I Took Notes

Thoughts come to me while I’m hanging laundry. Do yours strike during particular activities?
On an evening out with friends, recently, we came around to talking about chores (we’re all moms or moms-to-be), and one friend mentioned that she genuinely enjoys hanging laundry on the clothesline–she didn’t mean that she finds it a chore she can tolerate, or doesn’t mind doing, but that she genuinely takes pleasure from it. She described hanging the napkins together so they flapped in the wind like a prayer flag. And those of us who regularly hang laundry realized we often do something similar: making patterns, following interior rules about what goes where; in essence, creating something that pleases us aesthetically. Do you have rituals you follow, or patterns you make; or does another chore bring you a similar kind of aesthetic pleasure? I think it points toward the artistic impulse.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a particular philosophical dilemma, which is related both to parenting styles and parenthood generally: I think all parents are occupied, whether consciously or otherwise, with finding a balance between individual pursuits and collective responsibility. (This is a societal question, too, and where you land on the scale is probably indicative of your political beliefs).
This balance comes into play in virtually everything I do. Do I push my son to practice piano, or do I hope he will come to develop his own talents? Probably a bit of both, right?
Maybe I need to explain this idea in more concrete terms. I’m thinking about how families work. How very much I would like my children to walk to school together, and to take responsibility not only for themselves, but for each other. However, my eldest wants to walk with his friends: they have made a thoughtful plan for meeting and walking together. I am proud of his initiative, and glad that he has strong connections with friends. But I want him to be a helpful big brother, and I’d planned to have the three kids walk to school together next year. What’s the balance? This one is easy, because we’ve already worked it out. Albus will walk with friends. We have other options for getting his two sisters to school. In this case, we went with the individual, because it did not harm the collective.
I don’t think the balance between individual and collective is ever perfected. It’s an ongoing challenge. For example, I’ve also been thinking a great deal about how spiritual and artistic practice requires uninterrupted time. There’s no short-cut for this. In order to go deep, you need to enter into yourself while letting yourself go. This isn’t necessarily selfish, but it might appear to be, and certainly can feel selfish, when one is a mother (or father) to small children. Children are notoriously good at pulling you out of wherever you’ve gone–if they need you. And mine seem to need me a lot.
But there’s another issue: If I’ve arranged childcare and freed up time to work, what guilt I feel if the work that ends up getting done is invisible, even to me. If it makes next to nothing. If I sit and stare out the window. Writing a story sometimes appears to be a quick process, but I believe there is a great deal of invisible unknown work going on beneath the surface that makes the story possible.
One final thought from my laundry-hanging philosophy session. Practice, and consistently doing something, makes that thing easy to do, so that that what appeared impossible or even merely inconvenient proves otherwise. I am thinking of the snack-making. Nothing in the cupboards to pull out, so I whip together cheese and apple slices and raisins, in individual containers, and the kids love it. Nothing in the cupboards, so I pull out the popcorn popper and everyone watches the process, and devours the results.
Yes, it takes more time and effort, but not that much more. The difference is actually inside my own head. Does it feel difficult and hard, or possible and simple?
(I did not get up early most of this week, and I missed it a great deal. So, this morning, I did again, and went to yoga, and appreciated both the effort and the ease).

Kitchen Day
She Took Notes


  1. Susan Fish

    I like your thoughts on the collective and the individual. It’s a helpfukl way to think about it.

    I also truly enjoy hanging out laundry, but my funny thought of the morning, while hanging out sheets, was an imaginary conversation with Susanna Moodie, in which she said to me, “Let me get this straight: you have a machine that will dry your clothes for you and still, you choose to do this?” There were some expletives in her end of the conversation and some awkward, “but it smells better this way” and “let me explain climate change” on my end. It got me thinking about which labour-saving devices make lots of sense and which don’t.

  2. m

    I love hanging laundry, too. We line dry inside (except sheets and towels) in the winter, but it’s putting it outside that’s so much pleasure. I also have a system, enjoy the patterns.

    My husband is full-time parenting this summer and I’m writing. A switch for us. He’s taken on all the house chores, but when he started doing laundry I panicked. I told him that I wanted to keep doing it. He was offended, thought I thought he couldn’t do it. (Not true!) I just truly get pleasure out of it. Do all the other chores, please! Let me have the laundry.

    I love what you said about the individual not hurting the collective. It’s a good way to think of it, and I’ve never thought of it so clearly before.

    Allow yourself the writing time. Writing *is* staring out windows, taking walks, reading, lying on the couch. Giving yourself time and space to create will make you a better parent. I truly believe this. Don’t feel guilt. It’s a waste of emotions and time and brain space.

    p.s my word verification is ‘funwoo’ I’m going to take that with me!

  3. Marie

    I often feel guilty when I have “me” time, but I have to remind myself the importance of the breathing space, not only my own sanity, but for better relationships with my kids. I’m a better person for having stared into space for a few hours on a rainy Saturday when so much could have gotten done. The mess will still be there for me tomorrow. Ideally it’ll still be there for all of us, but things don’t work as well as I planned in my feminist dreams of old.

    I still sometimes feel like I should be attending to the kids 24/7 even though my parents (and others of my day) didn’t ever really play with their kids. It wasn’t expected of them, and we turned out okay – got into our own mischief and explored free from the structured time of adults.

    I also love hanging laundry, and I’m baffled by the number of people still using those archaic machines. Why drag it all to the basement, put it in a machine, and drag it all back up instead of standing in the sunshine with a cup of tea and a basket of fresh laundry. I have the benefit of a laundry and clothesline both on the top floor of the house though (where all the clothes are).

  4. Kerry C

    I don’t love hanging laundry, and I require my husband to help me, and then I get annoyed with him when he hangs things in the wrong place. (Because, obviously, dish towels go mid-rack, parent clothes at one end, and baby clothes at the other. And everything HAS TO BE RIGHT-SIDE-OUT!!)

  5. m

    Kerry, your comment made me smile. I try to put the clothes inside out so that the sun doesn’t fade them! But we are both doing it the best way, obviously!


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