Washday blues

I'm about to hit an important milestone, and you know how much that can hurt.

Any minute now, by my calculations, I'll mark Laundry Load No. 10,000 of my married life.
Ten-thousand times that I've loaded the washer. Ten-thousand times that I've forgotten to put into the dryer the little fabric-softener sheet that my wife supplies. Ten-thousand times that I've been near-electrocuted by the resulting static electricity. Ten-thousand times that I've fluffed and folded and put away fresh clean clothes, only to have my sons throw them into the same pile with the dirty stuff.

Yes, 10,000 washer loads is a huge milestone, and it's depressing as hell. Why? Because, like most milestones, it's merely a marker on a long journey. I've got thousands more laundry loads in my future, and if that's not worth a ball-and-chain of dread, then I don't know what is.

How did I get locked into Eternal Laundry Hell? I made a deal with my wife.

Early in our marriage, my wife and I agreed: I'd do all the laundry (a job she despises) and she'd handle the bills and all household paperwork.

At the time, this seemed like a sweet deal. Laundry? Pish. It was just the two of us and, even in the years when the job required a trip to a coin-operated laundromat, keeping the clothes clean was easier than keeping track of insurance forms and credit-card receipts.

Besides, the thinking went, as a novelist I didn't need the burden of worrying about money; it could hinder my creative juices. Instead, I still worry about money all the time, but with a complete lack of knowledge of our household financial situation.

This has worked out very well so far. Our conversations about household finances tend to go like this:

Me: "How we doing?"

Wife: "OK."

Me: "Good."

Clearly, I have no idea whether the household paperwork has gotten harder over the years, but I'm fully aware that the laundry workload has increased tremendously. This is because we had children.

(Did my wife know kids were in our future when we set up this division of labor? Did she anticipate the approximately 17 jillion little baby shirts with spit-up on them? Hey, wait a minute . . . )

Each child doubles the amount of laundry in a household. How is this mathematically possible? I don't know. And how do families with six or seven kids keep up with it all? I don't know that, either. They must sleep in shifts so they can keep their washer going around the clock.

My laundry workload has fluctuated over the years. I do fewer loads per week now that my sons rarely spit up on their shirts. On the other hand, their clothes keep getting bigger and they insist on wearing the same jeans over and over. So it evens out in the long run.

These days, I do about a dozen loads per week, which comes out to more than 600 per year. It would be more, but many of my wife's clothes are "Dry-Clean Only." This is the only way she's found that will guarantee that I don't ruin her clothes by shrinking, staining, shredding or spindling them. Sure, dry cleaners are expensive, but she'll pay anything to keep her delicate dresses out of my clutches.

Everyday stuff -- jeans and T-shirts and socks -- get tougher to sort all the time because the kids keep growing. Now, they're both about the same size as my wife. (The dog's about that size, too, for that matter. Good thing he doesn't wear clothes.)

I'm forced to go through the laundry in slow-motion, holding up each T-shirt, trying to guess to whom it belongs by the message written on the chest. I often guess wrong, which results in the usual muttered complaints as the clean, misplaced T-shirt is thrown into the same pile with the dirty ones.

Then I come along, sighing, and gather up all the clean and dirty clothes and run them through the washer again.

Here's what I'm thinking: "10,001."

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