The Dubious Principles of Laundry and the Single Parent

There’s brilliant book of short stories that Steve Martin wrote in the 70s called Cruel Shoes. I fell in love with the bizarre title story in about fifth grade, which essentially began and ended with the same thought: “Well, that’s every shoe in the place. Unless, of course, you’d like to try...the cruel shoes.”

Thalia owns a pair of pants known as The Crazy Pants. And that Steve Martin line echoes in my head every time we’ve scraped her drawers for the last vestiges of something clean and presentable and are left with this stupid pair of green and raspberry tropical print, flared leggings that I bought in a momentary state of delusion, coerced by an expiring credit from a store I generally despise.

Well, that’s every pair in your drawer, Thalia. Unless, of course, you want to try…the crazy pants.

Friday, after two long weeks of no laundry, we were down to the crazy pants.

Saturday we were down to digging her jeans out of the hamper, smelling them, and justifying well – we probably won’t run into anyone we know anyway.

And so Saturday night, a night I generally can be found slumming it at Soho House with SJP or snorting blow off a stripper’s DDDs with Charlie Sheen, I committed to doing laundry.

I had two good hours before Nate left for work at 7:30 (Whoo. Night shifts.) and so I trod up one flight in our apartment building with two washers’ worth of clothes and got bizz-ay.

I walked back into our place in time for Nate to say, okay well…have a good night. Sage is down and I have to go.

Wha-a? No! Wait! don’t leave!

You suburban parents, you have no idea how lucky you are to escape this monstrous conundrum. Why, you can just leave your children in bed during naptimes, go downstairs one flight, maybe two flights to the laundry room. Or maybe it’s a whole McMansion’s width away. In any case, never once does some sanctimommy yell, BUT WHAT IF THERE WERE A FIRE? You take on static cling while your angels peacefully slumber overhead and never hear that taunting voice in your head, ARE YOU CRAZY, YOU COULD GET STUCK IN THE ELEVATOR. You can even fold an entire oversize load of clothes, doing battle with temperamental collars and demanding linens right on the dryer, all while feeling confident that no one in the playgroup would challenge your decision with OH MY GOD ISN’T THAT ILLEGAL?

Nate kindly agreed to wait ten more minutes, at least until I could get everything in the dryer. Worst case scenario, Nate grabs the clean, if wrinkled, clothes on his way back home at midnight and we pray that one of my creepier neighbors hasn’t left them on the top of the machine as he (rightfully) commandeers it for his own.

But when I raced upstairs, I had no idea that the digital readout would taunt me by flashing the word IMBALANCE, and that 25 minutes of wash time still remained.

I returned. Nate left. And about 20 minutes later, I did the crazy New York parent laundry move. God help me.

With Sage snoring and Thalia cuddled up in front of some Elmo movie on the verge of sleep, I raced upstairs, two at a time, (OH MY GOD WHAT IF THE STAIRS BROKE DOWN WHILE YOU WERE ON THEM) and hurled that heap of wet tangled clothes from one machine to the next like I was a Fear Factor contestant flinging an armful of snakes into a tank for the win. And the whole time, I’ve got fellow Brooklynite Mr. Nice Guy’s story in my head about how he not only left his kids while they slept one time, but got locked out of his apartment in the process. I figured at least that can’t happen to me – I didn’t even bother to lock the door.

Panting, I flew back into our apartment maybe 3 minutes after I had left. Thalia hardly even noticed my return. My laptop remained on and untouched next to her as I had left it, as I became aware I had done so semi-intentionally, with the fleeting (if entirely implausable) theory that my two year-old could bang on enough keys to trigger some sort of emergency signal to the proper authorities should the need arise. Oh common sense, why hast thou forsaken me in my time of need.

As I write this now at 8:48, both kid are sleeping. Nate is serving grilled baby octopus with shaved fennel to fancy people. And my laundry grows cold and untouched in the dryer.

Or so I hope.

I’m not going back up there to find out.


43 thoughts on “The Dubious Principles of Laundry and the Single Parent”

  1. Oh, darlin’ — I lived like that when Ben was a baby. And always, always, I thought — is this SO DIFFERENT (legally, morally) from what it would be if I traversed this same distance in my mansion?The thing that sent me, oh did it ever send me, when we bought the house we live in now? That the washer and dryer are just off the kitchen. I KNOW! I’m such a freakin’ stereotype!But yes, clearly I <>do<> feel your pain.

  2. I would have run up and brought the dry clothes down. And kept quiet about it.I care for my totally disabled husband who should not be left alone. And I have left him alone for up to an hour. Yes, I think about fires, car accidents, etc. And so far I’ve been lucky.A five minute round trip to the floor above is no worse than taking a shower while the girls are sleeping. Give yourself a break. And then don’t write about it.

  3. Goodness, Liz. In the “suburbs” (or Midwest city living), we leave our kid(s) in the car in the garage while we race the groceries in the house because toddlers don’t make good bag handlers. Or leave the little ones caged in behind their gates downstairs for 5 min while we run upstairs to change into a different pair of shoes. Sheesh, you think we have it so easy. 😉

  4. If it makes you feel any better, I often sneak on to my suburban patio to have an illicit cigarette when my kids are sleeping. At least you’re running upstairs for a good reason.

  5. We do have apartment buildings in the suburbs, too, you know 😉 When I lived in an apartment, in the suburbs, that did not have an in-unit laundry hookup, I had to walk outside and walk about a half a mile to the apartment complex laundromat. There was no leaving the sleeping kid with that kind of distance. I used to take the baby in a snugli front-facing carrier, and carry the laundry below him in a basket, with my arms stretched straight out to keep him from sitting in the dirty clothes. In the wintertime, I would often find myself doing this in the dark. Once a strange man came up behind me and pinched my butt while I was walking, and I couldn’t do anything but shout, whirl around and glare at him until he ran off, because I couldn’t very well run with the baby strapped to my chest. So, I totally absolve you for leaving the kids in the apartment for ten minutes while you went downstairs. I swear laundry trauma is two-thirds of the reason I bought a house.

  6. Ugh. Laundry. My early parental moments were spent in an apartment with a dark, tiny laundry room down three flights, outside, into a padlocked garage. I now have a perfectly operational washer and dryer in my basement that I still manage to avoid.

  7. That blessed washer and dryer just off my kitchen is one on a very short list of things that keeps me in this adjustable rate mortgage. Last time it adjusted up (why is it never down?) I compared the cost of moving/risking having to use a laudromat again/losing my mind to the additional interest. Let’s just say, I’m still here.I agree with Kathy – give yourself a break. 🙂

  8. When I go to my basement to do laundry, I leave sippy cups of water and milk and a bowl of Cheerios on the table. And I’m not even kidding. It’s crossed my mind that I might slip down the stairs and break my crown and it would be six hours before someone would come home.Laundry. Hate it. Love disposable clothes, sorry Al Gore, but good gravy do I hate laundry.Does that baby monitor reach that far? Seriously, we just got walkie-talkies so the kids could make longer journeys around the block – or I could – and we have open reception.

  9. As an NYC-mommy alum, this made me laugh and laugh. I’m totally envious at the thought that a) that picture could be your real laundry room and that b) your apt. is only one flight away. We lived on floor 19 – and I thought long and hard many a time about sneaking out to load the dryer while Lizzy napped in a crib she couldn’t climb out of.

  10. Well, if you have that Midwestern Utopia of laundry in your basement?You gotta have the Midwestern Hair to go with.I’m just saying.

  11. I feel like I can never complain about doing laundry again. At least mine doesn’t involve any worries of broken stairs or being trapped in elevators.

  12. You know, slipping and hitting your head in the bathroom and becoming unconscious are possible, too. Being the only parent on duty is hard whether you are hopping into the shower or running upstairs to do laundry. No worries. And by that I mean, of course there are worries, but don’t feel too bad about doing a little laundry.

  13. I know my fortune wrt to my (a) small house and (b) in house washer and dryer (large capacity). I do one load a day, I kid you not.I second the question about baby monitors. I know mine had some range. I’d hang outside with the neighbors, monitors in hand, watching the pack animals err I mean kids, race around together.In Boston I used a laundry service, but they pissed me off by returning slightly damp, badly folded clothes.I guess I am a picky laundress.Julie< HREF="" REL="nofollow">Using My Words<>

  14. I often go outside to hang up my laundry while my daughter naps in a room upstairs, on the other side of the house. I don’t feel bad at all. No different to going up one flight of stairs if you ask me. Laundry is a pain in the ass, especiallyl here in merry old England where tumble dryers are as rare as George Bush’s witty quips.

  15. God I’m such an asshat. Here I’ve been complaining that my laundry isn’t upstairs like all the other new houses. I mean, I have to carry it up ONE FLIGHT of stairs to put it away. I’m so spoiled.

  16. Just yesterday I was telling Tacy the story of how Kyle and I locked ourselves out of the apartment (pitching garbage down the chute) one night while she was asleep. We jimmied the door using the doorman’s nameplate.

  17. I won’t rub it in, but my laundry room is exactly 7.5 steps from my bedroom.Of course, George Clooney doesn’t make movies in my building and I live in Georgia.

  18. Once when I was pregnant with kid 2, I left a party early and came home with friends while my husband stayed at the party. They dropped me off at home and drove away. Then I realized that SOMEONE had to drive the babysitter home, four blocks away. I knew if I woke my toddler, he’d be up for hours and I felt crappy enough at that hour and stage of pregnancy. So, in my logical pregnant brain I debated forever if it was better to lock the house or not lock the house, close the garage door or not close the garage door, call a neighbor (at midnight) to come babysit…. I drove her home in a sweat, rushed home and checked on my sleeping babe, who didn’t know the difference. But I was too worked up to fall asleep until after my husband got home from the party.

  19. No kids here, but damn I am glad to not have to take the laundry out anymore. Now I’m the one to blame if the clothes shrink.

  20. Karen, hell no. that’s London Terrace. I could post my own laundry room but I’d need a wide angle lens since it’s so small that the washer door smacks into the dryer in front of it.And yeah, at least it’s not 11 flights down like it used to be at my own place. Good point!

  21. I used to plunk the kids down in front of Pinky Dinky Doo and run out and get the mail, which is maybe 20 steps from my front door, but because it’s around the side of my house I can’t SEE the front door. But when it’s 0 degrees outside I am not putting 4 kids in snowsuits just to get a few pieces of junk mail. I used to fret about someone waiting for me to leave and then running in my front door. Now that my oldest is 8, I make him go get the mail and I stay inside with the other kiddos. But now I fret about him getting kidnapped off the street. The worry never ends.

  22. Holy moly, I never even thought of that particular circle of hell you must have to endure. BTW, I would’ve done the same exact thing you did. Is it really any different from when I leave my kids in the house to run down to the mailbox at the side of the road? Although, I may kiss my washing machine today when I start to do yet another load.

  23. Oh, I used to do that. I even went all the way down to the mailbox from the 11th floor. I never left the building though.I do so like having my own washer/dryer now that we have a house.

  24. Hmmm… I think maybe I’d wait until they were both sleeping (it’s the awake ones that worry me), and then carry the baby monitor with me. Do they work over multiple floors in an apartment building?

  25. OK, I can safely do the laundry, but I have this conundrum every time I have to walk the dog. So, I’ve been just letting her go out front, but my handyman just informed me that rats eat dog poop, so I’m essentially peppering my front yard with rat food. Now what???

  26. Nope, that is one irrational fear I don’t have to contend with. Although, much of it IS NOT irrational, is it? I mean, really, all those things COULD happen. I feel for you. I really do!

  27. Oh Jeez the things we take for granted in the land of cul-de-sacs. Heck, my neighbors didn’t really believe we had a baby for the first year or so because we moved in when she was 2 weeks old and I only came outside and socialized when we was sleeping.

  28. I have my laundry on the second story, just steps away from the bedrooms. Sounds great, unless you have light sleepers. Then you can never do laundry when the kids are sleeping, because it always wakes them up. And once again, we’re back to the crazy pants.

  29. If you are a bad mom for leaving your kids for 3 minutes to switch the laundry, then I am so going to hell.I leave my kids alone to walk 1/2 a block to check the mail. If I’ve forgotten something in the apt (like the baby’s pacifier) but I’ve already strapped the kiddos in the car, I lock the door and run in to get it. Of course, I don’t live in NYC, either. I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere. (150 miles to the nearest Target and decent restaurants.)But really, don’t sweat it. The laundry’s got to get done, right?

  30. Ha. I’ll tell you something. Living in a three-story narrow house, I still have this panic. If she’s not asleep at naptime, it freaks me out to go down two flights where I wont’ hear if she falls out of bed and breaks an arm or wanders out into the bathroom and starts the forbidden hot tap. Or what if I fall down the rickety basement stairs to the waiting concrete below and she wakes up to no mother? yeah, I know this.

  31. I am one of those said suburbs people. On my myspace i refer to myself as ‘comfortingly suburban’. The front loader is the best thing we ever bought. It saves on water and the clothes tend to be less harassed (my socks often interfere with my wifes stockings, dirty little buggers). I live on 1/4 of an acre so Australian clothes lines are usually bigger than the average apartment. Sorry to rub it in.

  32. thank you for bringing to mind The Cruel Shoes — freakin’ hee-larioius! I’m now off to dig up my Steve Martin concert record (yes, AN ACTUAL ALBUM, PEOPLE) with that bit for a listen…<>The screams were incredible.<>snort.

  33. don’t feel bad. how else would laundry get done? i’ve even had to move the car while a certain someone slept. don’t let them flame me!

  34. Wow. I lived in NYC for two years and I remember it being a pain doing laundry just for myself. The up side is though that I still haven’t gotten over the joy of having a washer/dryer in my house now (even after 6 years) and so my husband and I both really like doing laundry. He was raised in NYC and lived there until he was 30.

  35. I have totally blanked the shared laundry room from my memory, especially the times when I was five minutes late getting back and someone has moved my stuff out of the dryer. Ick.

  36. Ok, so here’s the suburban counter-part to your laundry conundrum–It’s sub-freezing temperatures outside, your son has just gotten out of the shower and decided on his “shortie” PJ’s, you are scrambling to get his dinner ready, not to mention the gourmet “birthday dinner” for your husband’s 41st. You have potatoes roasting in the oven and want to lovingly pick your spouse up at the train station down the excrutiating steep hill since it IS his birthday. Hey, it’s only two minutes…you feel pretty good about your decision to let Spongebob watch your child and oven while you dash out to grab your husband until he exclaims, “What? You left him at home?”Thank God he didn’t figure out the part where the oven was on.

  37. I love Cruel Shoes!But I take it then that if I were to complain that when my kids were babies, they were such light sleepers I didn’t DARE turn on the washer or open/close the dryer while they were sleeping, you might not sympathize so much? Suburbia is hell you know.

  38. Laughing my ass off. Because I was the dumbass who was once locked out of her apartment by her clever two year old when she raced up the stairs, down the hall and did the laundry dash while my girl and my infant son were supposed to be asleep. Lovely girl of mine woke up and thought it would be a good time to learn how to twist the dead bolt shut…after dragging a stool over to the door to reach the blinkin’ thing and be ever so helpful to her mommy.While I stood outside the door, pounded, wept and wailed until the neighbour took pity on me and went to get a spare key because there was no way I was going to leave that door with my children locked on the other either side of it.Good times.

  39. oh, hah, I’ve done this so many times. I’ve got three kids now and we still don’t live in a normal house, or even an apartment with laundry in it. I used to take the baby monitor across the hall to my neighbor wwho sometimes baby sat and beg her to just keep it on and listen for noise for 2 minutes while I sprinted up the block to pick up a fax and back home while my babies were napping. I should be ashamed I suppose.I hate it when my DH is late coming home on laundry day. I keep putting off picking up the dry laundry until he gets through the door so I don’t have to cart off three kids to the laundry room and get home with several loads and babies.

  40. Oh, I’ve felt similar conundrums. Do you leave the toddler in the car while you move things in and out of the house? Or is it better to put them in the house unattended?When you pay for you gas (at a station without pay-at-the-pump) do you unload them and juggle them on your hip, or do you lock the car for the 45 seconds it takes to pay?Do I go outside to shovel while the baby is napping, or do I let it pile up to the point where I break my back later?I swear, our parents had it easier in so many ways. They never thought twice about this stuff!

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