Did you ever have one of those conversations where you wonder if you’re actually talking to aliens from a different planet?
Once upon a time, I was hanging out with a couple of nice church ladies, and they were discussing their housekeeping habits, and their shortcomings, and I was keeping quiet, as one does when one is out of one’s league.
In a tone of confiding guilt, one of the women suddenly burst out, “You know, sometimes I go to bed … and leave dirty dishes in the sink!”
After the appropriate moment of shocked silence another chimed in, “I’ve done that too … a few times!!”
Up till that point in my life, I had not even been aware that going to bed with dishes left undone was considered an infraction of the Household Code. Clearly something had been missing in my education, because the Church Ladies were discussing it in tones suitable for revealing that their husbands like to prance around in the wives’ underwear, or some other secret shame.
So let’s get it out in the open: I routinely go to bed and leave unwashed dishes in the sink. I also go to work in the morning with unwashed dishes in the sink, hoping someone will have miraculously cleared them all away. This actually does happen on Friday, but that’s because I pay the cleaner $40 to spend half a day making miracles happen. Other than that, I’m pretty much left to pick up after myself (and the rest of the family).
I am training the kids to do dishes, but it’s a slow process to get to the point where they are actually leaving the kitchen cleaner than they found it. I usually have to do a pre-wash and a post-wash on the nights they do dishes — the pre-wash to get rid of some of what’s there so they won’t cry out in agony at how many dishes they have to wash, and the post-wash to clean the things they didn’t touch (like the dreaded Black Handled Knives).
I have a love/hate relationship with dishes. I hate doing them, but I love having them done. We used to have a dishwasher, but when it broke down we didn’t replace it because I didn’t really find it reduced the workload and mess all that much.
One great thing about dishes, though — clearing the counters really does sort of metaphorically clear the mental decks. I come home feeling overwhelmed, as I did today, and it just seems like I will never get control of the house and the kids and the job and the life. And then I do the one thing that absolutely has to be done, that I can’t put off any longer — pitch in and wash dishes.
Sometimes the actual doing of them is not that bad — I have what the immortal Peg Bracken said everyone should have, a window over the sink, and sometimes, like tonight, if I do the dishes just at twilight and stare out, past the neighbour’s yard to the next yard down where two bare trees are silhouetted against the sky that’s just turning from sunset gold to that amazing twilight blue — and the branches look like lace — then it can almost become a peaceful moment. Dishwashing as a spiritual practice. At least it’s more practical than yoga (though maybe not as good for my back).
And then, as the dirty dishes start to disappear and inches of clear countertop reveal themselves, peace descends: life is manageable, after all. At least, this one tiny corner of it — I can take something that seems chaotic, and bring order to it. And if I can do it in the sink, perhaps I can do it in other areas too.