Tag Archives: housekeeping

My Fault…


I thought I could go back to bed and lie there for a bit without incident. So, technically, I suppose it was my fault. But I heard everyone helping each other get breakfast. It sounded peaceable.

So, forty glorious minutes later I walk out. The weather’s perfect. It’s sunny. Even the introvert in me is charmed.

“Let’s go to the park,” I say, “Shoes on.”

At this moment in the hallway the little guy passes me holding a spoonful of milky cereal in front of his belly and marching into his bedroom. Curious, I follow him. Then I watch as he stops, calculates, throws said cereal onto the carpet, touches one foot on top of it delicately as if to evaluate his success and turns, I’m assuming, in order to get more.

Well, I stop that nonsense and on the way to the kitchen with the spoon I notice several other arrangements of cereal on the floor and realize this is an installation piece, probably entitled “Scourge of My Mother”. There is also one very wet towel lying in a square on the floor.

“Hey guys? What’s with the wet towel? Did he have an accident?”

“No, Mom, he spilled a cup of milk,” said the eldest.

“He did it on purpose. And it was my milk,” said the girl.

Mixed media.

(There are many moments like this when I’m glad I don’t have a nice place. I can’t stand how my kids treat my two-bedroom rental. What on earth would I do if they treated my dream-house this way?!)

I proceed into the kitchen. And the baby has tried to make a smoothie.

Here is a picture of that baby:


I sigh and scrap my plans for the park. I place the baby in the tub (the only place he will remain contained) and wipe counters, do dishes, unload dishwasher so I can load dishes, start laundry from last night’s pee debacle(another long story), scrub and baking soda a square of carpet, sweep the kitchen, vacuum and four hours later it’s nap time and I’m sucking down coffee and eating some Go Diego Go cereal. For some subliminal reason I wanted some.

The first baby, that’s not anyone’s fault. You’re naive; you’ve never had a baby. You don’t know. The second one, well, that’s not technically your fault either. You and your husband have seven siblings between you. Let’s blame family culture. But three, well- the third one’s on you. You asked for three. This is on you.

On Being Clean…


First thing this morning I vacuumed the apartment.

That sentence paints a picture, doesn’t it? I mean, what sort of person am I to begin my day vacuuming?

But the truth is, the vacuuming had been rolled over from the day before and the day before that. This morning at eight am just happened to be the moment that I could do it.

Is that still too nice of a picture? Let me paint further. This morning, directly after my son left for school, I realized with a start that there were few enough toys on the floor that I could possibly pick them up faster than two kids could take them out and if I hurried I could get it vacuumed before the day began and then I wouldn’t have to watch my eighteen month old eat particles of day old popcorn out of the shag anymore. So, I cleaned up, yelling every time they tried to get out a toy and after finding my baby french kissing the vacuum cleaner for the second time put him in his crib for the duration.

There, the vacuuming was done!

And what is the first thing my daughter wants to get out? The large bin of small paper pieces belonging to craft time.

“No!” I said. Too harsh? Maybe. I’m pretty reasonable about messes. I don’t try to keep it immaculate. Goodness, I make my kids popcorn for a snack! But, you know, give me a moment before it all goes to pot again!

And now, my jeans, I washed them yesterday. It is delightful having clean jeans. It was delightful putting them on, feeling their snugness, and catching that whiff of fabric softener.

And as soon as we get to the bus stop my daughter asks if she can climb my legs. “No!” I said. It’s not like I thought I’d be able to keep them clean forever, just, well, I’d been wearing clean jeans for less than an hour, you know?

And then the baby wanted to stand in my lap and then, wouldn’t you know it, I splash coffee on them, just a bit, you can’t really tell, but then tonight was multicultural night at school and I fed an eighteen month old fried rice, soba noodle salad, and lasagna in my lap.

It wasn’t pretty people. In the now-immortal words of Queen Elsa I had to “let it go”.

All of this has me thinking. Because in moms group we’ve been talking about ritual and the meaning behind the things we do as a family. And during a collective bout of whining the other night right around bath time I cupped my four-year-old daughter’s chin and looked her in the eye.

“Do you know why we give you baths?” I said, “Because God gave you to us to take care of and because I want you to know how good it feels to be made clean.”

So, tonight I scrubbed the soba noodles out of my denim. And I picked a few cheerios up off the floor.

And I wondered if this is the ritual my heavenly Father gave me to do, this endless cleaning? Like a dirty faced child throwing a tantrum against the inevitable scrub, do I misunderstand the favor? “See how good it feels to make things new, Barbara? Do it again! Feel my joy at making dirty things clean!”

Today I realized all over again that there will never be a moment in my life when, by the energy of my own industry, I will be able to make everything clean all at the same time. Thank goodness! I rather think I need the practice of dependence in this area.

Hmm, I think I might have just given you a spiritual basis for maid service.

You’re welcome.



I knew laundry was going to be expensive in the city. And we make a lot of it.

There’s one coin-op machine in the garage of our four-unit building. I’ve been here for two weeks and have done seven or eight loads already. And I’m just treading water.

The game changed when James noticed me run a load through the dryer twice. I explained the process by which I could, usually, avoid this, running the loads after each other and letting the wet things carry over into the next dryer cycle. James asked me if I couldn’t dry the things around the apartment. I tried to paint the picture of a zillion miniscule kids’ things hanging all over the apartment ongoing and into eternity.

He told me to try the wash-and-fold two blocks down.

I am loyal, deep into my DNA, but my natural resistance against trying something new was silenced, in this case, by the intriguing idea of someone else washing AND folding my laundry.

Thus, my next city adventure stretched itself out before me.

The weather was sketchy on Monday and I spent the morning watching the sky as I emotionally prepared myself to literally drag my dirty laundry through the streets of San Francisco.

At length, it was time. I managed to pack both laundry bags of kids’ clothes on the big stroller, one hanging out of the bottom and one sitting in the seat. For good measure I threw the kitchen towels and bibs into one of the bags. My daughter walked and I put my son in charge of pushing the baby in the small stroller. And off we went, me with a passion stemming mostly from the adrenaline of embarrassment.

My three-year old daughter was shouting something at me as we went down the block. She finally caught up to me and pointed out the trail of kitchen rags back to the door of the apartment. We gathered them back quickly. My five-year old son who talks about farts all day long couldn’t even hide his disgust as he handed me a bib decorated with a smear of dried banana browned to a point more closely resembling something like mucus.

We got to the end of the block. It was at this point that it started pouring buckets of rain.

We ran back to the entryway of our building.

Not to be deterred, I loaded everyone and everything into the car.

We drove the two blocks to the laundry. There was no loading zone. I started considering how far I wanted to carry the laundry in the rain and how far away I could park and still leave the kids in the car.

I circled the block four or five times getting honked at by cars who could sense my equivocation. I finally convinced myself that it wouldn’t be totally irresponsible to park across the street where I could see the car from the window while I did my transaction.

I proceeded to parallel park. Suburban Barbara has not had much practice at this. It’s hit or miss. This time was a miss as I corrected, corrected again, pulled out and tried again from the beginning, all within viewing distance of the laundry shop where I can see the man behind the counter watching which, if you recall, was one of the benefits of this particular spot in the first place.

And when I finally drag my laundry in and fling it up on the counter, he looks at my bags and inhales sharply through his teeth.

“I’m sorry. We don’t do wash-and-fold.”

“Well, uh, do you know anybody who does?” As if my sole purpose of walking in was to get a referral.

“Yeah, there’s this place on Clement and 32nd.”

At this point, whatever embarrassment there was over carrying around bags of dirty laundry has given way to the velvet steel of my determination. I cross the street in the rain back to the car. One of the handles of my laundry bag breaks.

We drive to 32nd and Clement and, behold, there is a ten minute parking zone right in front of the big windows. This time I totally nail the parallel parking. No one was watching.

I drag the laundry through the rain again and into the establishment with the humble appellation of “Jim’s”. I put my laundry on the counter. I feel honesty is best for everyone at this point.

“I’ve never done this before,” I say.

“Ok,” said the lady behind the counter a little warily.

“How does it work?”

“I wash your laundry and you pick it up.”

“I just pick it up.”

“I fold it for you and you pick it up, yes.”

“How much do you think this will cost?” I ask, gesturing to the childrens’ entire wardrobes.

She weighs my bags. As she ties them closed I wait for her to notice the slimy banana bib and reject my clothes. Perhaps wash-and-fold places have standards? How presumptuous of me. I feel strangely vulnerable, so intimate is this new relationship. I watch as it is literally placed on the scale to be weighed.

But she doesn’t hesitate; she taps the weight into her calculator. Here is the price. It’s not unreasonable.
“You’re going to wash and fold my laundry?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she looks confused.

I feel like I must. Yes. I must. “What is your name?” I ask.


“Michelle,” I repeat it back to her and roll the name across my palette. My eyes may have glistened.

“I’m Barbara,” I say.

We shake hands, but it feels more like a hug.

I dare to ask, “And it says something about pick-up and delivery?”

“Yeah, where do you live?”

I tell her.

“Oh, yeah, you’re close, five dollars.”

“Five dollars?”


“And you’ll pick up my dirty laundry, wash it, fold it, and bring it back to me?”

“Yes,” she’s smiling now. I am very entertaining.

Michelle. I say the name again in my head, the name of the most beautiful woman in the world.

“Thank you, Michelle,” I take a business card as she hands me my pick-up slip.

“See you tomorrow,” she says.

Little does she know that it has never been folded so fast. The laundry won’t know what hit it. They had it easy with me, but Michelle obviously means business. Won’t my kids be surprised when they come looking for their clothes in the laundry basket and instead find them, gasp, in their drawers?

Would you believe that at some point during this transaction the clouds had parted and I stepped out into brilliant sunshine, made doubly brilliant in wet reflection?

I was so inspired I could think of nothing but this quote from my least favorite Shakespearean play,

“O, Brave new world that has such people in it!”

This whole adventure took little more than a half an hour. And, yet, the largeness of this moment was not wasted on me. My laundry paradigm was forever shifted.

I looked disdainfully at the coin-op washer and dryer in the garage as I pulled past them and realized that I would have to come up with another use for my laundry basket.

The only downside is that I am now without excuse. I guess I’ll finally have to change the sheets.




Michelle and I are now fast friends. When I picked up the clothes we chatted on about my children as if they were not waiting just over there, watching me from the car window. She apologized for the large bag she had to use to give the clothes back to me but, “It’s a lot of laundry!” she said.

Yes, Michelle. Yes it is.

And this morning we had a cozy chat over the phone before I sent a few more loads with the pick-up man Jim himself.

There’s something in this about love being born out of service rendered or service received. Maybe something in the image of taking in a stranger’s dirty laundry and giving it back to them folded nicely with respect? I haven’t quite figured it out yet.

At any rate, it’s something for me to ponder until I bring her the sheets.

A lot of laundry.

A lot of laundry.