Writing About Expectations & Laundry

My favorite Oscar Wilde quote is "I never travel without my diary. One should have something sensational to read in the train." Clearly, he wasn't writing about laundry.

My favorite Oscar Wilde quote is “I never travel without my diary. One should have something sensational to read in the train.” Clearly, he wasn’t writing about laundry.

I write—albeit I don’t always write well, but I write.  When people tell me they don’t write, it’s almost like saying, “I don’t breathe,” because I think, “How is that possible?” Writing is that important to my well-being.

Typically, I go through a 70-page, spiral-bound, college-rule notebook every month, and I’ve done so for at least twenty-five years. I store them in sealed plastic crates in the barn.

And while my complete collection contains a scandal or two or eight, most of it is pretty dry stuff. I can imagine future historians using my journal to calculate how often laundry was done in the 21st century because so many pages read like a to-do list. “I need to do the laundry, but first I have to run to the grocery store.” Yeah, exciting stuff like that.

Of course, if I’m completely honest, I almost never read anything I write.  I finish writing in a notebook and just stack it with others under my bed or in my closet until I have collected several volumes. Then, it’s time to archive them by dumping them with the rest. I really could not guess what percentage is mundane or entertaining.

This morning, however, I found a genuine use for September 2012. My husband and I were trying to figure out when we first hired help for my mother-in-law. We had two dates on file. I felt reasonably sure that I would have written about it, and since September 2012 was still handy, I took a look.

Yep, I found the start dates of our first two employees right away, but now that it was open and on my lap, I read it—or at least skimmed it—from cover-to-cover. September 2012 was a time of great change. Not only did we hire, but my mother-in-law moved in with us, and she did so at the end of the month. So, what I wrote was mostly anticipatory.

A few reoccurring themes within the month really struck me:

  • Even though my mother-in-law had been staying with my sister-in-law, she was already a dominate figure in our lives. We had been dealing with her care, in one form or another, since March. I was already very tired before we unpacked her first bag.


  • We started moving furniture out of her home in September, too, and I was only beginning to see what a huge job it would be to pack and store–and in some cases, dispose of—her stuff. I did not yet have an inkling that doing so would take over my life in the way that it has for months on end. I could not have known that ten months later, we’d still be working on it.


  • Quickly, I went from excitement over hiring help to acknowledging that finding and keeping the right person would be a challenge. I had envisioned hiring someone like Alice from the Brady Bunch. She would cook, clean, sew, shop, babysit, and provide elder-care as needed while becoming a member of our family. Oh, wait, Mr. Brady’s mom never moved in with them. Nevermind. Things just haven’t worked out that way.


  • I was incredibly optimistic about the quality of life my mother-in-law would enjoy. I knew it would be difficult, but still, I imagined she would be well enough to assume a social life and Alice, or whomever I hired, would dress her and drive her to her ladies’ club meetings and luncheons. She would just be another member of a very busy household.


  • I over-estimated what I would be willing to do for her. I thought I would make her well-being a priority. I would get her to a physical therapist, I would help her exercise, I would read up on diabetic cooking, I would learn Spanish. As it turns out, I was pretty darn busy before she arrived. I was doing well just to raise two children, keep house, preside over a club, volunteer at church, and pick up occasional contract work. Gradually, I gave up a lot of what I was doing–for myself and for others, and having done so, I still haven’t accommodated her well, but I feel no guilt in admitting I do what I can. Period.


  • I believed having her under my roof would make our family closer. I had imagined extended members of our family calling and visiting. That hasn’t happened either.

Yeah, I got all of that from reading one notebook. I should go back and just read what I wrote yesterday to see how it all compares, but right now, it would be too exhausting. A lot of energy goes into my writing. And a lot of energy is expended in reading it. At this moment, I can tell you just this much: Living with a person and living with a person with dementia are two very different experiences. I’ve learned that much.

Perhaps, when I am very, very old, I will read the entire body of my work. I’ll cringe over my grammar. I’ll wonder why I felt the need to write about laundry.




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