My Laundry Love

For years, I never had a washing machine. From the time I left home for college, I spent hours in laundramats, fussing with the quarters and jockeying for dryer time.

person looking searching clean

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Marriage brought me to a Victorian house in Iowa, equipped with a Maytag washer and dryer. I was in love. But the town was predominantly Dutch, and the Dutch don’t waste money and power on dryers. I caved under social pressure and pegged out the wash. That proved to be a dicey proposition, because rain blows into central Iowa quickly. I’d have just left the flapping clothesline when the sky would open and I’d be back out in the yard, tossing wet laundry into the basket.

white textile

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We moved from Iowa to the New York farm. The washer came with us. I don’t know what happened to the dryer. Perhaps it is rusting away in the barn. The problem at the old farmhouse was the well. It was shallow and the water supply couldn’t handle my beloved Maytag washer’s demands.

At first, my sister-in-law generously let me do the diapers at her house. That soon got to be an imposition. When my son started preschool, I’d take the laundry to the laundramat near his school. With two kids and a house, I grumbled at having to return to my college laundry life.

As a newly single mom, I got the washing machine in the divorce agreement. It sat in the tiny kitchen of the apartment where my kids and I landed. Trusty as ever, the washer washed, but I did have to peg out the clothes on the back porch. After that apartment, we moved to a complex with a laundry room. I don’t remember where the washer stayed while we lived there. I do remember the panic over weekend laundry days, when I’d rush to the laundry room at first light in order to beat the other residents to the machines.

I bought a house. The washer came with us. I bought a dryer to be her lawful wedded machine. The main complaint at the house was the effort and danger of carrying baskets of laundry from the top floor to the washer in the basement. Every time I lugged a heavy basket of clothes, I thought of the nurse at my school who fell down the steps while carrying a laundry basket, and broke her collarbone. When, after at least thirty-five years, we had to put the Maytag down, it was a sad day. The new machine simply wasn’t as good.

Not long after, we downsized and sold the house with all appliances.  I bought a stacked washer/dryer from the previous residents of our new apartment. The glory of this arrangement is that the laundry center is on the same floor as the bedrooms. Hallelujah! I love the ease of it. I love my washer/dryer. I love how the scent of clean laundry fills the upstairs. I even love that the washer’s agitation cycle sounds like a dog about to throw up.

It’s a wonderful thing to have a washer and dryer. I am blessed and I know it.

 

Rearview

 

car side mirror

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Hurry them out of the car,

one grumpy, the other sleepy,

both smelling of toothpaste.

Try to ignore the wistful eyes

of the little one.

She hates being stuck

at the sitter’s house

with three boys.

 

The prickling guilt

lasts until the ignition turns.

Already other children

sweep onstage.

Twenty-four shoving,

claiming the spotlight.

Who needs more phonics?

Whose parent called?

How to fit in fire safety

when we’re behind in math?

Mark workbooks at lunch.

A meeting takes up prep time.

 

Rush to collect the kids.

Dinner.

He doesn’t like eggs.

She hates tomatoes.

Nobody wants pasta.

Yelling.

 

Wait for the neighbor girl.

Should have left ten minutes ago.

The grad class prof takes attendance.

In the rearview mirror

see the three standing on the lawn.

He looks mournful.

She flips the finger.

 

Parenting at the speed of light.

Did we ever just rest in each other?

Listen?

 

Now I hold a photograph.

Two young children,

long grown.

Wishing I could step inside.

 

My Father’s Wisdom

selective focus photography of child hand

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My father had a few pithy sayings that he liked to repeat. Some of these merely justified his personal preferences, such as, “Fruit juice is for sick people and babies.” But other aphorisms made sense. One of these came to me the other day.

“Address the behavior, not the child.”

My father was a child psychologist. He may not have applied all of his theories to raising me, but this idea, at least, I remember, and still find valid. Not only in relation to children, but to adults as well.

For parents, it’s tough raising children in today’s culture. They have a lot to contend with. So many labels in social media are out there, waiting to stick to a child: bad, fat, stupid, ugly, or smart, talented, etc. We even have a president who throws labels around, calling people “bad” or “nasty.”

Bad behavior or choices, okay, but just “bad people?” We can do better.

To say, “That’s good,” or “You’re a good _______” doesn’t help a child much. It’s more useful to be specific. “I like the way you _______ .” Arranged the pillows on your bed. Cleaned up all the Legos. Helped your friend who fell down. Used the yellow paint in your picture.

We let the child know specifically what was done well.

Adults also respond positively to hearing what they do well.

In my writing group, structured according to the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we give positive feedback to first drafts. We point out what was strong or memorable, what “stays with us.” Writers use that information to improve.

It works the same way with kids.

What I’m Reading: The Weight of Love

weight of love

It’s rare that I choose to read poetry.  Even more rare that I buy a book of poems and read it all the way through.  These poems by Pat Schneider spoke to me on many levels and touched my heart.  I connect with her as a writer, a mother, a seeker and a caregiver for a spouse with dementia.

Adult Children,

how they visit

from the far-off island nations

of their lives

How they bring us shiny notions

from the future we can’t possibly surmise

How the foreign languages they speak

surprise, delight and frighten us

until we remember how we pushed them

in the swing, how they shouted, laughing,

higher! Higher!

–p. 20

About Pat Schneider (from the back cover):

Pat Schneider was born in the Ozark mountains of Missouri where she became intimate with fossils, creek bed grasshoppers and box turtles. After a search for work took her single mother to St. Louis, from age ten Pat lived in tenements and in an orphanage until she was given a scholarship to college. Those early experiences deeply influenced her writing, and fueled her passion for those who have been denied voice through poverty and other 
misfortunes.

Pat’s books, poetry, plays, and libretti have been praised by the most prestigious publications and authors in America:  The New York Times, the Library Journal, the Atlanta Journal, Small Press Magazine, St. Louis Dispatch, the North Dakota Review, Oprah Magazine, Vanity Fair, the North Dakota Quarterly, the Kentucky Monthly, the Bellingham Review, the Louisville Times, and many others.

Peter Elbow said that Pat Schneider is “the wisest teacher of writing I know.”  Julia Cameron, author of The Right to Write and The Artist’s Way, noted that Pat is “a fuse lighter. Her work is gentle, playful, brilliant, and revolutionary” and Janet Burroway, author of Writing Fiction, notes that Pat’s work is “heartening and practical, a rich variety . . . that celebrates both difference and difficulty as the gifts they are.  

I have a personal connection with Pat Schneider, as she developed the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method of leading writing workshops.  Schneider’s type of  writing workshop provided a safe space for me to try out my pen in a local group. Led by Kate Hymes, herself an accomplished writer and teacher, the workshop confirmed that I was a writer.  Ultimately I saw my own novels published by Handersen Publishing. (www.handersenpublishing.com     www.amazon.com/author/ellisk

Schneider’s AWA method offers all people–those who consider themselves writers and those afraid to own the title–a safe, supportive workshop in which to explore.  In an AWA session, the writer hears what s/he has done well, what language was strong and memorable, what stayed with the listeners.  Rather than providing criticism, the AWA workshop provides encouragement.  I, among many, am proof of the success of Schneider’s approach.

So I thank Pat Schneider for her teaching, and for this gem of a book in which I found many deep and elegant expressions of our common experience.

Hush

Hush. Slow down. Say the names of those

for whom your candle burns.

Say them into the attentive ear

of memory, or of God.

Oddly, now, either one will do.

You are no longer required to believe.

Receive the gift of listening.  Belief

is as hard as a hickory nut

that cracked, holds many mansions.

The faces that you love are chalices.

Hush.  Slow down.  Tip the chalice,

sip the wine, and say it:

all whom I remember are now mine.

 

p. 3