Cleaning up after dinner was an intense experience growing up. My 2 older sisters and I were responsible and my brother, who was both the youngest and the boy, was exempt. One person washed, the other dried and the other cleaned up the kitchen and put everything away. There was always an argument over who did what and so we had a chart that we referred to. I was always having a problem with my older sister Elaine and when she was drying what I was washing sometimes she’d say, “This is still dirty” and throw it back in the sink. Was it spiteful or was it really dirty? It hardly mattered because either way I was annoyed at her. I’m the third daughter, Elaine is in the middle and Celia is the oldest. When I was washing with Celia drying, she’d sympathetically and quietly inform me if something was still dirty, which wasn’t too often, which I guess is proof that Elaine was being spiteful. I don’t know why because she’d have to dry the same thing twice, but in truth our mother’s fastidious ways rubbed off on all of us.
Spite, angry feelings, sibling rivalry, and just plain meanness, which was what the house I grew up in was like. Once when I was cleaning up after dinner and sweeping the floor, my father was in the way, so I was sweeping his feet and all around him. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I just learned about puns so happily I said, “I’m trying to sweep you off your feet.” What a sweet remark that was and any father worth his weight would be touched, but my father said, “Well, stop.” My smile disappeared, replaced by a momentary wave of sadness, then the numbness set in, my all-time most effective defense mechanism growing up.
After dinner chores were an indicator of the general atmosphere of family life. Lots of tension, so as soon as I could I left home and started my own life. Everywhere I went there were always dishes to wash, pots to scour clean and memories of bitterness would creep into my memory. It wasn’t really traumatic actually doing the dishes, but remembering all that hate and feeling the intense sadness along with unusually close inspection to ensure cleanliness made me feel uneasy about after dinner clean-up, that uneasy feeling came up for a long time.
The expression of time heals all wounds is sometimes a bit too sugar coated but I must say there is some truth to it because as I matured, lots of maturing because I am 71 now, compassion for who I was and who I am now has softened the harsh edges of my youth.
Now I live with my husband, no kids, but still dishes to wash. I don’t like the way he does dishes but I don’t want to put it back in the sink because it reminds me of the nastiness of my sister, so I quietly wash them again later, or before the next time I use them, but then I discovered something. I actually like washing dishes. I like the warm soapy water on my hands, and as I soap up each dish it’s a satisfying feeling, it soothes my soul. I carefully put the clean dish in the dish drainer (no I don’t have a dish washer) making sure it’s placed in properly. It’s a good feeling of accomplishment. But mostly the soothing feeling of soapy water relaxes me and if I sometimes I listen to soft music or a podcast it becomes a pleasant therapeutic and meditative experience, that is until I get to the pots and pans.