I was lucky enough to have a mom who washed my laundry all the way until I went to college. I don’t know why she did and I certainly wouldn’t have minded if she told me to do it myself, the way she did my younger brother and sister when I moved out. I didn’t offer because I was a teenager and such a thing never occurred to me and I often folded all the laundry anyway. As far as chores went, I didn’t really mind the folding at all because I could let my mind wander away to daydreams and, when I got a little older, to holding hands and kissing, and weekend plans.
I didn’t mind laundry in college, mostly because I only did it every month or so, and machines you had to trek down the hall and pay to use were still a novelty. Let it be said, though, that I never once hauled my dirty t-shirts and jeans two hours north to my parents’ house in the trunk of a car the way some of my friends did.
When I moved into my first solo apartment in law school, laundry went from being a minor inconvenience to a feared and hated event that took over my life once every three weeks. My laundry room in a horrifying basement (always damp, single bulb and chain hanging from the ceiling; I’m sure you’ve seen something similar in a scary movie) on another property owned by the same landlord across the street. I’d accumulated so many clothes, and wore so many bulky winter sweaters and sweats that I’d spend all night lugging six loads of laundry back and forth, dropping socks in the snow in the winter months and being gawked at by scantily clad undergrads with better things than laundry to do on a Friday night. I’d finish too late to hide the piles of clean things into the nooks and crannies of my overstuffed studio and pass out instead, leaving the laundry for another day.
When I got married, the laundry pile more than doubled, but circumstances changed enough that doing laundry became almost pleasurable. Most people don’t need to do laundry on their honeymoon, but we spent ours living in a little apartment in a working class Spanish neighborhood for three weeks. We used the combination washer/dryer almost every day and I carefully pinned our wet clothes to the drying rack on our minuscule balcony, complaining when the wind whipped a sheet across my face, but really loving it, because you can’t imagine anything more European. When we came back to Chicago, I could be found at least once a week alone in our bedroom after 10:00 at night, folding clothes, with a record spinning in the background. My goodness, I thought, how marriage can change things. A few months prior, doing laundry on a Friday night was torture. Now I could certainly imagine things I’d rather be doing, but it is so satisfying and delightfully grown-up to do laundry in normal-sized loads, one at a time, once a week, and to have clean sheets and towels even. I’m embarrassed to even say this, but I felt like I was contributing something tangible to this marriage where Husband does all the cooking and the chores.
And then January rolled around and I started my job and I haven’t passed a peaceful night folding laundry since. It turns out that marriage didn’t change a thing, at least not laundry-wise. It turns out nobody minds doing laundry late into the night if they had nothing pressing to set the alarm for and can get it done without hauling loads to their parents’ house or a laundromat or a terrifying basement.
And that whole “I should fold the laundry because it’s good for the marriage” line of thought? Gone. I banished it last week. I came home from work, exhausted, to a load of clean clothes on the bed. I paused for a moment, feeling irritated that they were there and obligated to make them go away, and then shoved the whole pile into our bedroom floor to deal with another day, realizing that I’d do more for marriage if I was happy and rested than if I kept our home in perfectly grown-up condition.