When my parents were visiting, it came up that I’ve never really done laundry before we moved here. In New York, I either sent it out or paid a cleaning lady to do it. I must have done it in law school and college, but I don’t have many vivid memories of it (except for one of sitting on a dryer in Forbes reading Gogol; y’know, typical Princeton nonsense). Before that, my mother did every stitch of laundry in the house.
Let me back up. When I say my mother “did my laundry”, it’s an understatement. She doesn’t just “do laundry”. That woman MASTERS laundry. In my mom’s house, 30 year old towels are as fluffy and soft as the day they were purchased at Montgomery Ward; whites are brighter than bright; and there is nary a stray pink undershirt in the house. At any given time, there are no fewer than 6 buckets scattered around the basement containing varying degrees of detergent/bleach/stain remover, each calibrated perfectly to address the specific stain blighting the football jersey or cheerleading skirt or dress shirt hosted within. When Mama Franklin does laundry, she does NOT fuck around.
So, I think she was a little surprised at how thoroughly I suck at laundry. And since she is a mom before she is a master laundress, the immediate response was guilt. Massive guilt.
That week she gave me the best primer on laundry and folding ever. Now nothing is pink coming out of my washing machine that wasn’t pink going in, and I know how to fold the shit out of a fitted sheet (which, fyi, Martha Stewart confessed was the demise of her first marriage – not, as you might suspect, her insanely demanding perfectionism and general see-you-next-tuesday-ness). Since then, my mother has also apologized no less than 5 times for not teaching me how to do laundry. In her mind, she explained, letting me focus on school, and studying for standardized tests, and extracurriculars, was a much better investment than teaching me the importance of separating my reds from my blues.
I totally cannot disagree with her analysis. It’s similar to the one I did tonight when Poppy KEPT coming OUT of HER GODDAMN room, and then finally stayed there while aggressively screaming “Mummy! MUMMY!!! I NEEEEEED YOOOOOOUU”.
I had a million body parts telling me to go in there immediately, because what if the ceiling had fallen in on her and she was slowly suffocating? What if she had managed to swallow her pacifier and was choking to death? Or, what if she was just scared and I was teaching her that her feelings were unimportant, authority figures are not to be trusted, her instincts are completely incorrect and her mommy is a horrible witch?
I also had another million body parts telling me that Penelope needs to learn how to go to sleep by herself, and it’s my responsibility to make that happen. Also? That I’m a much better mommy if bedtime is not “stroke their hair until they fall asleep then set your alarm for 8:30 PM so that you can get out of their little bunk bed to do more laundry before your husband comes home at midnight and you have to be the good wife who talks about his day and watches Luther with him before you fall asleep on the couch.” And my husband and kids deserve a mom who isn’t totally annoyed all of the time because she goes to bed at 7:30 in a twin bunk bed.
Tonight, the second million body parts won out, and Poppy went to sleep on her own. I am wracked with guilt over it, just as I would be if things had gone the other way.
Basically, being a mom consists of navigating a series of diametrically opposed instincts and praying (PRAYING) that we’ve chosen the correct one. Do I add laundry to the list of things I’m asking my 17 year old to accomplish, or do I do it for her so she can focus on studying for her SATs and, one day, make enough money so that she never has to do her own laundry? Do I run to my 2 year old when she cries for me so that she knows she has a rock-solid safety net, or do I teach her how to soothe herself so that she learns how important self-reliance is?
I don’t know what the answer is here. But I do know one thing: if I show up at Penelope’s house when she’s in her 30’s and she still needs to put her feet on someone’s bare stomach in order to fall asleep? I’m going to freak out WAAAAAYYYY more than my mom did when she realized that I had no idea why that whites+blues+red sock load was such an epic failure.