When I’m not busy working or cooking three different meals for the four different members of my family, I can usually be found folding laundry.
That sounds like such a stereotype, and it’s a lie, really, because I can never actually manage to fold all the clean laundry in the house before the next pile of dirty laundry creeps up on me. I am like Sisyphus, endlessly pushing my rock up the hill, only this rock is made of tangles of clean socks, wrinkled pants, crumpled shirts, and dishtowels.
I sometimes give up for weeks at a time, leaving the clean clothes spread flat and draped over a big chair in the living room or on the trunk at the foot of my bed. Even worse, I sometimes can’t manage to get the clean clothes out of the clean-clothes hamper before they’ve all been worn and put back in the dirty-clothes hamper. I call it the Laundry Monster, and I live at its mercy.
The clothes that wait to be folded are usually in the living room, sitting in their favorite chair, sometimes filling a clothes basket that I remember was originally labeled “the Hipster.” Contoured to fit around the body, just at the hip, it is one of the only hipsters that’s been in my house in at least the last seven years. When guests do come, the Laundry Monster is shut in my bedroom, where a childproof door handle cover marks it as a no-go zone.
Folding the shirts and pants of small children is like making so many origami frogs, and then trying to stack them on top of each other. It’s a precarious proposition; that they stay folded at all is nothing short of miraculous. But all that work can be undone in minutes. As my daughter sees it, no play date is complete until she and her friends have tried on every shirt, skirt, dress, bathing suit, and pair of pajamas in her dresser and closet. When cleanup time comes, everything goes in the hamper. “You wore this for five minutes,” I’ll say. “There’s no way it’s dirty.” Thus, we began again.
Camus wrote of Sisyphus that “the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart,” and that may be true. Is it a futile effort because it must be eternally repeated, or is the effort itself the point? It’s a matter of perspective. Children spend their playtime playing at doing adult chores. When I invite mine to join me in filling the washer or switching the clothes to the dryer, you would think I had told them the ice cream truck was in the basement. Give them a chance to “wash” dishes, and they’ll stay at the sink for an hour.
Alas, there is a noticeable lack of enthusiasm when I invite them to help me fold, but I see signs of progress. My 4-year-old son is pretty good with washcloths and dishtowels. Caught in the right mood, my daughter will helpfully turn all her dirty clothes right-side-right before we wash them. She can fold, too, but prefers to act as if she can’t. To be fair, my husband does help. He will avoid his clean clothes for weeks, but then fold them all in a single session with the precision of a professional: shirts in threes, pants with a crease down the center of the legs.
If someone had told me that I would one day spend half of my free time dealing with laundry, I would not have believed it even a little bit.
That and my growing familiarity with young children’s literature make for some pretty exciting cocktail party conversations. Whether it’s a world crisis or an important current event, I can usually relate it to something I’ve recently read in “I Love You Because You’re You” or “Listen to My Trumpet,” which are among the dozens of books I can recite from memory. I’ve found that the overarching themes become apparent only through repetition. Such is true of so many life lessons.
So pull up a chair. Grab a hamper. Let’s pretend we’re folding laundry.
Carissa Katz is The Star’s managing editor.