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The Laundress

July 4, 2017

Written by Marykate O’Malley, mother of three wonderful children, Gladwyne PA 


Sometimes I feel like I could spend the rest of my life doing laundry. I see myself standing at the washer, aging before my very eyes, changing the shapes of clothing and linen, then moving it: sorting by color, placing into the washer, into the dryer, folding, moving into drawers or closets.

I see myself standing at the pearly gates. Saint Peter quotes my favorite poet Mary Oliver and asks, “tell me this, what did you do with your one wild and precious life?” “Laundry sir,” I would reply. “I did laundry. 2 to 3 loads per day, sometimes more depending on the season. In summer the clothes were smaller you see, but my children were more active. Every day 2 bathing suits, 2 outfits, 1 bath towel, 1 beach towel, 1 set of pajamas, per child. During sports seasons there were uniforms: 2 soccer, one baseball, and 2 lacrosse in the spring. I would sort, the lights and darks, treat chocolate stains, and grass stains.”

I would lean forward and tell the good saint, “when my son was in preschool, his shirt was a map of his day. Clues hidden in red paint, and brown icing from a birthday celebration, a blue marker mark, and a grass stain.” Scenes from my life would flash before me: standing at the washer holding athletic pants caked in mud from football at the park, delicately placing my daughter’s dress in the washing machine, or spraying clay from my youngest’s 2D to 3D art class with Shout.

There was a time when I didn’t think about laundry. I remember one summer with my closest friend and her mother went to our shared room in search of all the household bath towels to find a heap (mountain) behind the door. “Girls,” she said, “you come out of the shower clean, these towels can be hung to dry and then used again.” I remember thinking amazing… and brilliant…. and that never occurred to me…. I didn’t think about laundry then.

My youngest likes to change a half dozen or so times per day. I feel a lump growing in the back of my throat and my eyes sting as she trades her sporty look for a top knot and jumper. I set a family rule, if worn for less than 2 hours it is clean, unless it is obviously not, like ketchup down the front. I remember as a child skipping down the stairs in my 3rd outfit of the day while we hadn’t even had lunch …  And my mother remarking that I changed every hour. I remembering considering the comment, agreeing with a shrug of my shoulders while I skipped off… I didn’t know laundry…

“You see,” I would tell Saint Peter. “It was a good life. I worked hard. Very, very hard, but I lived it. Really lived it you know.” And I would pause and share, “there was this path… to the beach… sandy and strewn with pebbles…. where the wild sea grass would bend and sway, and reach towards the blue hue of the bluest summer sky. You could hear the pounding surf, drink in the salt air. I would take my children and they would play in the waves and dig at the water’s edge for hours and I would feel a wave of contentment, of happiness. My children’s skin would brown and freckles would emerge and dot the bridges of their noses, scatter across their cheeks like stars against the sky. Their hair would smell like the ocean, and summertime, and innocence. And despite all the laundry, it was heaven to be by the shore with my children. Truly heaven.”


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