If you were to ask my mother to name one of the happiest days of her life so far, she might tell you, “The day I got married,” “The day my son got married,” or maybe, “The day my daughter got married.” (In my fantasies, she smiles brightly, dabs at her eyes, and replies, “The day you were born.” And then she leans in and whispers, “You’re my favorite. Don’t tell the others.”)
While all of these answers are appealing and each contains a profound amount of truth, I suspect she might be fibbing just a little.
I suspect that she might acknowledge as a contender the day she attended a seminar on teaching independent living skills to the blind. She came home, armed with a handful of new ideas and a sturdy container of Puffy Paint and set to work making all the household appliances accessible to me. And I waved a sad goodbye to my chore-free childhood.
For those of you unacquainted with the magic of Puffy Paint, it is a thick paint that dries and leaves a three-dimensional, tactile (puffy) impression. It is often used to decorate T-shirts, tote bags, and other frivolous items, unrelated to housework.
But Mom employed the Puffy Paint in all sorts of unwelcome places – squirting little dots around the dials of the washer and dryer, marking the buttons on the dishwasher, and labeling the gradations on the oven knobs. And as if that wasn’t enough, she then proceeded to teach me how to use each of these devices, all the while saying cheerily, “Just think, I am teaching you independent living skills! People pay for this kind of instruction! Later, when you’re living on your own, you’ll be glad you had a dedicated mom who taught you all this!”
Once I had memorized every dial in the house and learned the ins and outs of washing laundry or dishes, we moved on to vacuuming. Here I must confess, I have NEVER liked the vacuum. We have always had an uneasy relationship, because the vacuum produces a hideous, loud whine that I do not enjoy. But I had to get over this initial distaste and learn that vacuuming, just like most of the other chores, was something that did not require good vision. Mom taught me that the art to vacuuming was to cover the floor in a systematic pattern. Once she threatened to pour baby powder over an entire carpet to drive the skill home in a visual way, but we never had to employ that extreme tactic. I just started at a corner of the room and continued.
The principle of using a pattern rather than depending on one’s eyes carried over to dusting, mopping, and even scrubbing a toilet. The motion was what mattered; once you learned how to scrub a surface, it didn’t matter that you couldn’t see it.
This is not to say that I received an unfair share of chores, merely that I was taught to “do my part.” In a house with 6 people (2 parents and 4 children), we all had our assigned tasks. There was only one chore from which I was readily exempted.
Six people of varying ages and and at varying stages of life meant a lot of socks. A lot. Once clean, socks of all sizes, colors, and fabrics – argyle, silk, dress socks, grayish white socks with the occasional hole – all ended up in The Sock Basket, a worn out laundry basket that sat in a back corner of the house. No one ever wanted the duty of trying to match all those socks. This was such a loathsome chore that Mom assigned it as punishment if one of us got in trouble!
I don’t know what possessed me, but one day I volunteered to match socks. Maybe it was the mellow atmosphere of the room or the hours of dreamy contemplation the chore afforded. Maybe it was the tactile joy of handling all the different fabrics, freshly laundered and smelling like detergent. Somehow, the chore appealed to me, and Mom readily sent me off to match socks. So I sat for hours by the bin, happily pairing socks together.
It was not discovered until much later that I had no actual criteria for helping socks find their mates. If a pair felt good together, they went together. I believed in encouraging all sock alliances – argyle and silk, fuzzy and dressy, blue and black. All socks were created equal in my expert young opinion.
When this discovery was made, I finally received the satisfaction of being banned from a household duty.