Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Throwing in the Towel

I'm a perfectionist about many things; I know that. Bath towels have to be folded in fourths the long way and then in thirds, coffee mugs are arranged in a certain order in the cupboard with handles facing out, the socks in my drawers are neatly rolled and then organized by color. As are all the hanging clothes in my closet (not the rolled part, just the color-organized part). And spices are organized by type: sweet and savory, then seeds, spices, leaves, etc. I won't talk about my craft area; I think you get the picture.
Lately, I've realized I need to give up on some of these closely held foibles. For one thing, I need to delegate more of the daily housework to the kids so that I can have time to get other jobs done, those "mom's-truly-the-only-one-who-can-do-this" jobs like paying bills and organizing all of my books by color. Counting chocolate chips is also an important task that I shudder to consider passing off on someone else. Plus, I often bring school work home with me. I just need more time to do these things.
So, on Monday, I babystepped my way toward that goal of finding more time: I let go of a job, telling Lauren and Jonah that I would no longer be both the cook and the bottle washer in the family. I will still make dinner, but I'm leaving the cleaning of dishes in their hands.
Of all the jobs to relinquish, this was an easy choice. They've been helping me in the kitchen for years, so they know how to wash dishes to my (ahem, exacting) specifications.
But tonight, after the third night of their solo dishwashing endeavor, I am suddenly taken back to the days of my own childhood, when my mom threw in the towel and expected Ilona and I to wash the dishes together. As I listen from the other room to the arguing, the frustration, the petty picking they're doing, I remember--with a little bit of fondness actually--some of my cat fights with Ilona.
At the time, I thought having her for a sister was hellish. She always borrowed my clothes without asking, often trying several things on and then she would leave them lying on the floor. Yes, offensive I know. And then there was the abuse. The nightly leaps she made from her bed to mine, when she would sit on my chest, locking my arms uselessly at my sides with her knobby knees as she tickled me or (the most unspeakable of horrors) unspooled a long strand of saliva toward my mouth, sucking it up only at the last minute. I was helpless before her assaults, always the victim.
And of course, there was the uncanny way in which she always managed to call "clearing," which was patently the easier dishwashing task, leaving me with washing, which was always hot and involved hours of scrubbing furiously at blackened pots.

All of these memories trickle back into my brain as I listen to my children squabble in the kitchen, and I wonder what agony I have unwittingly set in motion for them as I try to salvage a few minutes of time from my day to write out my thoughts. Plus, I'm thinking that if only I had just washed the dishes myself, they would have been done in half the time and without any arguing. I tell myself I'm teaching them a lesson, and I have to admit that even though Ilona did torment me remorselessly, at least she provided me with realms of material for stories.

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