Not Quite a Saviour
“No more digging holes in the grass.” I sigh and hope I sound more patient than I feel.
Standing in front of the open sliding patio door, I wrap my sweater around me to ward off the chill of the early pandemic breeze, and bristle at my view of the backyard: three muddy children and a lawn littered with tiny holes.
Neighbourhood playground time, homeschool nature group meet ups, visits with grandparents, and casual shopping trips are piling up on our list of pandemic losses. And now, I’ve taken something else from them.
“But we want to dig,” my daughters plead, with such passion I question if they really mean, “But we want to live.”
A few days later, scraping the bottom of the barrel of creative pandemic parenting, my husband scrounges up some old bricks from the garage and hauls them to the backyard. With an audience of six eager eyes, he lays the bricks on the ground to mark off a small space in the back corner of the yard under the maple tree, where the grass is scarce. Our backyard fence and the bricks form a haphazard rectangle.
“You can dig as much as you want in here,” we tell our daughters, pointing to their new muddy sanctuary.
At first, they set up a restaurant serving rocks painted to look like slices of pizza, with a side of grass clipping, dandelion, and mud salad in a resurrected, cracked food processor bowl. Later, they replace the restaurant with an elaborate system of water-filled trenches. On another afternoon, they mix water and dirt until it’s the perfect consistency for finger painting muddy flowers on the fence.
Most afternoons end with a swampy puddle in my small suburban backyard and a heap of dirty laundry sitting beside the back door.
One evening, I carry the muddy pile towards the basement stairs in one hand; my other cups a pair of dripping socks at the bottom of the pile. I hold them away from my body, just far enough that my own clothes aren’t soiled, but not so far that the pile topples across the floor. In a balancing act that deserves a medal, I flick on the light switch at the top of the stairs with my elbow. Only a few drops of coffee-tinged water escape my palm.
After doing this dance dozens of times in a decade of parenting, I know one spin cycle will not be enough to erase the evidence, and I carry the soggy bundle to the laundry tub first, where I will rinse and scrub, piece by piece. Brown water swirls down the drain, and I take an inventory of today’s haul: three pairs of leggings covered in clumps of dirt, six soggy socks, two pairs of muddy underwear, three jackets streaked with earth, and one once-pink t-shirt.
There’s enough scrubbing and scraping and rinsing that there’s mud on my hands now too.
I scrub the stains, conjuring Lady Macbeth, finding spot after spot and willing them out, wondering if muddy laundry has ever been anyone’s undoing.
After rinsing my hands, I gather the unholy jumble in my arms again and cover the distance between the laundry tub and the open washing machine in a sprint. I heave the soggy clothes into the machine, and they hit the bottom with a splat. Cap full of unscented laundry detergent. Scoop of powdered hydrogen peroxide. A few sprays of stain remover on the most stubborn spots. Close the lid. Double rinse. Heavy soil. Deep water wash. Start. The washer whirs and fills and spins.
An hour later, the clothes are clean. They’re not quite whiter than snow, but the washing machine is not quite a saviour.
It is a trial for me, this rinse and repeat cycle of muddy laundry, of spilled smoothies and rogue meatballs, of harsh words and half truths, of the humanity unravelling inside my home and in my own soul. Of all the cleaning up that living (and living through a pandemic) requires. But, it must seem like magic to my daughters: drop a mountain of muddy clothes by the door, trust they’ll find them clean again. Every time.
I wish we all had that kind of faith.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series "Ordinary Inspiration."