Sunday, January 23, 2011

Iron your own boxers

Twenty-four years ago this week, my mother came for a visit on the last day of January, and she stayed just about a week. I had just had a baby, my second — her fifth and final grandson — and she flew to Atlanta the afternoon we came home from the hospital, to take care of me.

She really came to take care of my house. The babying, and the mothering of my then three-year-old Princess Pea, she would leave mostly to me.

I remember these things about that day: we had a flat tire before we could leave the hospital parking lot. My childhood friend, Lydia, in town from New York City for the apparel mart, came to see her newborn godson during his first hours home. A church friend brought over a spaghetti supper for us. And Graham curled his tiny fingers around his new blanket that 24 years later is practically in shreds.

I remember these things about that week: Graham slept a lot. My mother kept my house meticulously clean. One day she stood in my kitchen (the wood trim of which the previous owners had painted Pepto-Bismol Pink), ironing my husband's boxers and said, "if you'd touch them up with the iron after you wash them, he'd feel so much fresher." Or something like that. And then she got the flu.

In my post-partum recovery, I was in no mood to hear about my husband's need to feel fresher. I was still nursing my episiotomy, for heaven's sake. 

At the time, I remember saying: Who cares? But I probably just looked at her, tears in my eyes, wondering how in the world I would manage to add this gigantic detail to days already too full with life of my own making, for me to manage alone. 

For the record, I have never ironed my husband's boxers. He can iron them himself, thank you very much, should he feel the need to be fresher beneath his outer layers. He might need to, iron them, I mean, should he find himself in situations where someone would chastise him for not keeping his shorts pressed. But it is his own job to be at the ready for such times. Not mine.

I had forgotten this story until today, when I sat with a group of women discussing the book Four Word Self Help. It's a simple book, in which author Patti Digh sets out how to make our complex lives less complicated by generating four-word phrases that help us slow down, so we don't drown in the details. And not one of the phrases contains the word "don't", but each begins with action verbs (oh how I love those.) Create your own tribe. Pay attention to little people. Let other people in. Tell them your story. Do work that matters. Take just enough baggage. Walk hand in hand. Blow bubbles more often. (Or something like that.)

Simple stuff. Good stuff. So we went around the room, talking about the state of being women with jobs and homes and kids and husbands and stories, about how we hate to say no to people, and how sometimes our mothers won't throw the rotten fruit away from the bowls on our kitchen counters when they visit, because they are our bowls and our mothers don't want to interfere.

And then, I remembered what will be forever known in my life as The Boxer Rebellion. My friend, Melanie, who was directing our conversation, sat with index cards in her lap and a marker in her hand, and as we talked, she wrote: Throw away rotten fruit. No, I'm blowing bubbles. And she handed them out, saying: These are your new bumper stickers.

After I told my story, Mel handed me a note card that read: Iron your own boxers. And as I thought about this, I couldn't help but think how, yes, this really does mean something to me.

I thought about the kitchen I had left in a mess at home, all those things I had promised myself would be done by day 23 of the New Year, or at least started, all those actions promised but yet to be strung together as DONE. And because I haven't done all those things yet, haven't carved out small moments in my day to take care of what needs taking care of, sometimes my inaction bleeds into the day of others. Which sometimes (often), leaves my life and theirs not so neatly pressed.

Yes, Mama was right, sort of.  

On the way to meet friends for lunch, I told my husband of my discovery of what my new blog post would be.

Him: Oh, I'm thrilled to know that my underwear has made your blog.

Me, in four words: Stories come from everywhere.

And there is a lot more to this story than a pair of boxer shorts that have yet to see the face of my monogrammed ironing board. (Yes, I did say that.)

To me, it's this: What if, instead of leaving our wrinkles to be pressed down in that never-approaching moment called "when I have the time," what if every single day, we took the tiny sliver of time it would take to press ourselves out, freshen our souls up underneath that outer crust, before we greet our daily world? Might we wear ourselves a little surer, be a little softer when we bump against someone else's day, if we were just a little less wrinkled at the start of our own? 

Iron your own boxers. And you don't have to tell anyone my mother told you so.