Of all the crosses that have come my way since joining the ranks of motherhood, one of the most maddening has got to be the fake laundry. For the blissfully uninitiated, I should explain: Fake laundry consists of perfectly clean clothing that somehow manages to tumble out of children’s closets or dresser drawers and onto the floor, where it gets kicked around a bit and maybe shoved under a bed or into a toy box before clean-up time, when some small person discovers it… and dumps it into the dirty clothes hamper.
See what I mean? It looks like laundry, and at this point might even smell a bit like laundry, but it is completely and totally fake. Nothing makes me madder faster than spending my time washing clothing that I am certain nobody even wore. I have enough of the real stuff to keep me busy.
So busy, in fact, that I have sometimes resorted to some pretty desperate maneuvers in my efforts to beat back the laundry beast. For example, a few years ago, before most of my kids were old enough to know better, I had an idea to get all the kids “uniforms” to wear to Mass.
I bought the girls long navy skirts with Peter Pan–collared white blouses. I bought the boys pleated navy slacks with white, long-sleeved polo shirts. I even bought the then three-year-old an adorable navy jumper that she adored.
I kept these “Mass uniforms” together in one drawer where they were always clean and ready to wear, and for a short season they really did streamline our Sunday morning scramble. I see why schools do this kind of thing. There was no more racing around the house in a desperate attempt to find everyone something clean and appropriate to wear to church. There were no more questions or complaints about what anyone should wear. I even managed to save myself a bit of laundry by insisting the kids remove their Mass clothes immediately after church so that we could get at least a couple of wearings out of them before they needed washing.
We might have looked a little Sound of Music at times, but at least we weren’t wearing the curtains. I even began to think that the Mass uniforms were one of my finest ideas. At great long last, my family could look nice with what didn’t feel like a lot of effort on my part.
They only looked nice, though, until we attended a “cake and cocoa” reception following Mass one Saturday evening. Did I mention that all the shirts are white? Or, more accurately, that they were white? When we left the hall, the kids were still perfectly matched — all were sporting that cocoa-dribbled look that’s so popular at these family-style gatherings.
I soaked, scrubbed, Oxi-cleaned, and bleached, all while praying to the patron saints of whites, darks, and gentle cycles. I also hatched a plan to buy black uniform tops for the next season. I figured that, instead of Sound of Music, we’d be beatnik.
The only problem was that, by the time the next season rolled around, my kids were a year older and wiser. Some of them even had the audacity to suggest that wearing matching outfits was in some way “un-cool” or “embarrassing.”
It wasn’t worth the battle. My one brilliant, laundry-saving idea had fallen hopelessly out of fashion. I headed back to the laundry piles, where I belonged.
Which brings me back to the fake laundry. When I emptied the hamper the other day, there it was. My old nemesis: the Shark Shirt.
The Shark Shirt is a black t-shirt with a small gray shark logo on the front that I have never ever seen on the bodies of any of my children. Or even on the dog, for that matter. And yet, magically, the Shark Shirt makes a regular appearance in the family laundry.
When I hold it in the air and ask, “Whose is this? Who wore this shirt?” I am met with silence. So I wash it, dry it, fold it, and return it to a boy’s dresser drawer.
This phenomenon fascinated me, and so I began to experiment. I put the shirt in Stephen’s drawer, and it appeared in the laundry the next day. I put the shirt in Ambrose’s drawer, and it appeared in the laundry the next day. I thought I must be losing my mind. I laughed at myself, and finally I put the shirt in Eamon’s drawer. Lo and behold, there was the shirt again the next day… back in the laundry.
Since the Shark Shirt mystery is exactly the sort of thing that I will be muttering about under my breath when at last they come for me with the “comfy coat” and “free ride on the special bus,” I determined to solve it once and for all.
As luck would have it, with my very first interview, I cracked the case.
“Stephen,” I asked my middle son. “I know you didn’t wear this shirt, but did you see anyone do anything with this shirt recently?”
“I did,” he answered innocently. “It’s my best cape.”
I returned the shirt to the laundry pile with a renewed sense of honor. Add this to my forever-growing list of job titles: Laundry maid… to Batman.