It’s Wednesday. And what do you know? The kids let us sleep in a little.

I make baked oatmeal while my husband takes a shower. I like turning the oven on first thing in the morning. I serve it with blueberries and yogurt so it isn’t exactly like eating warm oatmeal cookies for breakfast.

I ask my husband if he wouldn’t call the land lady and tell her the washer in the garage is broken. He kisses me. The kids dance around him. He’ll be back late.

I stand at the kitchen sink and open the window sending the noise of dishes into the shared space of the four apartments in our building. The sunlight is on my hands and I start my daily practice of making dirty things clean, there never seems to be a shortage of things on which to practice this sort of redemption. And today it looks like laundry. I charge the kids to pack supplies and we descend to the lobby.

There is a bit of a debate as to which stroller or both, we will need. The committee settles on the large one alone and we go out to the street. I chat briefly with the pretty blonde woman who lives in the first unit. She tells me where the best Laundromat is while politely hiding her cigarette behind her leg.

We’re a colorful parade of kids’ clothes and backpacks. “We’re going on an adventure,” my daughter keeps saying. And “The Senator” sits back in the stroller, chin tucked in, looking all sorts of stoic benevolence. The laundry, like a body bag, is draped across the top.

When we get there we take turns putting quarters in the slots. An old Russian gentleman smiles at us, enjoying the ministry of innocence my children perform so unconsciously wherever they go. Everything about him is warm beige.

My daughter squeals too loudly when the clothes begin to whizz and hum in sudsy circles. I decide Mom needs a coffee, something even great quantities of sleeping-in can’t seem to alter. We go across the street and I get a coffee at the same coffee shop I wrote at one morning last week. The same middle-aged Chinese couple is there.

“How long have you owned this place?” I ask.

“Eight years,” the man says.

He smiles broadly and looks at his wife. She’s busy wiping counters, but I understand him. They have done it together. He makes me a brilliant latte. It’s so good I wished I’d ordered a cappuccino.

We stop next door at the small market. I buy a loaf of bread, oats, bananas, and the three cans I need for tomorrow night’s dinner. I ask my son to get me three limes. He comes back.

“They’re too high,” he says.

The Hispanic man who works here shows him where the box of limes is under the produce shelves. My son thanks him. The man and I share a smile and he begins to check my groceries.

“Do you want a bag?” he asks.

“I brought one,” I say.

The way he packs my groceries so exactly reminds me what a politeness it can be to load someone’s bag.

“Thank you,” I say.

We return to the wash and switch it into the dryer. I notice small pieces of blue tape marking several doors.

“What does the blue tape mean?” I ask the Russian gentleman.

He’s folding his underwear, bright white briefs. But he’s unembarrassed, therefore, so am I.

“It means broke, maybe?” he says.

I set the dryer for an hour. The Russian gentleman gives us a warm beige goodbye. We play card games on a bench. We read princess stories. The baby bangs a toy car with relish. Sometimes we stand at the window and watch the construction machines on the street.

There is suddenly a bathroom emergency. They always come out of nowhere; it’s uncanny! So we cross the street again to the coffee shop. I decide to order lunch. I get a BLT. The kids split an egg salad sandwich, my daughter eats all the lettuce and tomato, my son eats all the egg salad. “The Senator” spits out bits of egg and finally deigns to eat a banana and slice of bread from the grocery bag.

When we return to the laundry it’s time for my favorite part. I get to drive the laundry bumper cart around the room, maybe a little too quickly. The baby starts whining. We fold faster against the inevitable onslaught of nap time. My daughter begins on the kitchen rags and napkins, my son finishes them. They pick out matching socks and my son rolls them into balls.

I hear the baby laughing. A younger Middle Eastern man is making faces at him and I am grateful. Suddenly, a washer starts making sounds like a jet engine. The looks on my kids’ faces makes the Middle Eastern man laugh.

The laundry is kids’ clothes so the cart gets emptied by tiny tiny bits. I pack it all away again in the laundry bag as neatly as possible, socks on top. And, once again, we parade over the streets. A grandmotherly character sitting at a stop waiting for her bus can’t hide the look of surprise as we happen upon her, all shiny and loud like a fanfare.

After fifty feet my daughter, ever eco-conscious, says, “We should’ve took the car.”

But I charm her home with stories and the view. We can see the bluffs on the other side of the bay and one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge as we go over the hill.

And now we are home. It takes me three trips to get everything and everyone up the stairs. The young Chinese mother who lives just below me fried some fish for lunch. I often wish we were friends. The window over her sink is just below mine. We wash dishes together. We cook together. Our kids play together, one floor apart. In the sliver of her kitchen that I can see through the window as I walk up the stairs there’s a basket of friend green beans looking all sorts of salted tastiness. She puts them there to tempt me.

My daughter finds blankie and they tuck themselves into bed. My son drives his cars into his quiet time space. “The Senator” retires for a little R&R.

And I sit down at the table to write it all down, as if it were a story, as if every day were a story. Or, maybe, to make it a story.

The wind is blowing just the right way now to make the open crack of my kitchen window sing, helping me to make music out of ordinary things.

7 responses »

  1. I am transported to all sorts of wonderful places with your “ordinary” stories. But I have to ask, what happened to Michelle? Is that her name? The magical laundress.


    • I almost called her yesterday, but she does cost about twice as much. And last time, due to weird communication, I didn’t get the laundry back for three days. Sigh, Michelle …


  2. Barbara Jean you make my heart! You make my heart sing. You make me wish I had your eyes and heart. I find you amazing and I AM SO BLESSED TO KNOW YOU, EVEN FROM A DISTANCE.


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