Rage against the washing machine

It was late.  The house was quiet.  But I was on a role.  Half the laundry sat in obedient piles forming a semicircle around my sofa throne.  I sat, queenlike (sort of), bare feet balanced indelicately on either side of the laundry basket below me on the floor.  The linoleum in the kitchen had just been mopped; the hardwood in the other rooms had been vacuumed before that.  A mountain of clean dishes was drying; the dishwasher hummed submissively.  The week’s menu plan was mostly assembled on the dining room table; a grocery list lay freshly scribbled next to it on a sticky note.  My humble kingdom was submitting to my sweaty will.

I was tired, covered in dried sweet potatoes and whatever else the baby had lovingly raked through my hair after supper.  A bright pregnancy pimple glowed on my cheek.  The littlest guy had been cranky and uncharacteristically clingy all day.  I wondered if he was simply teething or coming down with a more serious illness that had been passing though our local friends.  My Saturday to-do list had found the nerve to sit tauntingly untouched on the cluttered counter since morning.  Dishes and laundry piled, toys multiplied underfoot, boys tracked mud across the rug, ants chose the day to wage war in conquest of the sugar bowl.  Bedtime hadn’t come soon enough.  So it wasn’t until I came back down the stairs and surveyed the carnage that my daily chores had finally begun.

My husband glanced up from scanning the daily news.  He’d come home in time to say goodnight to the boys, and was finally eating a late supper which mostly consisted of stale chips and salsa.  He helped me clean up the boys’ supper dishes, choking down the remains of their cold leftover chicken.  We exchanged a few bits of the day’s drama – who needed extra attention, what was the most expensive failure, the hardest won victory, what got broken, who spit on whom, that newest insurance issue, and what needed cleaning up.  (Our jobs managing a home and a store are not so different.)  Then I turned on the faucet over a full sink…  And commenced the whirlwind homemaking attack.

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It was nearly three hours later, as I sat so ladylike and regal folding laundry, that he sighed and closed the thick biography on his lap.  “I guess I’ll go to bed.”  He said quietly.  “I need to get up in about 6 hours…”

I was in the middle of a rousing internet video conference on the science of thyroid malfunction (I actually find that stuff fascinating) and was fighting the divorce rate among five laundry loads of mismatched socks.  So the weight of his words didn’t immediately sink in.  But as he stood up against the lamplight from across the room, the shadow came over my own conscience.

We go to bed together.  We’ve been married almost 13 years, so I guess you could take it more intimately and that should be no shock, but I simply mean our heads generally hit the pillows simultaneously.  Sure, there have been nights when one of us stayed up to finish cramming for a college final, or to watch the last overtime period of a final hockey game, or to nurse a waking baby, or chat long with a far away friend.  So there’s no rule.  But it’s just a thing we usually do.

But I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t leave that laundry half done.  It was on the list.  It had to get crossed off.  I frowned as I struggled with my conscience.  Chores – never ending, ever present mama to-do lists – are not supposed to supersede time with my husband.

There is always more I need to do.  I have a little old breaking down house and five energetic (and destructive) boys under 8.  And I homeschool.  And the youngest two children need carrying around quite a bit.  There is never enough time in a day, and always something that simply can’t get done.  I struggle with being organized and prioritized enough to look like we’re not a total disgrace to humanity.  Daily.

But at the end of the day, I try to put down the mama to-do list, the house list, the friend list, the self list, and pick up the wife list.  Our worlds collide precious little.  I don’t want to wake up in ten years and realize we’ve lived such separate lives that we’ve grown foreign to each other.  Some day, the chores will be so done I might actually be bored (at least that’s what they tell me.)  The kids will be grown.  The self won’t seem to matter.  But my marriage still will.

Together, before we crash exhausted and dreamless, we can commiserate over bowls of ice cream.  We can laugh too hard in communal over-tiredness at something ridiculous that a child said or that went wrong at work.  We can sit silent near each other and soak in the brief stillness before tomorrow’s storms rise on the horizon.  Our marriage is often as simple as that.

Or as hard.

I failed.  We stared at each other across the laundry-strewn floor.  “I’m sorry, honey.” I stammered.  Sleep sounded wonderful, curled up next to him between cool sheets.  But I couldn’t see the floor for the laundry.  And the doctors on the screen were animatedly discussing long term effects of diet on thyroid hormones.  And it wasn’t that my husband wouldn’t be the least bit offended if I stayed up a bit longer.  He would be asleep and oblivious moments after lying prostrate.  It’s a gift he has.  A sleep switch.  He wouldn’t miss me if I wasn’t there next to him at that moment.  But I realized with a start that my chore plan had totally overridden our routine.  And why?  Just so I could get the laundry done ten hours earlier?  The kids should have and would have helped me with it after breakfast.  But that is a much more labor-intensive operation (“Don’t wear his underwear on your head!” “Towels are not hammocks; stop swinging the baby!” “Yes, you have to help; no, you’re not too tired to pick up a shirt.”  “You are strong enough to put a washcloth in the pile.” “Balled up socks are not snowballs!”)  I was much more efficient alone, at 10 p.m.  But efficient isn’t always good for raising children or maintaining marriage…

I paid the price.  The next few days, he left the house at 6:00 and didn’t get home from work until about 10 that night.  We were both too tired, even to discuss life over a dish of ice cream, before we slept.  The next day he worked early again, then came home, grabbed his guitar, and spent the next three hours at church, where I hibernated in a dark nursing mothers room, before finally coming home to leftover pizza while I put overtired children to bed too late.

Crazy days happen.  We expect them, and they’re often both necessary and good.  But without that boring little routine, living life together when we had a brief chance, we both turned more self-sufficient.  Unfortunately.  As the full days passed, I got irritated to find his separate life intruding on mine.   How dare he leave his work pants piled on the floor so I would miss them for laundry day?  Why would he leave paperwork strewn on the table after I had spent an hour filing before he came home?  Didn’t he know how important it was to me that he come upstairs to say a late goodnight to the boys rather than placidly munch cold noodles in the kitchen?   I fumed that he’d grown so out of touch at home.

He (I’m assuming here, he never complained) took it personally that I spent so much at the grocery store.  “Didn’t she know I had bills due this week?”  He probably frowned when he came home late and found the Oreos gone.  “I bet she spends every afternoon just sitting around on Facebook and eating all the cookies.”  He likely sighed when I slept past six and didn’t get up to see him off.  “She doesn’t know what it’s like to be at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.”  He probably silently wondered how I could be so oblivious to the demands of his job.

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We finally found each other sitting on the sofa on Wednesday night at the same time.  It was late.  The house was, again, a mess.  His phone hadn’t stopped buzzing with questions from the office.  “Hungry?”  I asked.  He nodded.  I scooped way too big bowls of ice cream and drizzled them with chocolate syrup.  Over big spoonfuls, we caught up.  Bits and pieces.  “So and so had trouble getting their chores done today.”  “Oh yeah, same thing at work…”

“Hey, I need to pay the water bill tomorrow.”  “Ok, I’ll hold off on that big diaper shopping run then.”

“Talk to your brother recently? Are they still buying that house?”  “Yeah, I talked to him yesterday.  Is your brother driving up this weekend?”

“You ready for bed?”  “Yeah.  Let’s go.”

By the time our heads both fell against the pillows that night, our lives didn’t seem so foreign anymore.  My mommy hood roll was still messy.  His leadership roles were still hard.  We were both so tired.  But I snuggled down next to his frame, already deep breathing in the darkness, and licked a hint of chocolate from my lips.  Marriage is sweet.

I woke up the next morning to heaping loads of laundry just waiting for attention.  But laundry is patient.  Laundry is kind.  Laundry never fails.  So it can wait.  At least until morning.

the laundry monster
the laundry monster

3 thoughts on “Rage against the washing machine

  1. I struggle to maintain that seemingly insignificant but actually dreadfully important connection to my husband, too. His schedule is such that when he’s working, he’s really working, so the kids and I go it alone, establishing routines that get us through without Dad. Then when he’s home, he can’t find his place. We have to open doors and show him we want him. And the funny thing is we have to keep doing it over and over again. It never seems to become automatic. Drifting apart is the automatic habit–the staying connected is conscious work. That’s so weird to me. But it matters. Just like you’ve written here. It really matters.

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