Wash and wear and tear

If cleanliness is next to godliness, then why does laundry so often seem like a little slice of Hell?

Laundry, like a lot of household chores, is never finished. You wash clothes, you dry clothes, you neatly hang them in a closet. Then somebody comes along and wears them, and you must start all over again.

Doing laundry resembles the eternal punishment of Sisyphus in Greek mythology, whose job in Hades was to roll a heavy stone up a hill only to have it roll back to the bottom. Every time. Forever.

Sisyphus didn't have to worry that someone might've left a leaky ballpoint pen in a pocket of the heavy stone. But such danger exists in any household that includes laundry and children.

The other day, I found a scrunched-up candy wrapper in the bottom of the washer. A wrapper that clearly, until very recently, had contained actual candy. (As opposed to the endless number of empty wrappers that usually turn up.)

Closer examination found that every garment in the load was streaked with chocolate. Repeated washings got out most of the stains, but what should've been a quick load of laundry became an all-day exercise in rolling that rock up that hill.

I wanted to blame my two sons for the candy fiasco. (Actually, I wanted to beat them with wet blue jeans, but other members of the household deemed that a bit harsh.) The truth is, though, that the blame rests solely with the manufacturers of today's trousers.

Have you looked at boys' clothes lately? Each pair of pants now comes equipped with an average of 47 zippered pockets. That's a conservative estimate, and may be a tad low.

Parents of boys know to check every pocket of every garment before tossing it into the washer. This is because boys tend to load their pockets with gravel and homework papers and leaky pens and toys and candy and live frogs. Now, with so many pockets involved, you're almost certain to overlook one. And that pocket, according to Murphy's Law, will be the one containing the live frog.

Contemporary fashions also dictate that boys wear pants so baggy that entire Bedouin families could reside within them. Two pairs of these giant pants can make an entire load. And, at 47 pockets per pair, well, you get the picture.

As they get older, kids change their clothes more often. I don't know what it's like for daughters, but here's how it works with boys: When they're pre-schoolers, they have one or two favorite garments and refuse to wear anything else. A 5-year-old boy is perfectly willing to stand around naked while you wash his Superman shirt rather than slip into something clean.

But once boys reach a certain age -- around the time they decide that maybe girls don't have "cooties" after all -- they are driven by instinct to change clothes every few minutes to remain fashionably "cool." Some garments are worn so briefly they're not even dirty. Yet enough time has elapsed to fill the pockets with leaky pens and frogs. Go figure.

Why, you might ask, don't I make my boys do their own laundry? Why not let them wash their clothes separately and be responsible for their own pocket checks? And if they do laundry the same slapdash way they do other chores, why not let them suffer the consequences?

Good questions. My only answer is: Do we, as a society, really want frogs to become endangered species?

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