Saturday, October 18, 2008

Laundry, Then and Now

Way back when my daughters were about two, four, six and eight, there were three identical marigold sweaters. Identical, that is, except for size. Those three sweaters started life with tags in the neck that told which one was a size 4, which was size 6 and which was a 6X. Tags tickle, or itch, or otherwise bother the wearer, and those wearers removed the annoying tags.

At that time we took our washables to the laundromat. Mom dealt with the washing, drying, sorting and folding, and turned the clean items over to their owners at home to put away.

On one laundry expedition, it turned out that only two of the three marigold sweaters came along, and without tags I was at a loss to know which sweater belonged to which child. When I asked the children I had three claimants for two sweaters! (cut to the fight scene) I had to check in the dresser drawers to see which claimant was mistaken.

I really disliked sorting and folding clothes, and wondered if the girls could do it, and without squabbling.

I purchased plastic crates from a nearby restaurant/lounge whose owner was using them to support the stage. Now each girl had a laundry basket of her own.

I gathered the girls and explained what I had in mind:

Just like BIG GIRLS do when they grow up and go off to college, the girls would be doing their own laundry. Each one would be responsible for putting her dirty clothes in the basket. Each would be responsible to make sure that ALL of them got their laundry baskets safely down the stairs and into the car on laundry day.

At the laundromat, each would be responsible for staking out a washer, and putting her clothes in it. I would distribute money for the washers, and teach them how much detergent and fabric softener to use. When the washer finished, each would be responsible for staking out a dryer and getting her clothes into it. The laundromat had wire frame carts for moving clothes from washer to dryer, so I encouraged responsible use of these carts. I would distribute money as needed for dryers. Then each girl would be responsible for folding her clothes back into her basket, and seeing that her clean clothes got into the car for the ride home.

Once we returned home and got the clean laundry inside, each girl would be responsible for putting her clean things away in their proper places.

Amazingly enough, the littlest one was the most enthusiastic about the plan. I think it was the thought of being like the BIG GIRLS, and doing what the BIG GIRLS do that pleased her. The middle two gave me looks like, "Mom is trying to put something over on us." Margret was cheerfully agreeable.

Speaking of BIG GIRLS and laundry, when I went off to college, some of the other ladies who shared my floor in the dorm were clueless when it came to wash. They'd never been involved in producing clean clothes at home, other than opening a drawer or closet and taking the desired item.

Some learned by trial and error. They learned lessons like:
You need to separate things-you-want-to-stay-white from things-that-might-bleed-unwanted-color if you don't want your white undies and tshirts to be pink or green or grey.

You need to wash delicate lacy things separate from jeans, and separate from other clothes with big toothed zippers or hooks.

You need to read the label to see if an item can be machine washed at all. -
One girl machine washed a Dry Clean Only garment. The result looked nothing like the original. She cried.
Another had a lovely wool sweater that her gran had knitted for her. She machine washed it in hot water because she'd spilled coffee on it, and then tossed it in the dryer. She ended up with a felted sweater that might fit a large doll or a small four year old, whose texture reminded me of steel wool. (Joke: if I give you the steel wool, will you knit me a Porsche?)
Others asked for help. "I don't know HOW to do laundry," wailed one, "what do I DO?" Usually one of the other girls would come to the rescue.
End Digression

Over the course of six months, approximately, the girls learned to wash, dry, fold, store and generally care for their own clothes. They learned to turn a crate over and stand on it to reach into the depths of a washer to get wet clothes out. They learned how one girl could stake out a dryer, and hold it while another brought wet clothes over. They learned to work together to get the job done. They learned ingenuity.

Margret took ingenuity one step beyond. She loved to talk to the other patrons of the laundromat. She didn't especially like to fold clothes. She would often pick out a grandmotherly sort, chat with her, and persuade her to fold all the clothes. If I stepped in and suggested that Margret needed to fold her own clothes or she would not get enough practice, the grandmotherly sort invariably said, "Oh, that's ok, I don't mind folding." If I insisted, Margret pouted a bit, then folded her own things.

When we got a washer and dryer of our own, we arranged for each person to have a particular day to use the washer. Negotiation was allowed if someone wanted to swap days, or do a little laundry on the same day as someone else.

When the girls went off to college, I got to hear disbelieving stories of fellow students who had never used a washer. Those made me grin.


rickismom said...

I saw your comment on my blog, so popped over. This is a fantastic post! I have thought several times of teaching ricki to do laundry, but haven't tackled it seriously yet. Rickis just-older-than-her brother does laundry for me all the time!

Ann of the Incredible Gift said...

Thank you, Rickismom, I'm glad you came on over. I have some more laundry stories to tell. If you're interested, I'll get to them sooner rather than later.