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I am on a quest to make my children more self-sufficient. Because I hope that someday they’ll move out. Part of my quest involves mastery-by-inches when it comes to the laundry.

Chickadee knows how to do her own laundry, and sometimes she even does. But for the most part I take care of the parts involving the washing machine and dryer. It used to be that laundry magically took care of itself, you know, and bit by bit I’m trying to factor myself out of the equation. First it was “nothing gets washed unless it’s in the hamper.” Then it was “nothing gets washed unless the hamper is placed in front of the washer.” And I’ve also gone from putting their stuff away for them to folding it all and letting them put away to simply handing them baskets of clothes to deal with with on their own.

I really thought I was on the right path.

This morning I made my standard “Gee, I think I’ll do some laundry today, you have five minutes to get your stuff here for me” proclamation. The children somewhat obediently rounded up their stuff and a mound of clothing was left in the kitchen for me.

[Digression: Last year I finally made the leap to litter-free lunches for the kids. I spent a pile of money on Etsy, buying cloth napkins and nylon-lined fabric food pouches and the like. Because I pack three lunches a day (I also make Otto’s lunch, because he’s nice and I like him), I bought six of everything I thought I needed. One to use, one to wash, etc. Of course, what I generally end up doing is taking the stuff from the day before and just kind of wiping it off, and then at the end of the week when I do the kids’ laundry, I run everything through the washing machine.

I kid you not, we’d been on the new system NOT TWO WEEKS when one of the lunch napkins went missing. I knew exactly when it happened, too, and when I told the kids that the napkin had gone into the laundry but never came out, they rolled their eyes. JUST CHECK YOUR CLOTHES, PLEASE, I begged them, but they assured me I’d counted wrong, no way had the napkin gone into their clothes. Mind you, I’d bought lunch napkins in BRIGHT YELLOW to make sure they wouldn’t be thrown away or otherwise overlooked, but that crafty napkin got away and was never seen again, despite my having gone through every inch of the kids’ rooms twice apiece. Over the last year we have occasionally joked that it must have dreamed of becoming a sock, and set off with the rest of the rogues to never-never land.]

Anyway. There have been a few bumps on the manage-your-own-laundry road. Chickadee favors the It’s Put Away If It’s In My Closet method, which means that any clothing that makes it beyond the closet door is taken care of so far as she’s concerned. Floor of the closet? Hey, that’s the closet! Not so much hanging on hangers as, well, in a pile on TOP of some hangers? Did she mention it’s IN THE CLOSET? Geez.

Monkey is a master rule-followed, but never let it be said that he hasn’t found a loophole or two. His clothes are always put away in the proper drawers. But, uh, sometimes he forgets to fold them. Or to pair his socks. Fair enough, right? Totally age-appropriate. Sometimes I step in, other times I just try to let it go.

So back to today: Chickadee delivered the hamper to the washer and matter-of-factly called over her shoulder, “Yeah, um, Monkey’s pajamas are all wedged behind his bed and we can’t reach them. But everything else is here.”

Monkey has a so-called “captain’s bed” which means that it’s a little higher than a standard bed, to accommodate a storage unit of drawers and cubbies underneath it. It weighs approximately fifty gazillion pounds, and despite our attempts to firmly wedge it into the corner of his room so tightly that nothing can slip past his mattress, he manages to lose clothing, toys, papers, and other assorted flotsam to the empty space behind the storage unit with astonishing regularity. A quick investigation revealed that yes, his beloved shark pajamas were wedged down behind the headboard in such a way that the entire storage unit needed to be extracted before the jammies were accessible. DO NOT ASK ME HOW HE DOES THIS. So first Chickadee and I tried to move the storage unit, then eventually Otto came and helped me, and the pajamas were retrieved, and Otto and I sat on the floor puffing and red-faced discussing how we might reconfigure the furniture in there so that items lost under the bed might be more easily retrieved. (Pro of moving bed out of the corner: Stuff will be easier to get to. Con of moving bed out of the corner: If he loses this much stuff under there now, how long before the entire contents of the room are living under there?)

Finally a decision was made to not change anything just yet, and Otto and I stood up to move the storage unit back into place under the bed. This required pulling out the drawers to get adequate purchase on the frame of the thing, and as I locked my hand around the frame from above, looking straight down, I made a triumphant discovery.

The missing yellow napkin! It was: 1) half-wrapped in the leg of a pair of fuzzy pajama bottoms which was 2) between the appointed drawer and the back of the frame of the unit, having been hastily shoved in there and trapped beyond the normal view of the drawer 3) over a year ago.

Ah, sweet vindication. I’d TOLD them I knew it went through the laundry.

Of course, victory like that is short-lived when I realize what this may mean in terms of that eventual self-sufficiency I’m hoping we’ll achieve some day. Still, I can see “yellow napkin!” becoming a gentler, slightly kinder shorthand for “Dude, you can’t find your own ass with two hands and a flashlight” ’round here.

22 Responses to “Mystery! Suspense! Laundry!”

  1. 1
    Heather August 21, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    Well the whole ass/flashlight spiel *is* a little long to say, especially in moments of exasperation, so I think having the shorthand will be very useful ;)

  2. 2
    Lorraine August 21, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    Must be something in the air. I wrote about laundry too today. Actually, I think that the whole issue of laundry is central to my idea that my motherhood is a project trembling mere centimeters from the abyss. It is my enemy and it is winning. How do you beat something that can, as you say, disappear inside furniture for a year?

  3. 3
    s August 21, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    and they say we mom’s are never right?? I recently informed my daughter, after she helped me look for some missing item, that we women hold the key to all lost items – men just don’t have it, so as the sole girls in the family, we are it – she is disgusted! :)

    but, I can’t comment on the whole laundry thing – my daughter lives out of a laundry basket that lives in our living room – yeah, very in keeping with the decor.

    And, we have one of those captain bed thingies for my daughter which was not well made and now basically the books and such in the drawers are permanently stuck there because the drawers no longer pull out/push in without lots of swearing on my part. We are contemplating going loft…can’t imagine anything can get lost that way!!

  4. 4
    Jess August 21, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    S, it’s a pain in the neck to make a loft bed. Just putting that out there!

  5. 5
    Lori N August 21, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    And S — my children still manage to loss things with loft beds. It’s amazing what will fit between & under mattresses, and no, I have no idea how they get that stuff there. Plus, in a loft bed you can’t see what they’re bringing into bed with them. I swear my daughter has all of the Harry Potter series up there plus most of her toiletries. I don’t ask anymore.

    Good luck on your road to independence Mir, my mother swears I did all of my own laundry when I was a kid, but I have no idea how she accomplished the training. (There had to have been much crying and gnashing of teeth on both sides, but I must have blocked it from memory.) My kids can handle each step, just not in consecutive order or on consecutive days. Funny, they both have to do laundry at school and have no problem accomplishing the chore there! (Montessori school with cloth napkins, towels, etc.) Maybe the school should start a laundry service!

  6. 6
    Jacqueline August 22, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    One year my mom offered to buy us passes to the local pool if we did our own laundry all summer. This was not a difficult sell, as we pretty much lived for swimming and would be lined up at the entrance to the pool when they opened and stay until they kicked us out. Then, when the summer was over, she refused to take over again – I mean, clearly you can do it for yourselves, you just did it for three months! Tricky…

  7. 7
    danelle August 22, 2010 at 2:54 am #

    The rule in our house is when you hit 9 years old you do your own laundry. Each kid had their own day and if you didnt get it done on your day, too bad so sad. And if you leave your stuff in the dryer into the following day it is confiscated until the child’s next laundry day. We’re on our 4tn kid and it works brilliantly.

    As for putting it away, of course hanging in the closet is preferred but it’s their choice. The first time they get made fun of because their clothes look like they were wadded up in a ball for a month, they start hanging them up nooo problem.

  8. 8
    mamaspeak August 22, 2010 at 5:33 am #

    Danielle, My mom did something similar; the summer we each turned 10 it became our responsibility to do laundry, but for the whole family. She had sorting bags & would check before we put things into the washer (to avoid all pink underwear), but it was just one of the chores. Once we complete that summer, then it became one of the things we could help with. I suppose we had assigned chores, but other than our rooms, I don’t remember what they were. What did happen is that we all helped w/what needed to be done, when. I think it was a pretty good system except my mom was a perfectionist, which was disheartening, but I’m over it (sort of) now.

  9. 9
    Elaine August 22, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    My daughter leaves for college in a year; I recently realized that I only have one more year to drill into her all she needs to know to be self-sufficient. She’s got laundry down and several other tasks down, but she’s a loooong way to go. Gulp.

  10. 10
    Megan August 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Ahhh. I’m in the blissful position of having EVERYONE in the family do their own laundry. Granted, this happiness comes at the cost of closing my eyes when my son heads cheerfully into the laundry room with his hamper stuffed so full it’s achieving red-dwarf type gravity at the center – and he honestly believes that is A load. Also? Whites are for wusses. And cold water washes everything. And soap is one of those optional extras – nice if you remember it, but surely sitting in a tank so crammed with clothing there is room for not more than a cup of water is going to get EVERYTHING clean.

    But hey, I’m not doing it!

  11. 11
    Justine August 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    When I was about Chickie’s age, I started doing my own laundry after my mom shrank my jeans in the dryer and turned them into high-water pants. Just sayin’…

  12. 12
    The Other Leanne August 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    When I was a kid we lived in an apartment where the laundry facilities were remote from our sardine can, so it was up to us to run down there and manage the laundry process while my mom sat on her ass watching tv and eating bon-bons or whatever. So I remember learning to do laundry when I was five.
    We didn’t have to fold the clothes and put them away, though, because my mom did that after she IRONED every inch of fabric (including sheets and pillowcases).
    Little House on the Urban Prairie, it was.

  13. 13
    My Kids Mom August 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    I hate laundry. It seems like it’s the only chore that is never finished. I’m thinking of making the whole family stay naked while the clothes wash so that I can say that the laundry is DONE. Just once. I’ve started to teach the skill but they have to be tall enough to reach into a top loader. And, I’m realizing as school starts that there is NO TIME to add extra activities (chores are still activities) on weekdays. I’m home in the daytime so it ends up being easier to do it myself. But I know I’ll regret it if I don’t pass them the job soon.

  14. 14
    Little Bird August 22, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    My folks live in the building next to mine and they pay me to do their laundry. And they are seriously perfectionists about it. Everything must be folded a specific way, the Gap way. And jeans must never ever go into the dryers. Luckily the building has something like 15 washers and about 10 dryers (no, it doesn’t make sense to me either) so I can do theirs and mine at the same time. The torch has been passed I guess.

  15. 15
    Damsel August 23, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    @My Kids Mom, I feel exactly the same way!!

    Mir, this has inspired me to get my 6 year old to help more with the laundry. I’m thinking he can fold washcloths and match socks, as well as put his stuff away in his room.

  16. 16
    Jen R August 23, 2010 at 7:59 am #

    We have a gap between my son’s dresser and the wall that had a similar habit of eating clothes and toys. I finally solved it by shoving in a pool noodle so nothing can fall down more than a few inches.

  17. 17
    Heather August 23, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    My son is slowly learning how to do laundry. He is almost 10 and has been taking care of his own laundry for 2 years now, but I have to fold it. He asked me about a year ago if I would show him how to do laundry. He said, “Mom, can you show me how to wash the clothes. I need to learn so that when I am older my wife can relax.” Yeah I know, very sweet!

  18. 18
    Nancy R August 23, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    Our new front-loading washer and dryer created quite an interest in the laundry process, so I RAN with it. I’m stuck on getting them to close the dryer door when finished unloading – it’s the washer door I want left open. Lightbulbs! Energy! GAH!

  19. 19
    Tracy August 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    I hate laundry. There is NOTHING I like about it. What I hate even more, is when one of my children decides to do their laundry and go off leaving a load in the washer and one in the dryer. Grrrr. It’s not pretty after that. After 10 years of stomping, screaming and throwing a few loads out the door, (and all but one have moved out on their own), they learned. I think.

  20. 20
    yasmara August 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    We wedge something between the wall & the bed. Things that have worked include: old towel, blanket no one likes, (clean/new) pool noodle. The pool noodle actually works the best because there’s no risk of it unrolling.

  21. 21
    djlott August 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    My kids started doing their own laundry when they got tired of waiting for clean clothes. With more than six kids, it was a never ending, thankless job. So they started doing their own, and I quickly learned to leave as post-it with instructions for drying the load I had going in the washer because often it would barely finish and they were moving it to do theirs. And often I had to wait to do my laundry until way after bedtime, because that’s when it was available. And a little overstuffed is preferable to them washing a pair of pants at a time… just saying!
    @Jen R and yasmara- I am headed out to find a pool noodle for behind my youngest daughter’s bed in a bit!

  22. 22
    Katie in MA August 24, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    Don’t you love how family lore gets started? :) I love hearing stories like these.

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