
Plus, have you seen the way my kids fold laundry? Okay, so neither have I, but if left to their own devices, I imagine my sons’ shirts would look more like origami projects than laundry intended to be put away in a drawer.
I can’t keep making excuse for my children and then keep grousing that they don’t pitch in or show appreciation.
Even if my kids aren’t ready to start the laundry cycle from scratch, they can start with baby steps.
From now on, I will sort, wash, and fold my kids’ clothes.
But, also from now on, my kids are going to start putting their own clothing away. I’ll bring up the baskets (until someone invents that conveyer belt – I’ll be their first customer!), and my kids will put their clothes in the right drawers.
Maybe then my kids will understand that laundry is a process that doesn’t happen magically on its own.
Maybe then my kids will appreciate, in all areas of their lives, that things don’t get done by a team of marvelous elves deep in the bowels of my house, even if we wish that were true.
Maybe then, under the heap of clothing waiting to be put away, my children will discover the importance of gratitude, the beauty of hakaras hatov, and never take anything – not even their loving but very tired mother – for granted.