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Time Without Fanfare

July 16, 2012

The washer hasn’t been right for months now. We live in an apartment and the landlord has been informed. He’s not jumping through hoops to get anyone out here to assess the damage anytime soon. I’ve had the machine rigged for weeks. The Bic pen point stuck into the chamber that usually accepts the lid post, keeps the washer running through the cycles. Without the pen, the cycle stops right before the rinse cycle, leaving the washer full of dirty water and clothes. The smell is enough to make you seriously consider ever wearing that outfit a second time!

This week, the machine took a turn for the worse. I knew something was amiss when I noticed the pen cap laying on the top the dryer. After lamenting over the fact that it had to be this week, the week of the broken washer, that my toddler had an accident overnight which required an immediate change of bedding that I did not own, that I decided to walk away from the machine.

I loaded the sheets, blankets, and covers into the car, along with the kids and the rest of the dirty laundry from the week. We headed out for what I always remember to be an unpleasant experience, the Laundromat. I asked the kids to bring a backpack of coloring books and crayons to keep them occupied while we waited. Little did I know the backpack would be unnecessarily taking up space in my car, as those girls didn’t even have time to open it.

From the moment we parked the car, the girls were unloading baskets of clothing and cleaning supplies, transferring it all to those big wire baskets on wheels, and choosing machines that would correctly house the loads. We talked about what the machines do, how much they hold, and why they exist. They surveyed the articles of clothing, learned how to pre-treat the stains, and had a ball loading up the machines with laundry. They chose wash cycles based on colors, read instructions on the machines, and poured out detergent to the little line on the cap. My eldest daughter carried around a detergent cap filled with quarters and the two girls took turns filling the slots with coins when it was time to turn the machine on. The three of us worked together, moving like a swarm of bees from machine to machine, chit-chatting about laundry and life, taking time to point out the cool gadgets on the machines, and what television shows were playing in the background, until six loads of laundry had been completed.

My kids have never done laundry before. At three and eight, it’s completely feasible that the eldest could have been doing her own laundry for a few years, like some of her friends. She hadn’t, though. She’s never looked at a machine, asked to pour the detergent, or voiced any curiosity about the laundry process whatsoever. They don’t want to come near the basement in our building, which houses the washer and dryer, because it’s dark, dirty, and damp. They’ve most certainly never offered to help. Shame on me, as I’ve most certainly never asked for their assistance! What’s more astounding is that I hadn’t asked them for their company.

We had more real conversation in the hour and a half we were at the Laundromat than we’ve had in the past two days of bike-riding, swimming, and playing Go Fish. We talked about things that matter, like how many quarters it takes to equal $2, and how many minutes it will take to dry a down comforter. We wondered what type of dessert someone might have spilled to create that type of stain and laughed at the designs the soap bubbles made in the washers. It’s not the activity that matters, it’s the quality time spent. When the expectation of “an event” is removed, most folks, including kids, naturally relax and open up.

Sometimes I think we put all this pressure on ourselves as parents to create a rich and varied atmosphere for our kids so they will thrive on the challenge and ingenuity of the activity. While some of that is important, I’m here to tell you it’s not the activity that matters, it’s the time spent together. The things kids remember are the experiences with their parents, grandparents, and friends, regardless of the events those experiences were derived from. Their memories fade of the carnival, the rides, and the treats, but they always make mention of that one time with Pops when they trimmed the trees together.

I truly enjoyed myself with my children today. After laundry, we went to the post office, the farmer’s market, and the grocery store. They assumed active roles at each stop, without me asking them to do a thing. They took pleasure in completing their self-initiated tasks of shopping, checking things off lists, and price checking. They took time to window-shop at the farmer’s market for flowers and treats, and they welcomed the responsibility of affixing stamps to the envelopes before dropping them into the mailbox. I looked at them not only as my children and my companions, but also as dependable little people. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they could almost function on their own!

Kids like being useful and having purpose. They’re proud of themselves when they learn something new, and most times they enjoy collaborating with others. Interact with them outside of the formal activities we seem so anxious to plan for them, and you can see that for yourself. Our kids are people who just want to be part of something, yet we tend to treat them as clients that we need to impress with celebration and sport. They don’t need the royal treatment. They just need some of your time.

Stacy lives in Chicago with her partner, Katie, and their two daughters. She writes about any and everything, but focuses on parenting issues. Read more at her blog Parent Unplugged.

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