Thursday, May 10, 2012

Confession #4: I Haven't Folded Laundry in a Year

When I was pregnant with my first son, I asked my friend Leah what advice she had for me before I embarked on this journey of parenthood.  Leah is a few years older than me with three children of her own, and I remember her reply very distinctly.  "Don't get caught up in housework," she said.  "There will always be messes and spills, but your kids won't be little for very long.  So make sure you sit down on the floor with them every day and just enjoy their company."

That kind of wisdom resonated with the kind of parent I wanted to be.  So when I finally left my legal career to stay home full time, I made myself a promise to follow Leah's advice.

Somewhere between my third and fourth son, I decided that if I was going to make good on that promise, something in the housekeeping department had to be sacrificed.  The first expendable item on my to-do list?  The all-consuming task of folding laundry. 

You see, now that we're a family of six, I easily run the laundry machine once every day. Between the baby spitting up and the older boys playing sports in the backyard, our family generates a lot of dirty laundry.  And laundry, like time, waits for no one.  If I miss a day, which happens pretty often, the pile just keeps getting bigger and bigger. 
If I only had to throw clothes into the washer and dryer, I'd probably be able to keep up.  Unfortunately, it's not that simple.  There are boys' shirts, pants, shorts, socks and underwear of four different sizes to differentiate.  The older two boys wear school uniforms five days a week, so their tops and bottoms are virtually identical except in size.  Add in towels, sheets, pillowcases, blankets, bibs and seatcovers, and the laundry takes on monolithic proportions.  
Once upon a time, I hung up shirts buttoned up to the collars, tucked neatly folded pants into drawers, and rolled pairs of matched socks for the boys.  However, my work was undone the moment one of them ransacked through his closet to dress himself.  My boys have a knack for pulling down five shirts off hangers to reach the one they need, or pouring out the entire contents of the sock drawer in search of the elusive pair that fits their shin guards. 
Enter the pile system.  (If you can call it a system at all.)  This is how it works: First, I unload the clean laundry into one massive pile on my bedroom floor.  Then I sort the clothes into six piles, one for each member of the family.  Next, I transfer these piles into six larger piles that reside in each person's closet.  If I'm having a good week, these piles might be shifted into large baskets (I don't know what the point of this step is, except that I feel less guilty if the clothes aren't actually on the floor).  But more often than not, the piles just remain on my bedroom floor; and in the mornings, everyone sifts through his own pile to get dressed. 
So, on any given day, there are probably six large piles of clothing on my bedroom floor.  I've gotten used to them, actually.  And if you think about it, the piles are multifunctional.  They create a serpentine path from my bed to the hallway, which is useful for the baby to develop his crawling skills... Look, it's a baby maze!  How ingenious of me!  The piles also serve as soft landing spots for the older boys to practice the long jump; so if one of them makes the varsity track team someday, you know who to thank for providing all this training.
Someday, the boys will be old enough to fold, hang and maybe even iron their own laundry; then we can retire my deplorable pile system in favor of something more civilized.  For the time being, though, even my 3-year old helps sort the clean laundry into piles and carry his pile into his own closet.  The system works.  It's enough for now.
My friend Leah was right.  It is tempting and all too easy to sacrifice time with your kids in order to keep up with housework.  I'd rather be guilty of the opposite while there's still time to enjoy their childhood.  Even if that means I don't see my bedroom floor for the next few years.

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