The (Laundry) Magician’s Apprentice

Yeah. So…remember when I was so very excited about figuring out how to stop being a perfectionist with my laundry?

Well. Here are two inalienably truths: Rome was not built in a day, and laundry magic will not happen overnight.

The problem, in case you missed it, was this: My little ones were shucking their clothes at night in favor of pyjamas and leaving their dirty clothes inside out. I had asked them to turn them right side out, to save me the trouble of doing it when I would hang everything up to dry. This went on for months.

It all came to a head: my self-worth got wrapped up in the fact that they didn’t ever listen to me.

One of the hardest things I’ve done as a parent

After that first night when my eldest scalawag very neatly turned everything right side out, I was on a cloud, feeling like I had just won at parenting.

The eldest was quick to understand and do this the right way. He is like me: a perfectionist and a rule-follower. While he can be challenging in other ways, this one narrow area of being a rule-follower makes him a breeze to parent.

My youngest, though, the enthusiast, who looks more like me, talks more like me, thinks more like me, has big, ugly emotions like me, is not a rule follower like me. Therefore, my request for his laundry to be turned right side out fell upon deaf ears. Even worse…met with justifications (oh, how this child is exactly like me, let me count the ways….) “Long sleeves are too hard for me! I’m little, you know,” and, “I don’t care if my socks are inside out.”

The next morning, as the boys were drawing in a moment of relative calm, I went to get a load of clothes from the washer to start hanging them outside. This was when I noticed that all of little scalawag’s things were still inside out.

The causes of that itchy feeling

I sighed. Instead of taking the pile directly outside to hang them up, I went out to the living room where the culprits were quietly drawing. I handed little scalawag a few wet things and asked him to turn them right side out. He did it, no questions, with a pair of underwear and a sock. I know he saw the rest, because he intentionally picked through it to get to the underwear.

So what did I do? I left it inside out. I hung it inside out on the laundry line.

All the feels

Just as with my intentional rule-breaking experience at the pool, there is a kind of emotional backlash to doing something that feels so wrong. Guilt. A desire to justify. A tiny bit of OCD.

Leaving these little things inside out was the right thing to do, because it was what I had said I would do. My boys would learn nothing if I went back on my promise. But I needed to let all my feels complete their cycle.

Guilt. Why? Because my littlest one said the tee-shirts were too hard for him to turn. Maybe I was asking something that was too hard for him. Although…this child can do a lot of hard things. I cannot imagine that this is beyond him.

Justification. I wanted to be angry that he wouldn’t listen. I wanted to justify my actions: these boys just need to learn that I am not their servant.

A little bit of OCD: My OCD was triggered by seeing clothes inside out. It itched like a mosquito bite. Additionally, while I might not love doing laundry, I do take a tiny bit of pleasure in color organizing the laundry on the line…seeing the neat little soldiers all lined up by color, shading from red to orange to yellow…all the way to the myriad shades of blue we tend to wear around here. OCD, yes. Satisfying, also yes. Those inside out clothes ruined the pleasure I took in seeing my little soldiers all lined up.

Another try

It was evening of the same day. It had been a sunny day, so the clothes were dry. I took them off the line and brought them back to the living room where the boys were playing Playmobil. I folded clothes, listening to them shout orders at the Porsche driver “Kian” and the construction worker, “Tony.” (I cannot keep up with all their Playmobil guys’ names, but these two I can remember.)

Finally, I was down to three t-shirts. I swallowed hard. It would be so easy for me to just turn these right side out.

“Hey. Scalawag,” I said, opening up the tee. “Stick your arms down here and pull the sleeves through.” Without thinking, (and eager to get back to playing) littlest scalawag did what I asked. Boom. One t-shirt was righted. “Hey, come do that again. That was amazing!” I said. He did. This time, he had a smug little smile. Boom. Two t-shirts were righted. “You can’t do this one all by yourself, I bet?”

The child took the t-shirt and tried really hard to do it himself. One of the sleeves just wouldn’t cooperate. After a minute he gave me a frustrated look. I took the sleeve and held it up so he could shove his arm down and pull it out. And BOOM! Three t-shirts were righted.

Scalawag dance party

I told you my youngest is exactly like me. When he saw how happy I was at his success, he started dancing around, forgetting about Kian and Tony and their work at the quarry. We put on some music: Sucking at something is the first step at being kinda good at something, from Heather Chelan to be specific. (We are never too young to celebrate everything, nor are we ever too old.) And we had a laundry celebration dance party.

Yes, this took five times as long as it would have taken me to do it by myself. But apparently, parenting isn’t about me and my perfectionism or my efficiency: it is about giving them the tools to do it for themselves.

This, yet again, put the finger on how vitally important it is that I get over myself and my perfectionism if I want to raise motivated, determined, self-sufficient little men.

Sure, I would have preferred to not have my OCD triggered at the sight of my laundry line. Sure, I would have preferred to not have to ask three times to have my youngest do what I ask.

But I learned that breaking a task down to doable elements makes everyone feel successful. I learned that insisting doesn’t have to sound like nagging. I learned that I can create a rule and stick to it and make everyone else feel safe and successful in the process.

So yeah, it may not be perfect, but it is a whole lot closer to looking like my Ideal Life.

In my Ideal Life, I am a person who is willing to do things differently in order to make progress.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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