Call Me Forgetful and Newly Grateful

(Editor’s Note: Michelle Sinclair is the daughter of columnist Melodie Davis, she is married and works in Washington, D.C. She is returning as a guest columnist every other month after a maternity leave for the birth of James, now four months old.)

Since having a baby last November, I have had many little pity parties because of the cramped conditions in our townhouse.

Talk about a rookie mistake.

It was Saturday morning, and I had left my husband at home with our four-month-old son while I trekked to the Laundromat to wash the bulky mattress pad James had so lovingly initiated through the leg of his diaper. We rarely have to venture to the Laundromat, but I felt extra prepared, with a fistful of quarters and a book on my Kindle so I wouldn’t have to resort to the daytime soaps for entertainment.

Carefully, I followed the step-by-step instructions on the machine. Step 1. Load machine. Step 2. Select cycle. Step 3. Pour detergent.

Detergent. Oh dear.

I glanced around me, wondering if the ladies chatting pleasantly in Spanish could tell I was the idiot who went to the coin laundry without any detergent. Of course detergent can be purchased there (for a hefty markup) so it was either buy some or run back home. I wasn’t more than 10 minutes from home, but that option also meant wrestling the mattress pad back out of the machine and into the car, and slinking back home, throwing our day’s (and the baby’s) schedule even more off-kilter.

Reader, I bought the detergent.

Since having a baby last November, I have had many little pity parties because of the cramped conditions in our townhouse. I fractured a toe at one point on the foot of a glider trying to rush to my crying baby—and proceeded to whack it again doing the same thing the following week. Baby things are everywhere, not always because I don’t have time to put them away, but because there is nowhere to put them away.

And yet days like last Saturday remind me that by at least some standards, we are most definitely in the “have” column. Even without the unnecessary detergent purchase, it cost me nearly $5 to do one load of laundry, not to mention the solid hour where I couldn’t get anything else done at home. On top of that, I had to wait for a day when my husband could watch the baby because it would have been another trial to keep James entertained and happy all that time. As small as our stacked washer and dryer unit is, the convenience and savings of having it in our home is immeasurably better than needing to take our laundry elsewhere.

I thought about the men and women who have to do their laundry outside the home week in and week out, with babies and small children in tow because they have no other options. I thought of the expense added to already tight budgets, as well as the necessity of blowing money on disposable diapers because the every-other-day laundry cycle of cloth diapers would be unworkable. As often as I resent the size of our 900-square-foot townhouse (a significant chunk of that is wasted in stairway space), I am freshly appreciative of what we have—of even having a home at all. Alternately, who knows what kind of situation the people in the Laundromat came from before they moved here? Perhaps easy access to a peaceful place to wash their clothes is an appreciated convenience.

That same day on my way home, I stopped at the grocery store to buy a few things unfettered by baby. While I shopped, a man asked me for help locating things for his wife’s shopping list. This is my regular store, so I was happy to help him navigate the dizzying landscape of choices available in even a small U.S. supermarket (frozen or canned, low fat or original, Italian or plain, brand name or generic). As I was driving out of the parking lot, I saw him carrying his groceries to the bus stop. I use public transportation for my daily commute, but as familiar as I am with Metrobus delays, I am grateful I don’t have to use the bus for grocery shopping—particularly in ice-cream melting temperatures.

The rapid changes in modern technology have stirred our culture into a raging river of pressure to upgrade (car, phone, house, career) and it can be difficult to stand in place without being swept downstream. My husband and I often ask ourselves if the thing we want to upgrade is really something we need (versus want), and if we wouldn’t be better served financially by staying put a little longer. We usually try to err on the side of standing pat, but the odd new computer or car has been known to wiggle its way into our lives—but not without an obscene number of pros-and-cons lists.

After six years and multiple stubbed and fractured toes, we’re ready to move out of our little starter townhouse, but as I understand more each year, contentment isn’t something people obtain by finally having the right stuff—after all, the right stuff changes every business quarter.

Instead, it’s a matter of having perspective and gratitude no matter where we land on the “have” spectrum of life. We have our work cut out raising our post-millennial, middle-class, suburban son to understand that when he’s older, but I’m banking on that whole “united front” thing.

Maybe I’ll take him to the Laundromat—if I can remember the detergent.

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Posted 5/29/2014 7:00:00 AM

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