I have a kid who has difficulty mastering laundry skills. Teaching him has been an exercise in futility and a window into the absurd. I’ve learned a lot along the way to nowhere.
For example, I learned that if I tell him, “Take the clothes out of the washing machine and put them in the dryer,” I better clarify, “after the washing machine has stopped running.” Apparently, the locking mechanism that keeps someone from opening a front-loading washer and flooding the laundry room during the washing cycle is no match for the product of a one-night stand between Amelia Bedelia and Houdini.
We hang a lot of damp clothes because ironing is against our religion. It boggles my mind how many ways my son has found to botch this up. Clothes that were supposed to be hung damp have been dried beyond completion, rendering them suitable for a toddler we don’t have. At the other extreme, the kid has folded completely WET clothes (not damp) and put them away surprisingly neatly in his dresser drawers.
At one point, I threw my hands up in exasperation and told my husband, “I now understand why your parents didn’t teach you how to do chores and left it to your wife to train you. I am going to carry on your rich family tradition and let his wife deal with this. I would rather do all the laundry myself than suffer through this.” But my husband insisted he would teach the kid these skills. So now I have to supervise my husband supervising the kid because my husband supervises the kid a lot like the kid does laundry. (I’ll pause while that sinks in.)
In short, it’s up to me to moderate my husband and son’s genetics with my unparalleled parenting skills, some examples of which follow:
The other day my son took the clothes out of the dryer and complained bitterly about how his sibling wasn’t helping. Watch carefully how I demonstrated the proper empathy for that situation:
Kid: There’s so much laundry here that it covers my whole bed. My sister hasn’t done anything to help with this laundry.
Me: She’s done plenty of loads of laundry while you did nothing.
Kid: You always say that but that was a long time ago and since then she’s done nothing.
Me: I am the wrong person to complain to. When I was your age, I did the entire family’s laundry, cleaned the whole house, and mowed the yard. Now stop complaining and fold!
When I felt the clothes, some were dry and some were quite damp. I sorted a few of them for him, some to hang, some to go back to the dryer, and made it explicitly clear that I expected him to sort the rest and dry the damp ones. Then I ran away from home.
I called home after a while to provide remote supervision of my husband’s supervision, and modeled how to convey confidence in the kid’s developing skills, while utilizing natural consequences to nudge him further down the path toward independence.
Me: Did the kid finish the laundry?
Husband to Kid: Did you finish the laundry?
Me: You can’t just ask him if he finished! Of course he’s going to say yes! Ask him if he folded all the clothes and put them away.
Husband to Kid: Did you fold all the clothes and put them away?
Me: Did he dry the damp clothes and put them away?
Husband to Kid: Did you dry the damp clothes and put them away?
Me: There is no way that he sorted out the damp clothes, put them in the dryer, followed up on his own, removed them from the dryer, folded them, and put them away. $100 bucks says he did not.
Husband to Kid: Mommy doesn’t believe you did it.
Kid: I did.
Me: Ask him what he did with the yellow towel.
Husband: Do you want to talk to him?
Me: No, I want you to suffer too.
Husband to Kid: What did you do with the yellow towel?
Kid: Dried it and put it away.
Me: I’m telling you, there’s no way. He either just put it all away wet or he did not take it out of the dryer. Go look in the dryer.
Husband: I’m going to look in the dryer. There’s a yellow towel in the dryer. Is this the one you were talking about?
Me: Yes! I told you. And I bet he never sorted the rest of the clothes beyond the ones that I sorted.
Husband to Kid: Did you sort the rest of the clothes?
Me: NO WAY! No way he left the yellow towel, but the rest of the stuff he put away!
Husband: Mommy doesn’t believe you.
Kid: I hung it all.
Me: Tell him that if I find another pair of his sister’s pink underwear or an errant pink sock of hers in his pajama drawer, he’s going to have to wear it. That’s called natural consequences.
Husband to Kid: On the outside of your clothes, so everyone will know.
Me: Yes! Yes! That’s good! Because we want everyone to know about this. We want everyone to know that a kid who can learn Photoshop—the full version, which no one can learn—can’t sort dry from wet laundry. This is one of the great mysteries of the world, and everyone should know about this.
Me: When you folded your wet clothes and put them away, wasn’t that a bit short-sighted?
Kid: They would have dried.
Me: You think clothes that are folded wet and closed in a drawer would dry before they mildewed or you outgrew them?!
Me to Husband: This is what I mean about making school relevant to real life. If they are going to teach about air currents in science, how about as applied to folded wet clothes in a drawer?!
Husband: That’s why they have Home Ec.
I’m looking for a class now.