For my son, Levi’s, 14th birthday his grandmother (AKA Bubby) took him out on a clothes shopping spree. She bought him an entire wardrobe of adorable shorts and cool t-shirts. Now everyday my son gets ready for school and looks like he just stepped out of a Macy’s catalogue. (It’s maybe not Abercrombie and Fitch to which most teens might aspire, but he looks great to me and feels positive and happy each morning as he strolls to the bus stop.)
Cut to: Yesterday. I’m doing the laundry. (Do I need to say that this is my least favorite job on the planet?) I do tend to scoop up whatever piles are lying on my children’s floors and stuff as much as I can carry into my huge front-loader. After the 59 minute hot wash cycle I mindlessly transfer the wet load into the dryer, hit high heat and run for the computer. It wasn’t until I began to unload the dryer that I realized, yet again, that my darling son had left a red ink pen in his pocket. The brand new cargo shorts he’d gotten for his birthday were covered in ink splots as was the entire dryer drum. Luckily no other clothes seem to have been affected. But I was literally sick over it.
He’d worn these beautiful shorts once. Now they were totally ruined. I contemplated how to ground him, whether to berate him, how to somehow make a valuable lesson out of the senseless waste. It’s not like he hadn’t made this mistake before. We’ve had broken pencils that have clogged up the dryer and cost us an expensive visit from the GE repairman, erasers that have stopped up the washer drain, etc… I talk till I’m blue in the face. I know the answer is to let my boys (14 and 10) do their own laundry. At least I wont be so distraught by their carelessness. But every time I try to adopt that kind of hands-off policy, I end up caving after their rooms get inundated with dirty laundry and neither of them seem to care that they’re wearing filthy underwear for the fourth day in a row. I get the “Love and Logic” thing that says, eventually they’ll decide to do their own laundry or their peers will avoid them because of the stench. But I can’t seem to let it get to that utter point of disgust.
I tried Oxy-Clean stain spray on the shorts. My mother-in-law swears by it. But the bright red splotches didn’t even fade. I figured it was hopeless. I mean I’d already washed and dried the shorts in high heat thereby sealing the ink stain into the shorts, a cardinal no-no in stain removal strategy. I showed the shorts to my son and threatened to show his Bubby. “Please don’t!” he begged. “She’ll be so mad at me.” “But why did you let this happen?” I beseeched. “I don’t know, mom,” he sadly replied. “I just forget that I put things in my pocket. I don’t do it on purpose.”
I’d gotten my answer. I can’t say that it made me feel better. But it did remind me to lighten up a little. I suddenly remembered my fourteen year old self defending my carelessness around leaving the second floor lights ablaze as I bounded out the front door for the 10 zillionth time. My poor father just standing in the doorway, a look of perplexity on his face. “I just forget, Dad. I’m really sorry.” And I was. I didn’t mean to hurt him or make what mattered to him seem totally insignificant. It just wasn’t a priority and nothing he said or did could change that. Maybe that’s the sad truth. As much as we parents try, we can’t infuse our children with a sense of adult priorities and a willingness to meet those priorities. They are, after all, still kids. Eventually they’ll move out and we’ll miss their dirty laundry, left on lights, and unmade beds. That just seems to be how life works.
But there is an incredibly happy ending to this woeful tale. You see, I thought about dying the shorts red since they were already spotted with the deep crimson ink. At least the shorts would be wearable and the waste of good money would be reversed. But instead, in a fit of passion, I dumped a capful of bleach into the slop sink, stopped up the drain and immersed the shorts beneath a two inch layer of milky colored Clorox. When I returned the next morning, the ink spots were virtually gone! The khaki green color of the shorts hadn’t faded one iota. But the ink was barely visible.
Emboldened by my Clorox ingenuity, I then started to rub out the remaining hint of stains with a combination of Shout and Oxy-Clean spray. With each vigorous rubbing, the stains seems to lighten until I truly couldn’t see them anymore. What an accomplishment! I had managed to rid my son’s shorts of all remnants of red ink. I felt like a million bucks. And then it hit me — hard. I am actually rejoicing giddily over a laundry accomplishment. Dear God, what has become of me? I’m a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of Michigan, an award-winning journalist, an accomplished professional actor and spokesperson. But I am literally elated to have gotten a stain out of my son’s cargo shorts. My, how the years change one.
The bottom line is this: No matter how hard we try, we are destined to become our mothers, our fathers, and all of the practical guides and guardians we railed against vehemently in our youth. “Turn off the lights!” “Empty your pockets!” “Don’t leave the empty box of Nutrigrain bars in the pantry!” Whatever your personal bugaboo, sometimes it’s easier to simply acknowledge that kids make mistakes and truly it wont be long until you’re all alone in a big house, with extra closet space and barely enough laundry to do a single load. Appreciate the ink spots while you can. And yes, celebrate the small successes and unexpected Oxy-Clean triumphs with jubilant adandon. Life is too short to ignore your victories, no matter how trivial they may seem.