The Coin-Operated Time Machine

I went time-traveling yesterday—visiting both the past and the future. I had a fellow traveler, my daughter, and our time machine was the Dew Drop Laundromat.

No, I didn’t climb into a dryer and go spinning off into the past or the future. My body stayed right there in the plastic chair between the first and second rows of coin-operated washing machines.
It was my mind that went traveling.

Just being in the laundromat took me back to those years, well before my daughter was born, when doing the laundry meant stuffing everything into a couple of big baskets and loading it into the car, trying to remember every time to bring along the detergent and the dryer sheets. The memories came back vividly: The sense of impatience, feeling as if I were wasting time as I waited around for the machines to finish. The steamy air, scented with soap and fabric softener. The difficulty of concentrating on a book amid the noise of the machines and the distraction of the inevitable shriek of little kids running back and forth and climbing on the tables. The tinge of discomfort over folding my underwear in public. The secret antagonism toward the other customers, competitors who might get to the empty machines first. The relief of getting home with everything clean, dry, and folded, knowing I wouldn’t have to do it all again until next week.

That was my trip back into the past. It was a brief ramble, completely untouched by nostalgia, that sent me home with a strong urge to dash downstairs and hug the washer and dryer.

My trip into the future was even shorter, but it was far more unsettling.
This visit to the laundromat was my daughter’s chore, not mine, a chance for us to spend some time together while she got her laundry done. She was the one who knew how many quarters the machines took and how long their cycles lasted. She knew where to get change, where the bathroom was, and that the tentatively friendly resident Chihuahua’s name was Amber. I was merely the helper. I was the one sent to the counter to turn a ten-dollar bill into a roll of quarters, the one asking, “Which load do you want this shirt in?”

Being the subordinate in this way, watching my capable and confident daughter who has recently become so grown-up, I got a glimpse of what our relationship may be like in another 25 or 30 years. For just a moment, it felt as if our parent/child roles were reversed.

I didn’t entirely like it. My daughter tells me that when I get old she wants me to come and live with her so she can take care of me. That loving concern pleases me greatly. That doesn’t mean I’m in any hurry to take advantage of it.

Right now I’m in a wonderful position with my young-adult kids. I still have plenty of “mom” status when it comes to giving them support, encouragement, and (solicited—usually!) advice. At the same time, I don’t have to cook for them, bug them to clean their rooms, wait up at night for them, or pay their dental bills. I like that position. I’m free of the responsibilities of day-to-day parenting, yet I’m still respected as “Mom who can help take care of this.”
I don’t look forward at all to giving that up in favor of being “Mom who needs to be taken care of.”

Maybe the wiser course is not to look forward to it. Maybe I should limit my time traveling and focus on enjoying the relationship I have with my kids in the here and now. Maybe it’s a good idea to remember that sometimes the laundry is just the laundry.

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