I taught my 8th grade son how to do laundry yesterday. It’s been long overdue, I know, and I apologize to his future wife for letting it go this long. Sometimes it's just less painful to do it than to teach it. But his highness and I finally reached a tipping point on Saturday night. Yup. Right in the middle of preparing dinner, Mom went on strike.
OK, it was a really short strike, lasting just long enough for me to turn off the burners, abandon the half-cooked meal in the pans on the stove, and drive to the closest Starbucks for a mocha and a much-needed timeout with a good book. But I think I made my point. A little. I hope.
You see, I am the lone female in a family populated by boys. It’s testosterone soup around here—all puppy dog tails and Axe body spray. I’ve always considered myself a bit of a feminist, really, but somehow I’ve let my life devolve into a snapshot of 1950s domestic bliss, with Mom in charge of the inside of the house while Dad takes care of the lawn. I’ve even been known to greet my dear husband wearing heels, a ladylike dress and an apron (with a bow in my ponytail) just to make a point about how far from the ideal modern balance we’ve fallen. Unfortunately, the point actually taken was that there was something oddly alluring about June Cleaver waiting for him all dolled up after work. But I digress.
My husband would have been a perfect mid-20th-century provider. He works hard, takes great care of the yard, and successfully fixes almost anything that breaks (and that’s saying a lot in the realm of Danger Boy and Captain Chaos). He’s a great guy—a catch (according to him)—but he doesn’t cook. This despite many attempts by me to get him interested in the process (“It’s just following directions… like building a ‘some assembly required’ bookcase...”). And because he doesn’t cook, my boys have grown up with a horrifyingly sexist vision of how things work in the kitchen and around the house in general. Mom cooks; everyone else sits down when it’s ready and then rushes off to their very important soccer and basketball practices while Mom does the dishes.
To make matters worse, my older son has suddenly transformed from a generally likeable kid into (and it pains me to say this) a teenager. And just like everything else my oldest has taken on in life, he has embraced this metamorphosis with uncommon gusto. Whereas some teens may be occasionally surly, mine is like a sorority girl on PMS… every single day.
So, back to dinner and the laundry. I had been battling with the 13-year-old dark phantom all day. Every small step toward accomplishing anything was met with open hostility and scorn. Attempts to elicit help or even basic civility were devoured by the teenage wraith and expelled as unrecognizable emotional shrapnel. So, when my husband walked through the door after being away for hours scouting a high school basketball game (for his very important other job as a high school coach) it didn’t take much to send me over the edge into my Starbucks seclusion. (I'm usually more stable than this. Honest.)
The very next day, I decided that the time had come to end all of this ridiculous 1950s let’s-let-Mom-do-it garbage once and for all. The kid needed some life skill training and a bit more respect for how hard his parents (especially his sainted mother) work for him every day. I decided that since cooking required dishwashing—and since our last lesson in cooking involved me forgetting to mention that hot bacon grease does not get washed down the sink when you’re done frying—I’d start with something simpler: doing his own damn laundry.
Shockingly, he was oddly receptive to the whole idea (“This is easy! I don’t know why you guys complain about this so much.”). He made his way through the two-and-a-half loads of post-teenage-boy grungies on his bedroom floor, and ensured that he would indeed have fresh boxers to wear on Monday morning (without yelling at Mom about it—what a concept).
The upside of all of this is that Grumble-butt now knows how to launder his own dirty drawers, meaning he will have one less thing to grouse about in the dark mom-hasn't-had-coffee-yet hours as he prepares for school And maybe my son will not be completely helpless when I send him out into the world in the not-too-distant future. The downside is that I forgot to explain that not everything goes in the dryer after it has been washed (forgetting the important follow-up lessons is getting to be a pattern with me). To complete that final half load, the boy had grabbed a few of my sweaters and, um… underpinnings to fill the machine. [Sigh]
So, if you know any eight-year-old girls who like to wear somewhat motherly but now-so-very-small freshly cleaned sweaters, drop me a line. I’ll just be sitting here in a borrowed Aéropostale sweatshirt and some nice clean boxers waiting for my laundryman to get home from school.
P.S. If you want the greatest picture book ever for teaching these lessons to your own little boys, check out Piggybook, by Anthony Browne.