this (wash­ing) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Wendy Beggs

I SIT down for a rest as I of­ten do af­ter hang­ing out two loads of wash­ing. At least four loads of it on the week­ends. I try to give my hus­band a rest be­cause he is a stay-at-home dad while I work all week.

Two of my sons are play­ing on the slip­pery dip, the four-year-old mark­ing a cross on it in chalk. ‘‘There’s the trea­sure,’’ he tells his twoyear-old brother, both of them laugh­ing as the younger one slides down and it dis­ap­pears. My 17-year-old son is out.

I watch their wash­ing spin­ning about in the wind. It’s all hung up­side down in dif­fer­ent sizes. The 17-year-old’s wash­ing hangs nearly to the ground, his school pants so long. He tow­ers over me now, more than 180cm tall.

The four-year-old’s are a lot shorter, the twoyear-old’s even more so. I re­mem­ber the 17-year-old’s used to be as short as the twoyear-old’s. Where did that time go?

The pants are all in colours, but there’s lots of navy be­cause of the 17-year-old’s school uni­form. Some of the navy wash­ing has white splodges on it from tis­sues left in the pocket.

My son will moan when he sees this and get out his spe­cial linen tool that takes all the bits of tis­sue off. He buys such tools him­self now, used to the mess the tis­sues make.

I never did learn how to wash prop­erly. My mother tried to teach me: ‘‘Never put the whites with the navies,’’ she said. ‘‘Check the pock­ets for tis­sues.’’ But now I have given up and just do the wash­ing in cold wa­ter. That way you still end up with the tis­sues but ev­ery­thing doesn’t run.

The boys’ bod­ies fit into these clothes at dif­fer­ent times of the day. There are dif­fer­ent coloured py­ja­mas with chil­dren’s prints or all-in­one suits that zip up the front to keep them warm when they throw the cov­ers off in the cold night. Jocks for the two-year-old, who is toi­let­train­ing, are all up­side down in a row.

Some track­pants have holes in the knees that I have sewn up so the next son can get some more wear out of them.

One day the lit­tle ones’ wash­ing will be as long as their brother’s. I hope I don’t blink and miss this one as quickly.

My 19-year-old daugh­ter comes out­side. ‘‘I have to do some wash­ing,’’ she sighs, plonk­ing her­self down on the chair next to me.

I stopped do­ing hers and mak­ing her lunch when she went to high school. Usu­ally she washes when she needs it.

This week she is on her first place­ment from univer­sity, where she is train­ing to be a nurse. They have put her in the de­men­tia ward of a nurs­ing home so she has to change her cloth­ing more of­ten.

‘‘If you get the bas­ket I can put it on,’’ I tell her. ‘‘Well the bas­ket has the clean clothes in and the dirty ones are all over the floor!’’ she says. We laugh to­gether and I look at her, this clever daugh­ter of mine. ‘‘Go and swap it,’’ I tell her, and she goes back inside.

I stand up and sigh. Time to take it in. ‘‘Can I help?’’ my four-year-old asks me.

I drag two of the iron chairs across the gar­den and the boys climb up. The two-year-old can’t reach so I pass a T-shirt to him and he throws it at the bas­ket.

He misses and it falls on the grass. We laugh. Only a bit of dirt and we can al­ways put it in the wash next week­end.

We carry it inside and they help me put it in the drawer. Who cares if it is folded prop­erly as long as it smells nice and clean?

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